The Silences of Job
Evolution of Satan
First Lesson --Intro
Fifth--To the End
Putting it Together
Putting it Together II
SONG of SOLOMON
The Lovers--ch. 5
Lovers VI--ch. 8
Job's Loss (Lesson II)
Bill Long 3/27/06
As Seen Through Three "Prisms"
If you so desired, you could simply use my essay from the study guide to probe these issues. In addition, I have written some additional essays on Job's wife that try to explain the meaning of her ambiguous words in 2:9. The essays are here and here. In this essay, however, I want to examine a different way of presenting Job's loss, one that includes the material from the study guide but really opens up other issues, too.
I. The Talk Between the Satan and God (1:6-12; 2:1-6)
I avoided these passages in my study guide to the Book of Job for fear that they would get us so bogged down that we may never "escape" to the rest of the Book of Job. Here is my fear. Once you begin to talk about "Satan" or "The Satan" (as the creature is known in Job), you run into many people who seem to have very definite and inflexible opinions about him. Many argue that the Satan in Job must be Satan whom Christians know from the NT as an eternal and implacable opponent of God. But, as I argue here and here, however, this is incorrect.
I think I have also avoided these passages because they present God in a less-than-favorable light. God seemingly doesn't know whether his servant Job would be faithful. God, then, is in need of education. If these passages could be portrayed as almost playful in their literary imaginativeness, and if the people who are studying Job have playful bones in their body, then a study of these passages can be richly illuminative of both God and the Satan. I am wary, however, of people just saying, as they are wont to say, "Well, this fits in perfectly with the NT. God is permitting Satan to torment Job. But, Satan's scope is limited by God's power. Everything seems right." I think that most people aren't ready to have their pet theologies questioned in the first chapter of Job. Indeed, the challenges generally come after ch. 3. I guess I have a fear that many will use the prose narrative of Job just to confirm their theology, rather than question it. But, on further reflection, why should I fear if people do this? They are free to read, or not read, Job in its various dimensions. I am still learning how to do that. Thus, I think that these passages could be presented helpfully, though it may be a difficult thing to do.
II. Presenting Job's Loss
In my "standard" presentation, I look at Job's loss in ch. 1 and 2 through the three 'prisms' of Job's comments in 1:20-21 and 2:10; his wife's words in 2:9; and the friends' actions in 2:11-13. By presenting this way of approaching Job's loss, I give loss a "first take" before delving into Job's "second take" on loss in ch. 3. But I am re-evaluating that approach for the following reason.
I am discovering it is more useful to present Job's two reactions to loss together than just to give us Job's first take. If we do his two losses together, we have the following. After he loses all his worldly goods (including his health), he does/says:
"20 Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped. 21He 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.’"
And, in 2:10, he says, criticizing his wife:
"10 But he said to her, ‘You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?’"
I tell the class that this is Job's first reaction, and then ask them if they would have similar reactions to such losses. Invariably people say that they wouldn't. What is going on here?, I then query them. Many people, at least in contexts where I teach, would suggest that Job is denying is pain. They use the schema popularly presented by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross where the first stage of grief is often denial of the loss.
But now a great opportunity is open to me. Before moving on to how to read Job's wife's reaction or the friends' first reactions, I turn to Job 3:1-10, and have them read the passage aloud. I mention that 3:1 is only 5 verses after Job's last assertion of uncomplaining fidelity to God. What has happened in these five verses? I have three answers, but it is good to let people wrestle with the question. My answers are: (1) he listened to his wife's advice..which really is "(If you continue to) bless God, you will die; (2) he was reflecting the experience of "letting go" which Emily Dickenson, in her poem "After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes," (discussed in my book A Hard-Fought Hope); (3) he had a chance, during the visit of the friends, to "let down his guard" because he finally felt he was with sympathetic hearers.
By putting Job's two reactions to loss next to each other, as it were, we are able to see Job's grief process as something dynamic and evolving. We see him less as a caricature of a righteous man and more as a broken person, tinged by the human condition common to us all.
Indeed, one of the overarching themes of the book of Job is a quest for integrity. Job was seemingly the man of integrity in 1:1. When he narrates his past life, it is a life of integrity (29:1-17). However, the experience of loss shatters him, and the "restoration" of Job in 42:7-17 explores the issue of what a new kind of integrity might mean for him (and us). Right now, however, we are in the midst of crippling loss. After Job's two reactions, we are really ready to plunge deeply into the poetry of the book. That is the subject of the next lesson.
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long