Years ago, one of the television broadcasting networks decided that religion was an important part of American life. They hired their first religion correspondent to cover a broad range of how religion influences American lives. I heard that correspondent speak at a conference where she told this story:
Even though she worked out of her home in Texas, she flew to New York City for planning sessions to discuss angles for news stories. One story they were featuring was a minister’s family, and a son’s wife who had contracted the AIDS virus through a blood transfusion. The young woman didn’t know she had the virus and both of her children were born with it. The network wanted to cover this story and how the family would cope with the suffering.
As the group of corporate executives considered the angles and how best to present the tragic story with empathy, one of the un-churched team members said how about using the job angle?
The correspondent had trouble recognizing how she could report the story through the minister’s or son’s occupations and said so. The person who suggested replied something like this: “Not the preacher angle, not his job as a minister. You know job, job, that guy who suffered in the Bible.” The correspondent finally realized that although her teammate was unfamiliar with most things religious and didn’t know how to pronounce Job’s name, she had heard about Job’s suffering.
In the Bible, the written account of Job’s story drops us into the middle of his existence. He is wealthy, has a wife, sons and daughters. And he faithfully sacrifices and prays for his children, in case any of them inadvertently sin. All is well in Job’s world when we first hear about him. The only trouble is that we’re hearing about Job because a conversation is going on between God and Satan, and Job is the topic. God’s portion of that talk praised his servant Job: “[H]e is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (1:8). But Satan goads God by naming all of God’s “umbrella” blessings: A hedge of protection for Job and his family, and he has massive wealth. Satan then wagered if God stretched out his hand and struck Job and everything he has “he will surely curse you to your face” (vs. 11).
I don’t pretend to understand what happened in that context or happened next, but I do know that God took a stand for Job’s integrity and right thinking, saying in essence, “I know my servant Job’s heart and I can count on his faithfulness.” Satan was given permission to strike out against Job. In a single day, he lost his family and wealth, and all that was left was his wife. When Job refused to turn against God, then Satan gained permission to bring illness upon Job, but that’s where God’s permission stopped. He would not allow Job’s life to be snuffed out.
Job’s already pitiable life got really rough, and Job described the wretched misery of his illness: “My body is clothed with worms and scabs; my skin is broken and festering” (7: 5). Besides the physical pain, his four friends came to commiserate with him, but they salted and vinegared his open wounds by their judgments and words expressing that surely Job’s personal sins had brought about his affliction. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Being misunderstood. Getting bad advice. Needing relief. Wanting empathy. Yearning to know why he suffered so much loss. Finally, a message came to Job from God himself. God told and showed Job that he doesn’t think, do, or imagine as man does. God revealed to Job that the human experience involves mystery and faith. And that some things we will never know.
Job’s faith might have trembled during his horrific ordeal, but he remained firm in his resolve that even if God allowed his life to be taken, God remained trustworthy: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (13:15).
The epilogue of Job’s story tells us that God blessed his latter years even more than the first of his life (42:12-16). Our index card scripture for this week is a portion of Job’s response when God “answered” Job out of the storm. God often brings deeper understanding to us during our storms. And we, along with Job can express our praise when God allows us deeper glimpses into his loving kindness.
Index Card Scripture for Week 14: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5).