Job is most likely a parable that explores the question of undeserved suffering. The question of why bad things happen to good people continues to haunt us today. In this first part of the story, Job is established as a God-fearing, righteous man. Satan challenges God, stating that if God withheld God’s blessings from Job, Job would curse God’s name. God decides to let Satan put that challenge to the test. In poetic succession, Job loses first his oxen, donkeys, and servants to raiders, then sheep and servants to natural disaster, next camels and servants to raiders, and finally all his children to natural disaster. Two of these were not caused by human actions; none were caused by Job. Despite his losses, Job turns to the rituals he is familiar with, and that have served him well till now. Job chooses to remain faithful and blesses the name of the Lord.
This part of the story, although dire, moves quickly, and Job’s response is as swift as his losses. If the story ended here, it would be a nice little story of faithfulness. Often it is the case that we are able to withstand a certain amount of suffering. For a time, our familiar patterns of worship can make the losses tolerable as we pick ourselves up and renew our faith in God. As the story continues, though, Job will be pushed beyond his limits, and that is where the most volatile and interesting conversations happen.
This week, though, Job has not yet crossed his threshold for suffering. Interestingly, Job does not turn to God only in his time of need. Early in the story it is established that Job has been setting up and practicing his faith rituals, so that when he is in need, the rituals come to him naturally. This might be a good opportunity to lift up the rites and rituals that your congregation practices regularly. In practicing those during good times, they can become helpful in times of need. Let’s look at the ritual of funeral lunches, for example. It may seem that the tasks of preparing the food, delicately decorating the luncheon space, and the hospitality that accompanies the lunch are thankless chores. But the gift of a meal for the family of one who has died offers community, consolation, and the opportunity to share stories and to laugh. By practicing the ritual regularly, the event can go smoothly for those who need it the most.
There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.
His sons used to go and hold feasts in one another’s houses in turn; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the feast days had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” This is what Job always did.
One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
One day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three columns, made a raid on the camels and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was still speaking, another came and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you.”
Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong-doing.