Job, The Man of Suffering
When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
– 1 Corinthians 15:28
One of the great books of the Bible, indeed of all written literature, is the Book of Job. It is the story of a good man recognized by all who know him as a paragon of moral character and gentle goodness. Who yet, is tortured by undeserved suffering of every kind, but remains faithful to God. He is crushed but not destroyed. The book is a product of the wisdom and tradition of the Hebrew scriptures.
In the first chapter we see this good man. He’s a wealthy father of a large family and the owner of manifold flocks and herds of fine animals. He is supremely blessed. But we then see him lose everything, children, flocks and herds, house and home, indeed, everything. This happens because Satan has said to God, “Job is not God-fearing for nothing is he? Have you not put a wall around him and his house and all his domain? You have blessed all he undertakes, and his flocks throng the countryside. But stretch out your hand and lay a finger on his possessions: I warrant you, he will curse you to your face.” “Very well,” Yahweh said to Satan, “all he has is in your power. But keep your hands off his person.”
Satan then went out and brought ruin and suffering on Job to prove his point to Yahweh. But, as usual, Satan’s arrogance proves to be his downfall, rather than Job’s.
By the end of the first chapter, Job has been reduced to utter poverty, and worse, he has lost every one of his seven sons and three daughters. Job rises and tears his gown and shaves his head, then falls to the ground and worships saying;
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
naked I shall return.
Yahweh gave, Yahweh has taken back.
Blessed be the name of Yahweh.”
The rest of the book is a long poetic dialogue in which his friends offer him all the answers that piety and wisdom can suggest. Job is not convinced. At the end he listens to Yahweh’s long speeches and Job responds:
“I know you are all powerful:
what you conceive, you can perform.
I am the man who obscured your designs
with my empty-headed words.
I have been holding forth on matters I cannot understand,
on marvels beyond me and my knowledge.
(Listen, I have more to say,
now it is my turn to ask questions and yours to inform me.)
I knew you then only by hearsay;
but now, having seen you with my own eyes,
I retract all I have said,
and in dust and ashes I repent.”
Job has learned much through his suffering. He has learned that the things of this earth, possessions and wealth, even his children, are as dust in the wind. He has learned that nothing, not even his life, belongs to him, but are pure gifts from God. He repents his pridefulness and submits to the wisdom of God, as opposed to that of men. He has learned that the ‘wisdom’ of man is as dross in comparison to the wisdom of God.
Job is a model of faith and endurance to us. We all too often place our faith in material things, in wealth, or fame for our sense of self-worth, but these things are at best fleeting and never permanent. They will, in the end, fail us. At the end of this powerful story, Job’s pride has given way to humility and instead of complaining and worrying over his own suffering, prayed humbly for his friends. And for this he is restored a hundred fold. Job’s faith, tested by suffering of unimaginable proportions. Though he has been reduced to nothing in the eyes of the world, he finds the strength to submit humbly to the wisdom of God that is far beyond his own knowledge.
Like Job, we too, know the pain of loss and deep suffering. We, too, are challenged in our suffering to remain hopeful, to keep our faith in God. Job’s story was written about 500 years before the birth of Christ. We Christians have a fuller understanding of God than the author/s of the Book of Job could have known. We know the intimacy, rather than the distance of God. Our faith is shaped by the Incarnation of Jesus, by his total sacrifice for all of humanity from the beginning of time to the present, and beyond. We have been touched by God’s presence among us. Yet we, too, are challenged by our suffering to remain faithful. We know that God has given us not just our lives, but that He has given us Himself. He gave us His all, and we know that he does not play games with us, that He will never remove His love from us. Thanks be to God.