By Teena Myers
I recently took a college course about Job. The professor believed God allowed the Devil to afflict Job to test his faith. My uncertainty with that position is the collateral damage the “test” produced. Ten children were dead. Maybe more, if their wives, husbands, and children were present when a great wind struck the four corners of the house. What about the pain and suffering inflicted on Job’s wife? Was God testing her faith, too? What about the servants, who tended the oxen, donkeys, sheep, and camels, all dead except for three, who carried the bad news to Job? There is no way to know how many servants died that day, but Job had eleven thousand animals, so the number would have been substantial. Add to that the suffering of the servant’s families, who became widows and orphans.
To me, it’s not clear that Job’s faith was being tested. It is clear God tested Abraham’s faith. No one died, and an animal replaced Isaac, the requested burnt offering. And good came from the test that blessed all humanity when God swore an oath to keep his promises. It is clear that God’s Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. No one died. And good came from the test when angels came to strengthen him, and Jesus fulfilled his ministry, then paid the price to redeem whosoever will accept him. What good came from Job’s test, aside from Job getting his material possessions back, replacements for the children he lost, and a difficult to understand book in the Bible.
There is another thing clear. While God had high praise for Job’s perfection, Job repented. Job 42:6, “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” The course maintained Job’s innocence, but never addressed Job’s repentance, which turned the tide of his suffering. Job’s repentance ended his discourse with God. Then God turned his attention to Job’s comforters.
One lesson touched on the paradox in light, and Romans tells us God’s power and divine nature can be understood from the things he has made. If light can be both particles and waves, a man can be perfect in his ways and still need to repent.
As the course pointed out, Job never claimed to be sinless. God pinpointed the sin Job’s suffering brought to light when God said, “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?” (Job 40:8, NIV). It is common in human nature to condemn God, and that is what Job did throughout the debate with his comforters. He believed the worst of God when he claimed God would never give him a fair trial. His attitude toward God mirrored Adam and Eve’s. They believed God lied about death to justify eating from the forbidden tree. Then lived long enough to bury their dead son, before they followed him in death.
Some believe God put Job into Satan’s power. I am more inclined to believe Adam and Eve’s sin put us into Satan’s power. Could Job 1:12 be interpreted as God pointing out Satan was mistaken about special hedges for perfect people? Job was already in Satan’s power, as we all are, according to Ephesians Chapter 2, until we accept Jesus. God alone has the power to limit what Satan can do to us, and he refused to let Satan kill Job. But that does not explain why God painted a big red target on Job for Satan’s arrows.
I have considered human arrogance is so great, suffering is the only way to break religious pride. There are hints to the arrogance that blinded Job to his lack of love. There is no fear in love, yet Job proclaimed, “For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.” Yes, Satan was wrong. Job’s devotion and perfection were not for the benefits of serving God. He feared what might happen if he didn’t.
Why did Job’s sons invite their sisters to their parties (one translation says birthday parties) but not their father? Father had to send for them, at minimum seven times a year, to offer sacrifices for a sin that Job had no proof they committed. Did Job think he could keep his heart pure before God, but his children were incapable of doing the same. He had no way of knowing what was in their hearts. Why did he believe the worst of his children? “Love believes all things [looking for the best in each one]…” 1 Cor. 13:7, Amplified Bible.
Some applaud Job for calling his wife a fool when she told him to “Curse God and die.” Was Job the only one suffering? She lost her children and was brought to poverty too. Did Job spend a decade pregnant, endure the first trimester vomiting, backaches, swollen feet, the uncomfortable weight gain, and pain that no man can imagine giving birth. Ten times she endured giving birth without an epidural. Only to lose all her children in one day.
The wife is the weaker vessel. And all she got from her perfect husband is suck it up and shut-up. Why didn’t the stronger vessel embrace her, admit his perfection failed to protect them from the evil in this world, and give her hope that if they remained faithful, a merciful God would come to their aid. Job pushed away the only person who truly understood his suffering because she was not perfect.
Job reminds me of Jesus’ parable about those who “trust in themselves they are righteous.” Who would Job have been? The Pharisee who thanked God that he is not an extortioner, unjust, adulterer or publican, then reminds God of his good deeds. His comments about God during the debate with his comforters make it unlikely he would be the one saying God be merciful to me a sinner.
The winds in Job that caused the house to fall killing all Job’s children reminded me of Jesus’ teaching, “Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”
Did God allow Job’s house to fall because he had built his worship on religious perfection instead of the rock love is? In light of the collateral damage his suffering produced, I have yet to find a satisfactory answer. There is some comfort in knowing that God restores what is lost when he allows us to suffer, and I want to believe he did the same for the families of the innocent bystanders who died, even though there is no evidence he did.
The professor said, “The more we learn, the more we realize how much we don’t yet know.” That reminded me of something Solomon wrote that offers a reason God does not explain everything. “In much wisdom there is much grief; and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain” (Ecclesiastes 1:18, NAS95).
I may never find a satisfactory answer. God does not owe me one. Knowing much wisdom and increasing knowledge can increase pain leads me to believe God left the answer obscure to protect us. I enjoyed the course and his many insights, but he never persuaded me God was testing Job’s faith.