The book of Job makes very powerful statements about suffering, and about faith in God. It has literal and figurative levels to it, but its primary purpose is to teach us about the power of faith and the fidelity of God in the face of undeserved suffering and evil.
Here at the beginning of the book (Job 2:1-10) we see a conversation between God and Satan. God asks Satan where he has been (as if he did not know) and we hear Satan’s surly response, “Roaming the earth and patrolling it.” God asks Satan if he has seen his “servant” Job, and how there is no one on earth like him, “blameless and upright, fearing God and avoiding evil. He still holds fast to his innocence although you incited me against him to ruin him for nothing.” (verse 3) Here we see that even though God has allowed Satan to tempt Job with many forms of suffering, Job has remained innocent. God describes Job as one who “fears the Lord.” As we know from scripture, fear of the Lord is a sign of holy wisdom. This wisdom is greater than the fear of, even the reality of, suffering. This fear of the Lord is a gift of faith. Job has this gift and, in the end, it will endure, even though it is tested to the limits.
Job’s wife does not possess the faith that Job has. For her, like so many today, life has meaning only when it satisfies the always fleeting sensual pleasures or when the passions for acquiring “things” are met. When suffering comes to those who have no faith in God, life no longer has value to them. They despair. This is why Job’s wife makes such a foolish comment to Job saying, “Are you still holding to your innocence? Curse God and die.” (verse 9) But Job’s faith in God remains unbowed and he responds to her insensitive words saying, “You are talking like a foolish woman, shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” God is the Lord of life, the source of all that is good, true, and beautiful. There is no evil in God. But since the fall of Adam and Eve, we have been vulnerable to sin and death, as the result of the loss of our “innocence.” Job shows us how we can remain “innocent” in the midst of this reality. He is the model of faith. He shows us how a faithful “fear of the Lord” helps us to endure our continuing struggles to live our lives more and more in the quality of innocence. Though we often fall for the enticements of earthly pleasures and suffer their consequences, the Book of Job also reveals the true nature of God to us; that he remains faithful to us, always ready to forgive and to heal, to lift us up, even in the midst of our suffering.
Job’s faith in God’s fidelity is the source of his innocence. His “fear of the Lord,” tells him that God’s wisdom is greater than all that of mankind. He knows the difference between the foolishness of depending on fickle, earthly things, and God’s perfect fidelity. One cannot depend on earthly, material “things” for life, or for happiness. Only God can offer us what we need the most for life and happiness, that is, his love, his fidelity, his compassion and his mercy. Job’s dependence is on God alone. When suffering came to Job, he did not turn away from God. He did not fall into the foolishness of despair, even if from his wife’s perspective, it seemed reasonable to do so. Job knows that God is greater than all of the suffering the world can bring to us. For Job, God is real, more real than all of his suffering. Indeed, in the end, after all the suffering he has endured, and after he has heard God’s reply to his desperate questions, he is able to address God with a pure and humble, innocence, “I have spoken, but did not understand; things too marvelous for me, which I did not know…By hearsay I had heard of you, but now my eye has seen you.” (Job 42:3,5)
Lord, like Job, we often do not understand the sufferings we encounter in this life. We pray that you give us faith like Job’s to be able to endure our sufferings, especially those that come to us undeserved. Help us to turn always to you in the midst of our suffering. Give us the strength to imitate your Son, Jesus, by offering up our sufferings, as he did, for the salvation of the world. In doing so, let our suffering have meaning and purpose. In Jesus’ name we pray these things. Amen!
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