I taught a lesson recently on Job. He's an interesting character study and one who, for all that's been written and taught on him, one that is still often misunderstood. Everyone has heard of the Patience of Job and know that his book is a key text on the nature of suffering, but if you've the idea that he responds to his situation like a Hollywood version of a Zen master, you're much mistaken. Job is not a passive suffering--and suffering is what the word patience actually refers to.
His story begins in Heaven, where God asks Satan if he's considered his servant Job, a man who fears God and turns from evil. Satan answers that Job has every reason to serve God, given all the blessings he has received, but take those away and he'll serve no longer. So God gives Satan permission to do just that and in the course of a single day Job learns that all his property has been stolen or destroyed and his children are dead. God points out to Satan that Job still serves him and Satan replies that Job is ultimately only concerned about himself. Take his health and he'll fail. So God says, fine, but don't take his life. So there he is. Once a rich and important man, respected by all, even God, and now he sits on an ash heap scrapping his sores with a pottery shard.
Three of his friends come; Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. They sit in silence for a week, mourning him, and then begin what could only be called an intervention. God is merciful, repent of whatever brought you to this point and He is sure to forgive and restore you. Job insists he's done nothing wrong and if he could learn what it was he is supposed to have done, that he was brought so low, he could refute the charges. They go back and forth. The Book of Job is really a series of dialogues and could easily be staged as a play. But nothing is resolved. Everyone gets angrier. No one backs down. Eventually, they just run out of things to say and shut up. Then a fifth character, Elihu, speaks up. He's disappointed with everything he's heard, especially Job constantly justifying himself, and goes on at length arguing that God isn't accountable. Then God enters the picture. Instead of replying to Job, He reiterates His role as sovereign and creator. Job repents of his presumption and then prays for his three friends. His friends flock back to him, each giving him a little money. God blesses him again and by the time of his death Job is a richer man than ever.
Its an interesting book, with two important lessons. The first is that terrible things happen, even to those who don't deserve it. When studying for this lesson I came across writers who assumed Job must have done something wrong, or he wouldn't have been punished so severely. But Job wasn't being punished. In fact, everything that happened to him happened to him because God had faith in Job's faithfulness. Two thousand years after our Saviour died a tortuous death because of our sins, and not because of any fault of His own, you'd think people would have a handle on this, but many don't. Tragedy, misfortune, even poverty, are not a sign of God's disfavour.
The second lesson, and the one that is really hammered home once God responds to Job, is that God is sovereign. The Bible does teach what Christians call the Law of Sowing and Reaping. You sow what you reap. Bless and you will be blessed. But that is a principle, if you will, and not a 'law.' God's sovereignty, His power and authority over all His Creation, comes first. Without this God becomes a thing, a tool, and our behaviour comes to dictate our relationship. This is a mistake that Satan, Job's friends, and even Job, make. Satan argued that Job served God because God blessed him. Job's friends argued that Job had been cursed because God was punishing him for some wrong. But while the lives we have do reflect the lives we live, we are not in control. God is.