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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Story of Job or how Suffering can be Good

Even notice how when there's a really bad earthquake or natural disaster people start wondering if it was a punishment from God? Or how about when you notice a seemingly good family where a lot of bad things keep happening to them, don't you secretly wonder about them?

The story of Job (Ayoob), the innocent righteous man who lost everything, gives an answer to that. Here's an insightful meditation by Drusilla of Heirs in Hope:
“God was unjust to Job. His faithfulness and piety deserved better treatment,” proclaimed the professor of a course I was taking in literary depictions of justice. I was shocked and totally disagreed but at seventeen I had no words to help me express my dissent only the absolute conviction that God is never unjust and that the professor was missing something of vital importance. Of course most people would agree with my professor. Job suffered terribly. God gives Satan permission to harm Job and even admits that Satan "moved [God] against him, to destroy him without cause." So it should all be very simple. On this occasion, God must be unjust.
I first read the book of Job when I was five and was chiefly struck by the image of a dirty old man, clothed in rags, smelly, probably drunk (I’d already read about Noah), perched atop a pile of ashes scraping giant boils. A gruesome image. Over the next ten or twelve years, I read Job again, two or three times, and while the gruesome image remained, by nine, I realized his ‘friends’ were blaming him and wondered fearfully if they were right. By fourteen I was impressed but puzzled by God’s response – he never answers Job’s demands and accusations. Then there was the course when I was a sophomore in college which signaled the start of another eight years of pondering Job, of trying to understand God’s justice. On perhaps the twelfth reading I noticed for the first time a phrase I’d missed in the past. Sitting on his ashes after a seven day silent watch, Job curses his very existence in frustration and rage ending, “…the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me.” But what had Job feared? He had had everything. I went back to the beginning and paid very close attention. As I walked alongside Job in my imagination, I saw him making continual sacrifices just in case. His was the behaviour of a frightened man, of appeasement – Job seeks to avoid God. In his speeches, Job expresses his feelings about God in language that is at first reminiscent of Psalm 8 but quickly moves to a place of terror and darkness: “What is man, that thou dost make so much of him, and that thou dost set thy mind upon him, dost visit him every morning, and test him every moment? How long wilt thou not look away from me …thou watcher of men?”
For Job, God is cruel and exacting, lying in wait for him to err, lying in wait to punish him with His terrible glance. This had not been discussed in that course on justice. ... They focused on Job’s sufferings but failed to look at his actual relationship with God, a relationship in which he seeks to remain safely in one corner and to keep God safely in another. They did not see that Job’s sufferings begin long before Satan “move[s] [God] …to destroy him without cause." To worship God in an attempt to keep him far away is to suffer horribly.
Do you want to know how Job gets his answer and is satisfied? It may not be what you think. So read the whole meditation here. What I like about this is that it illustrates the redemptive value of suffering, overturning our preconceived notions that suffering is a sign of God's wrath or indifference (the latter being worse, imo) or else what happens to losers.



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