Many Christians are familiar with the Book of Job. Generally considered to be the oldest book in the Old Testament, and Torah scholars agree that it predates Moses. The story also appears in the Qur’an, with a much more developed story, as one of their Prophets. Considering that the place names given in the story place it firmly in the Babylon Empire, It could predate the Babylon Captivity to the dark reaches of civilization itself.
When I say Christians are familiar story, I say that they misunderstand it at their peril.
The scene opens with God tending to his pet human, Farmville-style. He has picked a favorite, and the favorite is pampered more than a celebrity chihuahua in Beverly Hills. Every need is anticipated, and some are created only to be filled. In response to this lavish attention, The pet, Yôb, loved God very much.
One day, while God was fiddling around with his Tamagotchi, the Angels show up for a meeting. Unfortunately, they forgot to close the door behind them, and The Great Adversary, Satan, the Accuser, shows up.
Now, there is a lot of disagreement with who gets unfettered access to the Lord. Some say that Satan and Lucifer are two different characters, but that isn’t part of this. We’ll continue the story from the Judeo-Christian viewpoint.
If this was ol’ Lucifer, we know his back story. He ran God’s spotlight, and started to realize that, without him, God would be sitting in the dark. Now the story ranges one way or another, depending on who’s telling it. Sometimes, it is that the Lightbringer wanted to move in on God’s action, sometimes it is that he’s God’s brother who felt cheated, a common Biblical theme. Either way, the Son of the Morning got himself exiled, and was accused of the crime of Pride.
Now, Ol’ Toby, seeing the great pride God shows for his little toy, decides to show up to put a bug in God’s ear. As the Prince of the Power of the Air, he must have been a little salty.
“Where have you been?” asks God.
“Oh, here and there, you know? Checking things out…”
“Hey,” gushes God. “While you were down there, did you see my pet, Yôb? He is the best and he loves only me!”
“The way you pay him, he should,” hisses the Old Serpent. “If you crapped presents on me all of the time, I would too! Take it all away, and see how long he loves you after that.”
God and Satan start off a bet, with little rules and no real mention of what, exactly is at stake. First, the approval is given for all of his life to be destroyed before his eyes. First, raiders steal all of his plow animals, crashing his farm into ruin. Then, God cooked all of Yôb’s sheep and shepherds. Then, someone shows up and steals all of his transportation and kills all of his employees. Finally, the last guy shows up to tell Yôb that the roof caved in, and all his beautiful children and his brother were crushed to death.
Yôb tears his clothing, says something poetic and holds onto his beliefs.
Satan shows up at the meeting again, and sees that God still has great pride. So, he ups the wager. “Things are nothing. Let’s make him sick.”
“Sure,” says God.
So, Yôb, God’s favorite person, gets cursed with boils so painful that all he can do is scrape them open and let them run. His wife, a voice of reason, points out, “You know it is God doing this to you. The Fire from the sky burning up all of your stuff was a good sign. Man up, call God a Bastard and let him kill you.” (Job 2:9)
Yôb calls her a heathen and tells her to be quiet. “Should we only accept good from God and not the bad?”
Then, Yôb’s good friends show up and he is so wasted with disease, they begin wailing. The man doesn’t even look the same anymore. So, for seven days they sit by his bedside in silence, just lending him their strength.
Yôb spends an entire chapter wishing he was never born, “Let it be lost even to God, shrouded in eternal darkness and forever forgotten.” (Job 3:4, second part) He also wonders what he did to tick God off so badly. “Why is a man allowed to be born if God is only going to give him a hopeless life of uselessness and frustration? I cannot eat for sighing; my groans pour out like water. What I always feared has happened to me. I was not fat and lazy, yet trouble struck me down.” (Job 3:23-26 Living Bible)
Yôb is thrown off because he knew that he was God’s favorite, but he knew the fickle nature of God according to Job 3:25. Even when you are God’s favorite, and you follow all the seemingly arbitrary rules, God will still hang you out to dry. “What I always feared has happened to me.” (Job 3:25)
Despite this, well meaning friends take it upon themselves to point out where Yôb is wrong, because even now, 4000 years later, humans are tricksy meddlers and self-righteous bastards. It is the humanist mindset initially; to see someone’s suffering and attempt to relieve it. The problems arise when what you intended as well-meaning advice and viewpoints get colored by egotism. The idea that you, separately, have no real problems at this time, so you must be doing right and are qualified to give expert advice.
