This has been a season of suffering. The flu hit with a vengeance. The story of Job comes to mind. In the midst of suffering Job says, “My bones cleave to my skin and to my flesh, and I have escaped by the skin of my teeth.”
Job has been called one of the noblest works in literature. Tennyson called Job “The greatest poem of ancient or modern times.”
It certainly is well known. Just the mention of his name calls forth the image of undeserved suffering and patience, as in the saying, ‘the patience of Job.’ Job put himself in God’s hands. Remember the famous line, as he suffered dreadful losses, “The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” He stopped saying that when he lost his health!
Job raises the problem of theodicy: how to square belief in a good, all-powerful God with suffering and evil in the world. It’s based on an ancient Summerian story of a nameless man who was suddenly reduced from health, wealth and happiness to severe illness and pain.
Job gets angry, and he addresses God directly, complaining, with an extreme arrogance. He goes through a crisis of faith. His old God died. His friends try to console him, at first, by just sitting with him. But they finally break the silence and tell him that he must have done something very bad to deserve this punishment. They need to be assured that God is just. In other words, they don’t want to believe that this could happen to them! They even tell Job that since God is not only just, but merciful, that he must have deserved even worse punishment!
Job asks them to leave. Then he has his direct encounter with God, complaining bitterly. That’s when the voice comes out of the whirlwind and tells him that he, Job, isn’t in charge of the universe — that he didn’t give the horse his strength or teach the eagle to fly.
Job emerges from this encounter a new man, transformed. In his humility he says to God, “Behold, I am of small account. I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once but will not answer twice.”
The original version of Job ends there. Not a happy ending. After several hundred years a new ending was added, in which Job is said to have learned his lesson. The story says. “The Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.” He also got the comfort he needed from family and friends, from whom he had felt abandoned: “And every man also gave him a piece of money, and every one an earring of gold. So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning.”
The story says that in his latter years Job had seven sons and three daughters. The new Job broke with tradition he gave his daughters an inheritance along with his sons. “So Job died, being old and full of days,” meaning he had a full, rich, meaningful life.
This has been a season of suffering, so Job came to mind. I hope you’re okay — if you’ve had the flu, I hope you’re back on your feet. I am. I escaped by the skin of my teeth.