The last two days we started reading Job in church at Morning Prayer. I was asked "the" question, so might as well address it first. "Do you think Job was a real person?" I said, "No." But I want to reconsider that answer, "Yes. Job is a real person, because Job is you and I (at least in our innocent suffering). It is about human suffering, and that suffering is very,very real."
There are lots of theories about the book of Job, but it seems fair to say that it reads like Wisdom literature. The ancient Jews, like most peoples, probably had folk tales and fables as part of their oral collections. The tale seems to be a convenient way to introduce in depth argumentation known as Theodicy (explaining God and evil). The historical issue really does not matter [I think lots of contemporary Christians would give Jesus a hard time about His parables ("Who exactly was the farmer, Jesus, and where did he live?"). Personally, while a real live human Jesus seems pretty important, I cannot say the same for Job.] So, as we start, let's say that whether or not this is thoroughly factual, it remains a TRUE story which reflects upon the question, "Why do bad things happen to good people" or "What the heck is God up to?"
Job is portrayed as Mr. Perfect living the "Good life." He is blameless and pious, and his children (7 boys, 3 girls) are in harmonious relationships with one another. Job has extensive holding and is very rich. He also makes constant sacrifices 'just in case' there have been hidden sins.
God is portrayed anthropomorphically. He is a king who asks questions of His angels. "Where have you come from?" He asks The Accuser (literally ha satan in Hebrew). Like an overly enthusiastic DA, the 'satan' is quick to question God's positive assessment of His servant Job. To paraphrase, "Well he is rich so of course he is pious, but let his fortunes turn and he will turn on You as well." So God let's the satan/accuser test Job. All his holdings are stolen, his servants killed and his children die in a collapsed house.
Job's response to the annihilation is a well known verse: "Naked I came from the womb and naked I return, the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."
This is called worship. It is faith. It is indifference to the benefits of living a righteous life.
It is the starting point for reflecting on our own response to misfortune, not so much looking at the actual losses from a psycho-emotional perspective, but rather in terms of God in Himself, versus God in all that He does for me.
When the accuser unleashes round two on him, festering sores and affliction, Job still maintains that holy indifference. "We take good from God, why not bad?" It is that second question each of us must ask in the face of life's cruelty and personal loss; the question after "Why me, Lord?"
Why NOT me?
Why should I not endure what others have suffered? Why should I be spared?
Asking questions about justice and fairness, or the nature of God, will follow in the chapters ahead.
I think, however, we must pause first to ponder our own response, irrespective of our circumstance.
Why do I believe in God?
How do I love God?
and is it solely a function of the accidents of my circumstances?