First comes Eliphaz the Temanite, representing the formidable wisdom Edomites were renowned for, “Bad things only happen to bad people. You must have gotten God angry and need to get yourself right.” It appears that Eliphaz came to this determination when he actually sensed Satan showing up and heard him say, “Is mere man more just than God? More pure than his Creator?” (Job 4:17)
In this, Satan shows his hand. His game is to see if Humans can be better than a Capricious God who would torture his favorites like this. (I invite your refutes in the comments.)
Eliphaz even makes a rather Atheistic statement, saying that if God cannot even control his servants, what are we, but dust? They crush us and no one cares. (Job 4:18-21) “Those who turn from God may be successful for the moment, but then comes sudden disaster.” (Job 5:3) Eliphaz is of the idea that our evil deeds, no matter how small, are what invite pain and destruction, because we are inherently evil and it is in our nature. (Job 5:6-7) “You must repent, and God will hook you back up to the gravy train.” (Job 5:8-27, paraphrased)
Strangely, Yôb replies that he cannot feed his animals, and cannot stand to eat his food unseasoned. This leads him into his wish for God to just kill him. He, then, quite powerfully, points out to Eliphaz that he has no reason to bring accusations of what he, himself, has done wrong when he is supposed to be there to bring comfort. Yôb points out that he is a good man, and invites his friend to bring evidence otherwise. He points at how great his suffering is and that he cannot survive.
“O God, am I some monster that you never leave me alone?,” Yôb cries. ““Has my sin harmed you, O God, watcher of mankind? Why have you made me your target, and made my life so heavy a burden to me?” (Job 7:12 and Job 7:20)
Bildad the Shuhite starts in, and he is a jerk. “Blah, blah, blah, Yôb!” (Job 8:2, paraphrased) “You’re just lying to yourself. God doesn’t do things like this to good people.”
Yôb replies, wearily, “Of course you’re right, but who is going to argue with God when he decides to sh** all over you?” (Job 9:2-4, paraphrased) “Even if I were sinless, I wouldn’t say a word. I would only plead for mercy and even if my prayers were answered, I could scarce believe that he had heard my cry for he is the one who destroys, and multiplies my wounds without a cause. He will not let me breathe, but fills me with bitter sorrows.” (Job 9:15-18)
Yôb then delivers a line worthy of Sam Harris:
“Innocent or evil, it is all the same to him, for he destroys both kinds. He will laugh when calamity crushes the innocent. The whole earth is in the hands of the wicked. God blinds the eyes of the judges and lets them be unfair. If not he, then who?” (Job 9:22-24) “If I decided to forget my complaints against God, to end my sadness and be cheerful, then he would pour even greater sorrows upon me. For I know that you will not hold me innocent, O God,but will condemn me. So what’s the use of trying? Even if I were to wash myself with purest water and cleanse my hands with lye to make them utterly clean, even so you would plunge me into the ditch and mud; and even my clothing would be less filthy than you consider me to be, and I cannot defend myself, for you are no mere man as I am. If you were, then we could discuss it fairly, but there is no umpire between us, no middle man, no mediator to bring us together. Oh, let him stop beating me, so that I need no longer live in terror of his punishment.Then I could speak without fear to him and tell him boldly that I am not guilty.” (Job 9:27-35, Living Bible)
Behold the lament of the Righteous Man. God sh**s on people, and who are we to argue. Perhaps, if He weren’t so high and mighty, He could be reasoned with. He continues on, asking God why He has to be such a Jerk.
