By Father Leo Edgar, O.P.
You can’t help feeling sorry for the man. Despite all his protestations and prayers, God seems to be ignoring his requests!
Why, I wonder, does the Church introduce us to Job’s suffering so early in this year’s Liturgical Calendar, and so close to the beginning of Lent in ten days time? A reading from the prophet Job only appears once in the Sunday scripture readings, so why now? If my memory serves me right, before the Second Vatican Council changes, we never got to hear the story of Job at all.
The story told in the Book of Job relates how God allowed him to be tested by Satan. This blameless and upright man is handed over to Satan by God to put him to the test. The whole passage seems to be a battle, a divine battle, between God’s certainty of victory over Satan, and Satan’s determination not to stop testing Job. No matter how tedious and odious the test can be, we are continually confronted with the power of God’s love for Job.
The same is true for us! God is so confident that we can overcome the temptations set us by the devil that He never gives up on us, even at times when we might be tempted to give up on ourselves! It is important for us to remember this, particularly at those moments in our lives when doubts might creep in, or we might question how much longer we must keep struggling, not only with matters of faith, but even with matters of life itself. A bit like Job, we can be caught between the slowness of the passing night, and the restless, seemingly endless waiting for twilight to fall, as the day begins to come to an end.
But read on! What we notice in the passage about Job’s desperate appeal to God, is a seemingly introverted attitude towards his situation. He’s feeling sorry for himself, a feeling perhaps shared by many of us from time to time!
Part of the challenge of Ash Wednesday, and the whole of the Lenten season, is to take stock of our lives as followers of Christ, and to examine the depth of our commitment to living our lives as Christ lived – or at least trying to! To what extent are we, like Job, subject to bouts of self-pity; of a feeling of being harshly treated in life, and in need of God’s intervention to make things better?
In order to address the question effectively, one needs to discover, I think, to what extent one has been infected by the so-called “Fake News” that seems to permeate so much of today’s false teaching in matters regarding ones relationship with the supernatural, influencing not only one’s understanding of the ills of the world in which we live, but also of the goodness of the Creator of that world.
In his appraisal of God’s goodness, Job is torn between the understanding of a God who punishes the wrong-doer, but rewards the one who lives according to God’s laws; an understanding shared by many of his contemporary friends (Eliphaz, Bildah and Zophar) who try to console him and advise him in his plight, but not very successfully. They only partly succeed in this, as Job has to discover for himself God’s goodness and mercy in order to “live happily ever after”, his health restored, his children and possessions once again replaced by God in the latter part of the story.
As Katherine Dell’s conclusion indicates in her commentary on “Understanding Job”:
Job has much to offer those suffering today. The message is not to give up on God because bad things happen in the world; rather in holding on to faith, we will reach a deeper level of understanding. In Christ, God suffered at the deepest level, and so is able to be with us in our suffering and guide us when we are lost and perplexed, yet desperately wanting to hold on to our faith in God as Job was.
Reading Job is a good preparation for us as we approach another Lent.