What happens when you kick a good man not just once, but twice? What happens when you do something bad to a good person who has never known anything bad in their lives? What happens when a good person who is so faithful he even offers sacrifices and prayers to God on behalf of his children, just in case they have been naughty in some way?
This is the question posed in the book of Job, named after a good, faithful man who seems to have everything going for him. When God points Job out to Satan as the perfect example of an excellent human being, Satan responds with a question: would Job be just as faithful if something bad happened to him? God takes up the challenge on Job’s behalf. Without knowing why things go south for him, Job stays faithful to God. God is vindicated, Satan defeated.
It’s a strange, difficult story to read and comprehend. Satan is not necessarily an evil being, but an instigator, an adversary to humans. Satan simply points out to God that Job is a good person because of his many blessings, and that in the face of adversity Job might well turn against God. Rather than simply make the case that Job is exactly who he is because God made him that way, God allows Job to suffer in order to prove his true nature.
This permission to make Job a victim is a troubling issue when trying to understand God. Why did God let Job become a victim simply so that Job’s true character be revealed and Satan’s doubt be overcome? There is no easy answer to be found in the book of Job. That’s not what it’s about; the story is all about Job’s constant fidelity in the face of outrageous fortune. We need the whole Bible in order to understand God’s true, loving nature; one book, especially “Job” isn’t enough to get the whole story across.
So what is the “takeaway” from this troubling book? For me, it’s Jobs great strength and fidelity to God. He is self-aware enough that he did nothing to deserve either his good or bad luck. Job knows in his heart that, despite the bad things that happened to him, God is good and worth trusting. The same heart that drove Job to offer sacrifices and prayers for his children “just in case” drives him to stay faithful to God, even if he is personally frustrated and just about ready to die rather than suffer any more.
The book of Job is a troublesome text, but it does reveal that even in our biggest troubles, we can struggle through. Job made a conscious decision not to give up when he was knocked down. Despite the challenge to his faith, he remained faithful. He lost everything except for his trust in God. In the end, God rewarded Job for being so faithful, but Job didn’t know what would happen to him before that. Job simply believed in the face of adversity, and that strength of character, for me, is my greatest takeaway from the book of Job.
We have two choices when we’re troubled: give up, or do our best. You’ll notice that in the case of the troublesome book of Job, I chose not to give up on it. I did my best by following Job’s example of strength and fidelity.