“Mind if I break in here,” asks Zophar the Naamathite. “Shouldn’t someone stem this torrent of words? Is a man proved right by all this talk? Should I remain silent while you boast? When you mock God, shouldn’t someone make you ashamed?” (Job 11:2-3) “You’re stupid if you think that you aren’t being punished for something. Do you think you know better than God? You might not know what you did, but God does, and ignorance is no excuse. You just need to get right with God.” (Job 11: 4-20 paraphrased)
“Ugh,” groans Yôb, more of his flesh sloughing off in a stinking pile, “Yes, Zophar. I know the rules. Remember? I was the one telling everyone to worship the Volcano God, and he set my sheep on fire. Everyone is laughing at me now.” (Job 12 1-4) Back then, there were a lot of Gods…. (Historical context:http://www.pantheon.org/articles/y/yahweh.html) They had been so keen on This God being the Boss God, that they even made a rule about it. (See Second or Third Commandment, depending on your religious preference)
Yôb then pontificates on the nature of his War God. He destroys nations and lays low the mighty. (Job 12:17-25) He makes deserts and floods on a whim. (Job 12:15) “Yes, with him is strength and wisdom. Deceivers and deceived are both his slaves.” (Job 12:16) He, then, tells his friends to stay out of it because he wants to talk to his God.
His prayer reflects the Agnosticism one can get from constant pain: “God may kill me for saying this—in fact, I expect him to. Nevertheless, I am going to argue my case with him. This at least will be in my favor, that I am not godless, to be rejected instantly from his presence. Listen closely to what I am about to say. Hear me out.
This is my case: I know that I am righteous. Who can argue with me over this? If you could prove me wrong, I would stop defending myself and die.
O God, there are two things I beg you not to do to me; only then will I be able to face you. Don’t abandon me and don’t terrify me with your awesome presence. Call to me to come—how quickly I will answer! Or let me speak to you, and you reply. Tell me, what have I done wrong? Help me! Point out my sin to me. Why do you turn away from me? Why hand me over to my enemy? Would you blame a leaf that is blown about by the wind? Will you chase dry, useless straws? You write bitter things against me and bring up all the follies of my youth. You send me to prison and shut me in on every side. I am like a fallen, rotten tree, like a moth-eaten coat.” (Job 13: 15-28)
Yôb pontificates on the terribly short lives of men and the brutal toll the God takes of man, waxing poetic on the futility of reality. “Is this a test? Will I live forever if I pass? I thought that I was following the rules, but I guess not.” (Job 14: 14-17, paraphrased)
He shakes his fist at his God, “Always you are against him, and then he passes off the scene. You make him old and wrinkled, then send him away. He never knows it if his sons are honored; or they may fail and face disaster, but he knows it not. For him there is only sorrow and pain.” (Job 14: 20-22)
Eliphaz tells him to knock off the crazy talk and explains that even Grandpas agreed that, “A wicked man is always in trouble throughout his life.” Bad things happen to bad people. Atheists run in terror. “Armed with his tin shield, he clenches his fist against God, defying the Almighty, stubbornly assaulting him.”
Eliphaz, then, unleashes his inner Commie and tells you the types of people God does not like: “This wicked man is fat and rich, and has lived in conquered cities after killing off their citizens, but he will not continue to be rich, or to extend his possessions. No, darkness shall overtake him forever; the breath of God shall destroy him; the flames shall burn up all he has.”
“Let him no longer trust in foolish riches; let him no longer deceive himself, for the money he trusts in will be his only reward. Before he dies, all this futility will become evident to him. For all he counted on will disappear and fall to the ground like a withered grape. How little will come of his hopes! For the godless are barren: they can produce nothing truly good. God’s fire consumes them with all their possessions. The only thing they can ‘conceive’ is sin, and their hearts give birth only to wickedness.” (Job 15:27-35) It appears that his friends feel that he was getting a little uppity with his riches and power, and the God was punishing him for his pride.
