I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned as I went through my Soul Journey curriculum, and one of the books I assigned myself was the book of Job. I have written here about Job before, in fact, my very first post on this blog was Job Revisited back in 2010. This is a deep book that keeps revealing more and more to me. I wanted to share some of the things that caught my attention this time around, coming from both the very beginning and the very end of the book.
One: the book begins with a wager, a proposal on Satan’s part believing that Job’s faithfulness is conditional. When permitted to test Job in certain ways, Satan finds that his assumption was mistaken.
What I got from this: Even Satan does not know how people will respond to his attacks. But it is his inclination (his occupation) to assume the worst in people.
And of course, you assume the worst of those you hate. You want to see them fail. You want to believe that under certain testing they will fall short.
When I see people I can’t stand actually do something respectable, I usually feel happy rather than mad, because if a dousch like that can become a better person then there’s hope for anyone, and God is in the business of changing lives.
When Christians fail we tend to assume “Satan knew to attack me there because he knew I would fail. Therefore I was and always will be doomed to fail in that area.” That is a lie. Satan is a strategist, and he knows people’s weaknesses. He will strike where he believes he has the best chance. He does not know whether one will stand or fall under his testing, all he can do is assume the worst in people.
Second: Job spends the entire book complaining indignantly to God about what can only be interpreted as unfair treatment. Oddly, he does not accuse God of being evil, but demands answers to the way he’s been treated.
His ‘friends’ spend the entire book accusing Job of some secret wrongdoing. Their theology dictates (as did Job’s, most likely, until now) that tragedy only befalls the wicked, and that Job must therefore be a wicked man, despite being recognized widely as a man of righteousness.
They come to God’s defense, wanting to look at the situation and draw a conclusion that doesn’t make God out to be wrong, they invent reasons why Job must really have been an evil man all these years and just good at hiding it. Yet in the end, when God finally shows up, it is to these friends that God says “you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”
What I got from this: God does not like favouritism, even when it’s in his favour. God believes in fair play, and does not want people coming to his defense with false arguments. The truth is enough.
There was an episode of The Real Ghostbusters that I wish now I had kept. It was about a contest between the forces of good and evil, and the prize had something to do with mortal souls. The forces of good appeared weak, and some of the Ghostbusters had an opportunity to hinder the forces of evil to give Good a better chance, but because the Ghostbusters were not part of the contest, it would have been cheating. At the last minute Egon changes his mind, and prevents the others from interfering as well. “If we cheat, Good loses.”
This is what Job’s friends didn’t understand. I don’t know what religious texts they had, if they had the Law of Moses or just fragments of it or whatever, but in any case they had their theology – they had assumptions, beliefs about how God operates – based on what they interpreted from their religious texts. But events they came across in real life didn’t fit their theology, and rather than allow their beliefs about God to be challenged, they bent the truth in his defense. They bent the truth of what they had witnessed in order to protect the ‘truth’ of their beliefs about God. God shows up and says they missed the point.
It is instead Job to whom God credits righteousness, because he was willing to face reality for what it was. He didn’t renounce his beliefs, but neither did he ignore his experience. He wrestled with both until he found reconciliation. In fact, if Job had chosen to disregard his experience, then he would have disregarded the work that God was doing behind the scenes, because through all of this God had a story to tell. If any part of the story is denied, then the story falls apart, and we would not have the deep insights that the book of Job provides, only a short story about a good guy who gets put through hell and sucks it up and moves on, the conclusion of which is that God is a heartless tyrant. That story sucks!
But because Job allowed himself to honestly deal with events that made no sense, we now have the words of his discourse written in the Bible, pages where a righteous man says to God all of the things we sometimes want to say to God but dare not even think for fear of being struck by lightning. The very fact that these words were not only permitted to be spoken, but were recorded in the Bible, and that this man was rewarded for his honesty, is among the greatest evidence to me against God being a tyrant. In other words, if Job had not dealt honestly with his experiences, instead of falling back on what he thought he already understood about God, some significant aspects of God’s character would have been missed, and the logical conclusion of everyone involved would have been that God is a tyrant.
What else I got from this: It is more important to God to be represented authentically than to be represented “accurately.”
If I may get more personal here: One concern I had as my autobiography came out was that it would be seen as too preachy. I am very open about my Christian faith, even though the focus of the book is living on the autism spectrum, it is a book about my own experiences, and my own experiences have to include my life in the church as well.
I was very blessed to receive comments from people saying they didn’t mind me talking about my faith, or that they trusted me. They didn’t feel like I was speaking with hidden motives. I think this is because I was open about the negative aspects of life in the church, as well as the positive. I didn’t paint it all as a perfect, blissful, problem-free paradise of a community. I wasn’t writing people a brochure.
I’ve been through some serious crap. But I didn’t feel guilty for being open about the dark times in my Christian life, because that stuff happened. It’s the truth. And as I wrote it I still recognized how much darker my life would be if I didn’t have Christ. The blessings win. I don’t have to bend the truth – I don’t have to cheat – to make Jesus look good.
There is a quote I found on Pinterest, under a picture of a lion. “The truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself.” – St. Augustine (354–430)
Your insight into Job’s testing came at a crucial time for me. I’m on a journey of my own and I chose Purpose Driven Life to reread. Today’s chapter was about the purpose of our lives. Rick Warren states that, “God’s view of our lives is that it’s Test, it’s a Trust, and it’s a Temporary Assignment”. I think your blog was in God’s timing to bring me closer to some truths of my own. Thank you.
You’re welcome. And thank you for sharing. 🙂
I have to agree with your post Ben, and I appreciate your positive perspective on the book of Job. I often am confused when reading it. Probably because I am trying to understand it as a 2 person dialogue between God and Job when the reality is there are always at least 3 parts to the dialogue. It is important to read the Bible open to what it says instead of what we expect it to say.
That’s true. Sometimes we go to the Bible looking for a particular answer and stop reading when we think we’ve found it, without seeing what else it has to say. So we’re not challenged and we don’t learn anything in the process. That can be a frustrating experience.