In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East. His sons used to hold feasts in their homes on their birthdays, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would make arrangements for them to be purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom. One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and the satan also came with them. The LORD said to the satan, “Where have you come from?” The satan answered the LORD, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” Then the LORD said to the satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” “Does Job fear God for nothing?” The satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” The LORD said to the satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then the satan went out from the presence of the LORD. One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (Job 1:1-21)
Why do we suffer? Why do good and innocent people suffer so much? These questions, as old as humankind, appear also in the Bible, notably in the Book of Job, a late Old Testament writing that can be dated to around the fourth century before Jesus Christ. The Book of Job gives a particular accent to the universal theme of the good person who suffers, because the people of Israel is united to its God by a covenant, and the nation responded to God’s irrevocable commitment by a promise of faithfulness. But now it seems that the God of Israel, the God of the covenant, has forgotten his people, or even that he is making them suffer. And so the question arose: “Why remain faithful when it seems useless?”
With great delicacy, the author does not deal with this question up front. Instead he makes a long detour, surprising his readers by telling the story of a foreigner, Job, a “man of the East”. But we should not make a mistake. Although he is a foreigner, Job will reflect, talk and act like a faithful Israelite. His story is a parable, a surprisingly up-to-date reflection on the usefulness of being faithful to God. It does not give an answer to the question of suffering, but it questions us about the reasons for our faith.
The first chapter begins by drawing the portrait of Job in the land of Uz, an exceptional person in all respects. His moral integrity and his piety are total. He cares for his ten children as an exemplary father. And the quantity of his possessions makes him “the greatest of all the people of the East.”
From the land of Uz, the story then takes the reader to the throne room of God. It is a day of audiences; the Lord receives his court, “the sons of God.” They are his ministers and servants, also called his angels or messengers. Among them is “the satan.” This figure is not exactly the devil, but corresponds rather to what we call his advocate, the “devil’s advocate” who calls everything into question, who looks for the weak point, but who can also be someone who is honorable. In the scene shown to us in the Book of Job, the the satan resembles an intelligence agent or an investigative journalist. He has just returned from a trip to earth where he collected a lot of information.
Conversing with him, God mentions Job. God has a great many servants in heaven, but he is proud of his servant Job. He observes to the the satan that Job is one of a kind: “There is no one like him on the earth”– just as there is no one like God in heaven. But the the satan, a formidable devil’s advocate, replies that he is not so sure, that it is easy for Job to be blameless since his life is a success. And he asks the question, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Does Job love God for nothing? Can such a thing even exist, an attachment to God without expecting anything in return?
We may wonder if it would have been better not to have attempted to get an answer at all costs. Because the price Job is going to pay is huge. But that is not the question to ask; we have to read the story like a great parable with its own logic. With apparent ingenuity, it tells how enthusiastic God is about the exceptional qualities of his servant Job. Compared to the the satan—serious, critical and suspicious like an adult—God, with his candour, seems like a child.
Challenged by the the satan, God continues to trust. He makes the wager that, whatever happens, Job will prove the falseness of the insinuations of the the satan, who is suspicion in person. God stakes his honour on the man Job. Job will show whether God was right to trust, or whether God will have to admit to the the satan that his suspicions were well-founded.
Without knowing it himself, Job proves that God was right and closes the the satan’s mouth. He shows that there can be an attachment to God for no ulterior motives, a love for nothing but the love of God.
Who is a witness to authentic faith for me?
Why does God love faithfulness with no ulterior motives, love for nothing?
Why do I search for God? Why am I attached to God?