Yôb sighs. “You people are awful. I’d try to comfort you if our circumstance were reversed…. though I might say the same… But no! I would speak in such a way that it would help you. I would try to take away your grief.” He then cries out, “Enough! I give, God. You have taken everything. What else do you want? Just know that I did nothing wrong and I hope the stain of your betrayal of me will never come out. You know this looks bad, right? I was the ‘God’s Favorite Guy’-guy and now I look like an ass and you look like an a**hole. Nobody wants a God like that.” (Job 16:1-22, Job 17 paraphrased)
Bildad the Shuhite gibbers angrily through all of Job 18 about Karma and how the wicked will be dead and forgotten.
“Will you shut up? If you’re God’s lawyer, convict me and be done with it. Everybody hates me. I have hit rock bottom. Even my family won’t speak to me.” (Job 19: 1-20, paraphrased) Yôb is a weeping, dying mess, and everyone is yelling at him. He throws out a ‘Hail Mary’ pass and reaffirms his belief from his days of wine and roses, and a curse upon those around him, “How dare you go on persecuting me, as though I were proven guilty? I warn you, you yourselves are in danger of punishment for your attitude.” (Job 19: 28-29)
Zophar gives the first Daily Kos article ever. “For he has oppressed the poor and foreclosed their homes; he will never recover. Though he was always greedy, now he has nothing; of all the things he dreamed of—none remain. Because he stole at every opportunity, his prosperity shall not continue.” (Job 20:19-21)
Yôb gives up and turns to blasphemy. “I am complaining about God, not man; no wonder my spirit is so troubled. Look at me in horror, and lay your hand upon your mouth. Even I am frightened when I see myself. Horror takes hold upon me and I shudder.” (Job 21: 4-6) My whole family is dead, all my possessions are gone and I look like a walking corpse.
“Making it worse? How can it be worse? Jehovah! Jehovah! Jehovah!” John Young (1916-1996) as ‘Matthias,’ Monty Python and the Life of Brian.
Yôb points out that the wicked are actually doing quite well for themselves. “But who can rebuke God, the supreme Judge? He destroys those who are healthy, wealthy, fat, and prosperous; God also destroys those in deep and grinding poverty who have never known anything good. Both alike are buried in the same dust, both eaten by the same worms.” He points out that the wicked never seem to get what they ‘deserve.’ In fact, the Rich are honored! (Job 21 7-34, paraphrased)
Eliphaz flips his wig. “Then what is the point of it all? Why follow the rules? No! I have to believe that you are a complete rich bastard that rips off poor people to get this affliction. You’re just in denial. Just agree that you fully deserve this punishment or the basis of everything we believe is pointless.” (Job 22, paraphrased)
Yôb gives in, “It must be true. If God were to look, He’d see that I was innocent. It scares me to think what he thinks of me right now. Why doesn’t God listen to those who are ground down? He ignores so many cries of the poor. Yet, the wicked take advantage of the poor, murder, rape and steal. Yet, I have to believe that they are left forgotten, moldering in the ground and leaving nothing for their children.” (Job 23 and 24, paraphrased)
Bildad the Shuhite says a prayer against Yôb‘s blasphemy. (Job 25) He is absolutely terrified that he’s going to get hit by Heaven Fire as collateral damage of a vengeful God.
