"There's always someone playing Job." Archibald Macleish wrote back in the 1950s. "There must be thousands...millions and millions of mankind Burned, crushed, broken, mutilated, slaughtered, and for what?"
This is a sentiment we can all identify with today. This last month the world was rocked by a serious of disasters. There are almost 40,000 people dead from the killer tsunami, and many of these we can be sure were good, dedicated Christians who had put their faith in God. Missions work in those countries has led to a very strong converted church in many areas. Still, thousands were killed. People lost their children, their spouses, all their belongings... Killer mudslides in California, war and terrorism in the Middle East... we have to sit back and wonder: where is this God who controls the wind and the waves? It's easy to understand when humans cause us suffering -- it's the sin of the world -- but it's a little harder when the forces of nature, which the Bible tells us respond only to God's voice, rise up to harm us. Job is famous for his patience in suffering, for his refusal to curse God. In a time like ours, with thousands dead from killed weather, we may be tempted to be more like Job's wife, and lose faith.
Job's wife is probably the most under appreciated character in the book of Job. Everyone seems to just dismiss her as another one of Job's trials. An old joke says that Job's worst torment wasn't the loss of his property or children -- it was the nagging of his wife! It's easy to forget that she had also lost all her belongings, and her children. Job's wife is a lot like any of us. She had married a good and a godly man. She had given birth to ten children, and raised them well enough that their father only feared they might do evil, he didn't actually see them doing it! She was a good woman -- and she also lost everything. So we shouldn't judge her too harshly when, at the end, she watches her husband suffering from a painful dehabilitating disease, and tells him that it's pointless, and he should just give up. That's what the whole "right to die" movement in America is about -- the idea that sometimes it's better to give up. This doesn't make her an evil person, necessarily. It makes her someone that was hurting, like us.
Job's wife is best known, of course, for telling Job to "Curse God and die." What she said was not good. She probably even knew it wasn't good. She didn't care. She'd suffered too much, and she just wanted it to be over. Job's wife was depressed. We hear a lot in the news these days about depression, and about all the drugs that doctors prescribe to treat depression. When people are depressed, they are not themselves -- they may do things that they wouldn't usually do. We need to understand that, from her point-of-view, God had pushed her to this point. Everything that Job went through, she went through too. Carol Newsom wrote of what Job went through: "this is a violence calculated to destroy the humanity of the one who is subjected to it... such violence also destroys the meaningfulness of the categories of innocence and guilt... Job casts the violence he has experienced as the expression of God's loathing for human existence."
If it was like this for Job, who was the moral pillar and head of the home, how much worse it must have been for his wife, who had given birth to those children they lost. So while we must remember that she misspeaks here, she has suffered as much as anyone here has ever suffered. And yet... despite the fact that she has suffered so much, and despite the fact that she is speaking out of anger and out of character here, Job still calls her a foolish woman. He says that she speaks as "one of the Foolish Women." Why is this? Because no matter how much we go through, no matter what God does to us, it is inherently foolish to claim any excuse for not being faithful to God.
To Mrs. Job, it may have seemed very reasonable to ask, as she does, "Dost thou still retain thine integrity?" She thinks that Job had good reason to rebel against God, and to curse God. Many today might agree with her. God had removed his presence from Job -- he had given him to Satan to torture, and sent fire from heaven to kill his children. He had been rich, and now he had absolutely nothing but rags. He had a full house of children, and now they were all dead as well. Surely this had to be the hardest thing anyone can imagine-- losing ten children in a single day! Then, as if this was not enough, he has become terminally ill. He describes worms eating his skin, and his flesh melting from his bones as he scrapes bits of skin off with a piece of broken pottery. Yet Job claims that despite all the bad things that happened to him, he is still innocent. He tells his wife that he will praise God even when God does evil to him -- but of course in a few chapters we see Job questioning God. Then the Almighty himself proves the foolishness of questioning him. Newsom writes about how "Job describes the action of cleaning himself... such an action, which asserts agency, dignity, and innocence, provokes God to reverse these self-assertions, plunging Job into a pit of filth, thus not only ...associating Job with dirt, and so with guilt, but also demonstrating Job's inability to control his own body.... The violated one experiences himself or herself as loathsome... Job... [is] now disgusted with his filth." In recognizing his own worthlessness in the face of God's majesty, and in continuing to serve God after the Almighty has afflicted him in every way imaginable, Job proves that he does not serve God just for selfish gain.
We cannot just serve God in fair weather. If we are going to love God, we must love him as he loves us -- unconditionally. Father Richmond, who works with a San Francisco missions group, teaches that this is the true lesson of Job -- that God does not want to be worshipped because he does good things for his people, but simply because he IS. God loved us unconditionally, and he wants us to love him the same way. Reverend Vibert of St. Luke's near Wimbledon says "The key lesson of Job is surely that Job is a man who trusts God for who He is, and for that reason alone, even though he does not know God's ultimate plans... [God's] free love chose us in Christ whilst we were still sinners and undeserving. And now God wants us to love him in the same way - unconditionally, for no other reason than that he is God."
This is not to say that God hasn't earned our love. Even if God does terrible things to us -- drowns us with many a tsunami, dropping mudslides on homes, creating plagues and allowing evil men to blow up countless innocents-- even then, he is worthy of being loved because he is also... In the words of the Almighty... The creator of elephants and oceans. One must not forget that there is nothing which we might suffer which Christ himself did not already suffer to satisfy the just anger of God. We have a greater responsibility to serve the Lord in view of Christ's suffering, which dwarfs the suffering of mere mortals to such an extent that it is described in the same terms as that of Job's suffering.
In Isaiah 53, the Bible speaks of the suffering servant, whose description will remind even a casual reader of Job. Turn, if you will, to Isaiah 53, beginning on verse three, which reads: "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted..." Does this not remind one of the state of Job, when his friends came to find him, and mocked him as one whom God was punishing? The conclusion of this chapter, which speaks of Our Lord Jesus, also seems reminiscent of Job. In Isaiah 53:10, the text reads: "Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand." Christ, like Job, was…