There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name [was] Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.
We’ve already touched on the issue of God’s justice in Noah’s flood, but now we are going to face it head-on. As our play begins, we are told Job (‘lyowb, from ‘ayab, enemy) is one of the good guys, perfect and upright (tam yashar), if perhaps a bit obsessive-compulsive:
offered burnt offerings [according] to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually
God himself weighs in on the side of Job, in a dialogue with Satan (satan, adversary):
And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that [there is] none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?
Satan, needless to say, is not impressed:
Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?
He raises a really interesting philosophic point, though (one must give the devil his due, after all). Why do we fear God (yare’ ‘elohiym)? Is it merely out of gratitude for all that God has given us? Or out of fear that God might take away what we have? Why do we turn away from evil (cuwr ra`)? Surely much evil is dangerous and self-destructive, but is all of it? Is righteousness any safer?
These are serious questions, despite the scurrilous way they are being used. They strike at the very premise of this blog — that happiness has roots, and that serving God and being happy are compatible rather than opposed. However, I want to be precise and assert that they only coincide to first order; that is, they are not identical. Serving God is not merely pursuing one’s one happiness, though it does include it. Otherwise, Satan’s critique would be accurate, and Job’s response would not be worship (shachah):
Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.
But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face.
For now let’s overlook the sliminess of Satan’s activity, and even God’s complicity in the matter. What exactly is at stake?
Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die. But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips.
Why are these two spiritual beings making such a big deal over one mortal’s integrity (tummah) or sin (chata’)? Or, if you prefer, why has this story been preserved for four millennia? Does it really matter why we fear God? Does God really care why we choose good instead of evil?
Well, yes. Apparently these are important questions, and worthy of our serious consideration. In one chapter (well, two) the author of Job demolishes centuries of philosophical and theological speculation. Clearly, living a virtuous life does not ultimately guarantee prosperity, or guard against misfortune and physical suffering — it might even draw it to you. Thus, those are not sufficient reasons for trusting God. Yet, Job does. Why?
Perhaps that is the question we will be answering in the rest of this book.