No, I do not mean Jobs as in Steve Jobs. I’m talking about J-oh-bah, or Jobe, as in book of Job. It is my new favorite book. Why? Because Job thinks like me and probably like you (since you are reading The Grumpy Mormon).
The Old Story
You’ve probably covered the Job story during an Old Testament Sunday School lesson; all 40+ chapters in 30 min or less.
The lesson goes something like this:
1) Job was a righteous man. (He must have been righteous because he was rich, had a large family, employed servants, owned many large herds, and had spoiled kids.)
2) Satan, concerned for the legitimacy of Job’s faith, gets on the red phone and talks directly to God. A plan is concocted to test Job’s faithfulness.
2.5) Instructor then tries to reign in a confused discussion on why God would be negotiating with his arch enemy, Satan, Lex Luther’s mentor.
3) Job subsequently loses everything, gets boils, and is voted off the island.
3.5) The instructor or some class member will try to give a nasty medical description and treatment details of Job’s boils.
4) If you are lucky, you will have an instructor that mentions how Job’s three friends sit with him in silence. Which is often better than saying: “Just give us a call if you need anything. See you later.”
5) From there, the axiom about the “patience of Job” suffices to close out the “lesson” that has gone over time. We comfort ourselves with the thought that Job eventually gets it all back because he is righteous (and rich again).
This gives us poor people some hope that our lot in life may improve if we are patient and righteous just like Job.
The Dark Side
I’m not a Job scholar, but here are a few things I’ve learned about Job.
First, Job, like Jonah, probably wasn’t a real person. So arguing over specifics of his family, wealth, downfall, and disease serve to distract us from the real point the authors wanted us to learn. If you pay attention, you will notice that Job’s situation is exaggerated (like Jonah’s) so that we know what to ignore.
From the audience: “What?! I’ve been lied to?”
Yep. To dash more of your fantasies, Paul Bunyan, Luke Skywalker, and The Old Man And The Sea ain’t real either. (See The Fish and The Forester for another good story.)
Second, don’t (attempt) to read Job in King James English. You’ll just get confused by chapter two and recommit to reading “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents… ,” again.
To catch the wit, wisdom, and humor of Job you may have to give up on all the king’s men and read a modern English version like the NIV or the NRSV.
From the Audience: “Oh, but the church says that we should only use the King James Version.”
Not quite. Please read Bibles, Bibles, Bibles.
Third, (shhh, don’t tell anyone) Job wasn’t patient.
Michael Austin has a great podcast about Job on LDS Perspectives entitled The (Im)patient Job. Give it a listen.
Some scholars now think the redactors of the Bible included Job as a counter point to the story of faithful Abraham. You know the story. Abraham just about kills his son because God told him to. The story of Job pushes back on the idea that we should be blindly obedient.
Fourth, there is no direct line between God and Satan. In fact, the satan in the story is not what we typically think.
If you were to know your Hebrew you would see that he is described as “the satan” and not simply “Satan” or even “satan.” (Ronan James Head, Job and John: The Satans, compiled in As Iron Sharpens Iron, pg 51)
So, don’t worry that the forces of good and evil are conspired against you; Satan and God aren’t trying to take you down. “The satan” may figuratively represent natural (random) troubles, stumbling blocks, obstacles, and such.
This leads us to…
The Fifth, and most important point. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. The simplistic notion that if you are faithful, righteous, and obedient you will be blessed just doesn’t fly.
Job injects some practical, common sense into simplistic religious perspectives. His three friends, after sitting in silence, begin to speak. They take the position: God always blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked. Therefore, Job, you must have done something wrong to anger God.
Job argues back: No, God often lets the righteous suffer while the wicked enjoy a life of ease.
Spoiler alert! In the end, it is Job’s friends that are chastised by God for being so shallow.
The Wit and Wisdom of Job
The debate between Job and his friends leads to some great quips from Job.
The Taint of Suffering
To those that would consider one to be soiled when bad falls on us, Job declares:
I know I am not what I am thought to be. (NRSV Job 9:35)
Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me! Why do you, like God, pursue me, never satisfied with my flesh? (NRSV Job 19:21-22)
We can similarly see ourselves as unworthy or cursed by God, but Job recognizes that both the wicked and the innocent suffer in this life … and God allows it.
Though I am innocent, my own mouth would condemn me; though I am blameless, he would prove me perverse. I am blameless; I do not know myself; I loathe my life. It is all one; therefore I say, he destroys both the blameless and the wicked. When disaster brings sudden death, he mocks at the calamity of the innocent. The earth is given into the hand of the wicked; he covers the eyes of its judges— if it is not he, who then is it? (NRSV Job 9:20-24)
As Job’s friends continue to put the blame on Job for his fate, claiming that ill only befalls the unrighteous, Job responds with some healthy sarcasm.
No doubt you are the people, and wisdom will die with you. But I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you. (NRSV Job 12:1)
What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you. But I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God. As for you, you whitewash with lies; all of you are worthless physicians. If you would only keep silent, that would be your wisdom! (NRSV Job 13:2-5)
In spite of the conflict Job has with his friends, he recognizes that in his suffering he has gained a new perspective which his friends have not yet reached.
Then Job answered: “I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all. Have windy words no limit? Or what provokes you that you keep on talking? I also could talk as you do, if you were in my place; I could join words together against you, and shake my head at you. (NRSV Job 16:1-4)
It’s Okay To Be Angry
Job teaches us an important lesson. We can argue our case with God, he can take it. Just as we might listen to the angry frustrations of a teenage child and still have love and mercy for them. God, too, is big enough to take our anger and frustration with our circumstances.
“Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning. Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me. There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge. (NRSV 23:1-7)
The Lord Answers
After the debate between Job and his “righteous” friends, the Lord finally answers and condemns the friends.
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? (NRSV 38:1-2)
After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. (NRSV Job 42:7)
I think the writers of Job would want us to recognize that we are thinking, feeling individuals and that it is okay to get frustrated with our situations in life. Randomness (the satan) reigns on this earth. Good does not always prevail and evil is often rewarded.
We also need to allow for messiness in the lives of others without presumptions regarding their standing before God.
Sometimes life just sucks, if we are lucky, or it is downright evil if we are not. Recognizing this brutal fact may help us face our challenges and allow for those of others.
In other words, painting a smile on a donkey still leaves a dumb ass. So don’t paint one on yourself, on your neighbor, or on God. (No I’m not calling God a dumb ass, just don’t be naïve in what you attribute to divine action, whether that be good or evil.)
Don’t like the donkey analogy? How about:
Sugar coating a turd still leaves the stink and it tastes the same.
An old barn with fresh paint is still an old barn.
Got any others?