Yôb calls his friends idiots. He says the prayer of a dying man under his breath, followed by an avowance of his innocence. Then, Yôb invites his friends to look upon the punishment for sinners and begins to say something pithy before thinking better of continuing the argument. He points out that rich people and clothes horses should expect worse than his fate, and that everyone will cheer when they die horribly. (Job 26 and 27, paraphrased)
“Men are smart monkeys who know lots of tricks, but money can’t buy wisdom. Only Death and Destruction know the why of it and perhaps God does, too. That rule is ‘Don’t be an A**hole…. and be scared. Very scared. It is obvious that God gave up on me, and I don’t understand. I was well respected and I helped everyone I could. I didn’t ask for power. They gave it to me. Now they sing of my downfall. I am just a big joke. I keep calling out, but you won’t answer. What did I do that was so wrong?’ (Job 28, 29 and 30 paraphrased)
He then begins to list the crimes that he knows of, pleading his innocence for each, before assigning a punishment, like a game of spiritual ‘Go Fish.’ “I am not a lecherous pervert. I know that one is wrong. If I am a liar or a crook, let me be forgotten. If I ever wanted someone else’s wife, kill me and let my wife go catting all over town.” (Job 31:1-12, paraphrased)
Suddenly, a completely inconceivable thought flies into his head. “If I have been unfair to my servants, how could I face God? What could I say when he questioned me about it? For God made me and made my servant too. He created us both.” Yôb assigns some pretty gruesome punishments for being a rich bastard, and also sun and moon worship. He points out that he’s never laughed when one of his enemies have had misfortune, he makes sure his employees are fed and he had never tried to hide his shame, automatically refuting each before devolving into wishing someone would listen to him. He finishes by pointing out that he has never stolen any land nor killed anyone, and if he had, he hoped the land grew weeds. (Job 31: 16-39)
Finally, Elihu (son of Barachel, the Buzite, of the clan of Ram), the youngest in the group pipes up. He’s angry at everyone and he’s not going to stay quiet any longer. He had let the elders have their say, but apparently age does not make people wise. He tells Yôb that he will intercede with God for him, but he has to admit that his sin is that he wishes to know the ways of God and expect them to be explained to him. He calls out Yôb for ‘rebellion, arrogance, and blasphemy‘ and his friends for doubting God. If God knows everything and created everything, than nothing can exist outside of His plan. Your sin can’t unseat God, and he’s not going to punish as soon as someone pokes their head up like a tyrant. He also isn’t going to squeal every time you do good. He crows about how great God is, stating, “God is so great that we cannot begin to know him. No one can begin to understand eternity. ” (Job 36: 26) Elihu literally goes on for two chapters (Job 36 and 37) raving about how great God is. “Look at all these things we don’t understand (all of which have, since, been explained by Science). These are the workings of the Unknowable God”
God, hearing all these great things said about him finally shows up. Does he explain himself? No, he begins to gloat about how smart he is, look at all of the things you don’t have Science to explain to you. I did that. That’s all me.
Yôb admits that, perhaps, he had already said too much. Angry Gods appearing in whirlwinds have that effect.
Spurred on by the meekness of his target, the War God moves in for the kill, listing off a hippo and this fire-breathing water lizard-dragon-thingy (or, perhaps, a crocodile) that He made that totally prove how cool He is. He cows Yôb into submission, apparently forgetting that this was all a bet with the Devil and that He totally was torturing Job for no reason, and He turns on Yôb‘s friends, telling the men who thought to know the judgements of God to beg for Yôb‘s forgiveness and intercession with the Lord with a big BBQ.
Magically, when Yôb went back to praying for others, the curse was lifted, and everyone lived happily ever after.
Whew! It got late and I am tired. I hadn’t meant to paraphrase the entire Book of Job, but I never found a place to hop off. Even in my non-Christian beliefs, I find, strangely, great comfort in the Book of Job, perhaps because it is even older than any of the established religions.
See my next blog as I break down the story and how it applies to those times when it just keeps raining. https://grimmjest.wordpress.com/2014/04/03/the-spirituality-of-comfort-and-the-nature-of-suffering/
I wouldn’t have been able to do all this without Bible Gateway. It is a phenomenal resource for anyone interested in the Bible in any translation: http://www.biblegateway.com/
Bible.org was good for the History: https://bible.org/article/introduction-book-job
… as was Bible Study Tools: http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/job/
Hannah’s Cupboard explained Job more succinctly, but I didn’t agree with their conclusions. That is where I got the beautiful purple picture: http://hannahscupboard.com/jobs-prayer.html
As always, research would hit a wall without the exhaustive Wikipedia. It really expanded what I thought I knew about Job: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Job_%28biblical_figure%29#Islamic_views_and_Quranic_account
I was having fun with using different names for the Great Adversary. This was my pocket guide: http://lds.about.com/od/basicsgospelprinciples/a/names_of_devil.htm
Finally, thank you to Monty Python, who first showed me the sheer absurdity of it all.