We start with what I think is one of the most confounding parts of this book. In Chapter 1 we have Job who is an upstanding man, successful, and God fearing. And God hands him over to Satan for no discernible reason. I believe that we have so sanitized our reading of scriptures that we frequently pass over the most awful, problematic things with nary a glance. It’s like acknowledging how bad and just WRONG some parts of the stories in scriptures are poses a threat to our faith. However, if part of our faith includes a trust in a good and loving God, than part of our faith must include taking what is plainly wrong to God for an explanation. And I’m so sorry, but on its face, God handing Job over to Satan to be crushed and ruined for no reason other than to prove his faithfulness is just wrong. WRONG.
So, we dig a bit deeper and take it to God and a slightly different picture emerges. First, let’s go back to Job. He is a good man. He does not sin. He is successful and blessed in many ways. He is a good father. He cares so deeply about his children that he goes far above and beyond what is called for in trying to mediate between them and God. And this is where we begin to see an issue. The scriptures tell us that Job’s sons and daughters were in the habit of getting together to feast. At the end of these feasts, “Job would send for them and sanctify them, rising early and offering holocausts for every one of them. For Job said, ‘it may be that my sons have sinned and blasphemed God in their hearts.’ This Job did habitually.” – Job 1:5.
One of the things which God is continually trying to get through to us is that everything is about the heart. When God gives His people laws, it is because He knows that breaking those laws corrupts our hearts. His rituals are given as “signs” and “reminders”, not as the sort of magic rituals the pagans followed. The rituals were useless if they did not deal with the heart. Job, although being a good and devout man, and by all appearances having a good heart himself, has missed this point. What he is doing with his children is not prescribed by the law. Rather, he is using these rituals superstitiously in an attempt to fend off God’s wrath.
Now, I want to be clear that I don’t think that what Job is doing qualifies as some sort of sin which would arouse the righteous wrath of God. However, his actions reflect a view of the world and God’s relationship with it which is out of wack. In his understanding, God is predictable, a record keeper, a divinity with a score card. His rituals are like candy for a demanding child – give me a piece and I won’t scream in the grocery store. And if one piece of candy is good for keeping the peace, perhaps a bag full will earn me a lifetime of peace. And from Job’s point of view, it works. He is a blessed man in every way. In his heart, it is quite likely that he, like many whose lives are blessed, he sees a direct line between his piety and goodness and God’s loving care for him.
Now, after we meet Job, we go to the throne room where God and the angels are present. The adversary has turned up as well for reasons we don’t quite know. It is interesting to note that it is God who points Satan’s attention to Job. If He had simply gone along with Satan’s plans in order to prove Job’s faithfulness or glorify Himself, that would have been bad enough. But to actually draw Satan’s attention to Job? That on its face hardly seems to be the action of a loving God! So our options are either to accept that God is a treacherous, uncaring deity, or assume that there is an actual reason for God’s actions.
I think that God’s reason had to do with His desire for Job, who is so intent on serving God, to actually see the God He is serving, to know Him and love more deeply. I think that God allows Satan to be used as a tool to this end. In effect, God is tricking Satan into serving His own good purposes. It wouldn’t be the last time. Have you ever stopped to think that if Satan were smart, he would have allowed Jesus to live to be an old man who died of a heart attack in His sleep? After all, without Jesus’ example of suffering, without His death and resurrection, the whole game would have come out differently. But Satan’s not that smart. He is consumed with the same worldly ideas which lead us humans to seek money and comfort and respect before God. He cannot fathom suffering as being redemptive anymore than many of us can. He inflicts suffering precisely because he cannot understand it as anything other than the evil he intends it to be.
But God knows otherwise. And the more we know God, the more we will know this as well. It’s not that suffering isn’t evil. It’s not that we should just bear up under any sort of suffering, never seeking justice or comfort. It’s just that suffering leads us to places we cannot go otherwise. And unfortunately, the better we are, the less likely we are to seek God in the deep, mysterious places where we are most likely to find Him. God knows this and will sometimes, I believe, allow suffering into our life because He knows that there is no other way to get us to where we need to go.
So, we start the book of Job with a good man who has a warped vision of God, an easily manipulated enemy and God who hands Job over for suffering, but most likely for his own good purposes. We will need to assume for now that Job’s sons, daughters and servants are OK. This may seem to be an abhorrent idea to us. However, we must remember that too often we view death from Satan’s perspective and not God’s. Satan views death as the ultimate weapon in his arsenal. God views it as a necessary passage for us to return from our separation from Him. So, I’m willing to accept that their untimely demise did not unduly alter their spiritual course, which of course, if the most important course we will take in our lives.
That brings us to the end of chapter 1. I’m not sure how often I’ll actually get to this, but if you hang around, I’ll get the the end. Because the end is much cooler than you think.