Tuesday 19 October 2021

Job. Reflection 3


In spite of Satan’s wandering round the world and his watching of all that was going on, it was really God that drew Job’s life to the attention of Satan, saying:

Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless – a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil (1:8)

And from there, it was Satan’s contention that Job was only a devout man because of all the blessings that God had bestowed upon him and because Satan had said this, God allowed, if you like, Satan to subject Job to such horrendous trial and suffering, the loss of all his worldly wealth and the deaths of all his sons and daughters. And yet the first chapter of the Book of Job concludes, by saying:

In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God. (1:22)

Now, as we turn to the second chapter in this story, we begin to see as things unfold, that Job’s troubles are far from over. Again, we see the heavenly court once more in session with all the angels gathered round the throne of God. And as the good book tells us, Satan was there with them and so we read:

Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil. And he has maintained his integrity, even though you urged me to harm him without cause.”

Satan replied to the Lord, “Skin for skin! A man will give up everything he has to save his life. But reach out and take away his health, and he will surely curse you to your face!”

“All right, do with him as you please,” the Lord said to Satan. “But spare his life.” So Satan left the Lord’s presence, and he struck Job with terrible boils from head to foot.

Job scraped his skin with a piece of broken pottery as he sat among the ashes. His wife said to him, “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.”

But Job replied, “You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” So in all this, Job said nothing wrong. (2:1-10)

Now Satan was nothing if not persistent, and so it was he argued that it wasn’t that Job would never forsake God under any circumstances, it was simply that Job hadn’t suffered enough, and surely, he reasoned, that there is nothing like physical pain and suffering that in the end, would bring Job to curse God to his face.

‘All right do with him as you please’, say God, ‘But spare his life’. So, in the second chapter of the story we see Job being handed over to the not so tender mercies of Satan. Here Job now begins to encounter the midnight hour, the hour when all will seem lost, where the light of hope is fading and all the past certainties and comforts are either no longer there for him or at least certainly cannot be relied on in the same way. What sort of abject misery is it that can leave a man literally sitting in the ashes of his own despair scraping his skin with shards of broken pottery, infected as he was, from head to foot with oozing and painful boils? If ever there was evidence of the absence of God in a world devoid of meaning and yet full of senseless suffering, then there it was, inexplicably and explicitly manifest in the life of a devout and successful man brought to the depths of such misery.

When things are going well in life or even amid the predictable humdrum of routine we do not entirely appreciate perhaps as we should, the comfort of home, and the security and the support of family life, the companionship of friends and all that that should mean. But now for Job, amongst the ruins of all that previously made life sweet and dependable came another bombshell:

‘Are you still trying to maintain your integrity?'  said his wife, ‘Curse God and die.’ Job’s wife: it’s the only mention she gets in this story. But she has her story too, Job’s tragedy is her tragedy as well, this ‘riches to rags’ story, she has to endure too, her descent into poverty, her loss of status and no doubt, her loss of most of her friends and the loss of all her children. Let’s look at it like this, if she really knew what the source of all this misery was, she could argue that she was being made to suffer because of Job, because of who Job was. After all, because of who Job was, his personal traits and qualities were of course the very things that had led Job to be singled out by God in the first place and the very reason why Satan became interested in Job.

I’ve recently come across a compilation of the work of the American twentieth century evangelist, Aiden Wilson Tozer (1897 – 1963). Why do I mention this? I mention this because shortly after his death in 1963 this work was published as a book, entitled, Man the Dwelling Place of God. Man, the dwelling place of God. Political correctness apart, we all know that the word Man is used to signify humanity, either man or woman, but more significantly we can grasp from that book title, Man the Dwelling Place of God that the dwelling place of God exists in each person we meet, there is that of God in everyone that we meet. So, we may speak of our ‘Christ nature’ or our ‘inner Christ’. Jesus told his listeners that they were the light of the world and that they should let their light shine before others so that others could see their good works and thus give glory to God. In other words that light that we must let shine that inner light is the very light of God that exists in each one of us and it must be nurtured and grown. This is what Christians mean when they say that we should let Christ enter into our hearts. In the Book of Revelation, we have Jesus saying, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.’ It is the awakened soul that hears that calling that gives over their heart, mind, soul and strength to the love of the Lord to the love of God. It is the awakened soul too that can look on the beauty of creation say with love, with awe and with wonder:

 O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!
Your glory is higher than the heavens. Praise the Lord! (Psalm 8)

And so, I return to those words which give the title to Aiden Wilson Tozer’s compilation: Man the Dwelling Place of God. Can we not see the significance of these words that if God dwells within each one of us, then the battle between good and evil that takes place on a cosmic scale takes place also within each one of us. The point is that in the story of Job the Lord God singles out Job, like a warlike king choosing the territory on which he will fight, the very battlefield on which this conflict must be fought out to the bitter end, and that same battlefield exists in the soul of each person event today as it raged then for the very soul of Job himself. Job as we shall see was no ordinary man, Job’s light shone so brightly that even God praised him from the realm of his heavenly courts When we consider this, we are reminded of God’s praise for Jesus, that praise that was manifest as the voice from heaven, the descending of the Holy Spirit at the baptism of Jesus at the River Jordan, and those words ‘this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.’ The incarnate Christ was also the ‘Dwelling Place of God’ the battleground wherein the struggle between good and evil also took place leading him to Golgotha, leading him to the cross.

We might perhaps recall the words of that famous battle song of John Bunyan, ‘He who would valiant be ‘gainst all disaster, let him in constancy follow the master’. When we give ourselves to the glory of God, we must engage in the same struggle as St Paul advises in his letter to the Ephesians when he wrote:

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Ephesians 6: 10-11)

Let us return now to hear Job remonstrating with his wife and to hear the irony of her words, the bitterness, the cynicism the accusatory tone, as she utters those words of condemnation, ‘Are you still trying to maintain your integrity’ he knows that no mutual comfort may come from that quarter, deserted even by her, he finds no moral support or comfort in this time of his greatest need but only that in her opinion he should ‘Curse God and die’.

What else can we say about Job? We can say that the story of Job represents in some way the totality of human suffering although I would venture to suggest that even so, there are others who have inexplicably suffered even more than he. And yet at the height of his suffering Job was still able to admonish his wife, saying: "Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” When all else fails there is only faith and the certain knowledge that God is everything, God is all there is. To curse ‘God and die’ as Job’s wife would have it is perverse evil indeed, to ‘curse God and die’ is to forsake the ground of our own being and to forsake that love that passes all understanding, to ‘curse God and die’ is to enter the abyss, to give succour to the powers of darkness to condone the wickedness of this world and its despair, to embrace the misery of abandonment. This is why when all seems lost, we can still cling to that rock of faith and know that even in death, as we will, we may face the end, knowing that God will not abandon us knowing that God will not abandon the faithful soul, knowing that ultimately, we are spiritual beings and that death itself is merely the prelude to the resurrection and to eternal life.