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By Roland E. Murphy, O. Carm.

The Bible: Light to My Path

St. Anthony Messenger has invited several biblical experts to contribute to this column in 2002. Each month, one author will choose a passage that comforts, challenges or seems neglected. He or she will explain how to apply this passage and connect it to everyday life. This month's guide:

Roland E. Murphy, O. Carm., is a priest of the Carmelite Order and a frequently published biblical scholar. You can learn more about Job in Father Murphy's The Book of Job—A Short Reading (Paulist Press).



No Answers to Multiple Choices
Why, Oh Why?
Biblical Background

Is it for nothing that Job is God-fearing?

Job 1:9


The Book of Job poses one of the great questions in the Bible or anywhere else (here placed on the lips of the satan!): Is it for nothing that I/we worship God? What’s in it for me? When things go along smoothly and I prosper, is my love of God really unselfish? Or is it love of myself, disguised as love of God? What does it mean to love God, anyway?

The question of Job 1:9 gives rise to many personal questions about human motives and lifestyles.

No Answers to Multiple Choices

The Book of Job doesn’t hold the answer(s) to this question. But the author of the book has set me thinking. Only I can give the answer, as honestly as I can.

The author has given me all the options that he knew. He knew nothing of a future life. He thought that when people died, they went to Sheol or the nether world, not a place of punishment, but of bare existence where there was no loving contact with God. So the relationship of Job (or anyone else) with God was restricted to this world.

     In Job’s day, people interpreted their good fortune as God’s favor, but their suffering as God’s anger. True, this is not a sound way of judging, but don’t we hear something like it when a person says, as if to explain hard luck, “I’m having my purgatory now”? Do we judge God according to the proportion of good and bad things that occur, the pluses and minuses of life?

Why, Oh Why?

As we read on, we discover Job arguing with God, complaining of his troubles. (Remember, Job was not aware of the conversation between God and the satan in Job 1:6-12, in which the plot of the Book of Job is set up between God and the adversary.) Job doesn’t curse, but he comes close. Yet he never gives up: “Slay me though he might, I will wait for him; I will defend my conduct before him” (13:15).

Job is not “patient.” That is a misleading interpretation. Rather, he is steadfast and persevering, as James observes (5:11). Maybe the satan was mistaken about him.

When the Lord finally speaks, Job is approved and even restored (Job 38:1—42:17). But he is not given a tidy answer to his suffering. The Lord describes, with probing questions, the mysteries of creation within which all of us live. The greatest mystery is suffering, which is also the theme of the Servant in Isaiah 53 and is addressed in the words of Jesus in Luke 9:23: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

What answer would you give to that question of the satan? Why do you “love” God? If you do, is it a fairly disinterested, selfless love? How do you compare it with the other “loves” in your life?

Did you ever stop to get at the meaning of your love for God or for anyone else—even your love for yourself?

This question posed in the Book of Job’s first chapter remains as a challenge for every human being.

Biblical Background

The Book of Job is a product of great poetic art, filled with ironies that are not always apparent in translation. It is classified among the wisdom books of Scripture and addresses the theory that sin and suffering are linked. This does not square with reality, specifically with Job’s experience.

The author of the Book of Job portrays a scene in the heavenly court where the “sons of God” assemble before the Lord. Among them is the satan, whose task it is to “patrol” the earth. This messenger is not the devil, but a kind of prosecuting attorney. St. Gregory the Great was a Church father who led us to see “the satan” as the “devil” of New Testament thought. When the Lord points (boasting?) to Job as a God-fearing, true worshiper, the satan challenges this: Are you sure? Why shouldn’t Job be pious? Look at all that you have given him! Take it all away and he will curse you!

The Lord, now in a no-win situation, accepts the challenge. The author has set up the reader to think about the mystery of suffering. Will Job prove the Lord or the satan right?

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