Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. He 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.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong-doing.
—Job 1: 20-22
How could Job be so accommodating, so gracious, given all he had to endure? Most of the time I admire him a great deal, but on occasion I have to wonder: Could anyone really be this composed?
Were Job alive today, he would be the fellow with the thriving cattle business, a host of beautiful children and grandchildren, good health, wonderful friends, and a supportive wife. He would be highly respected in his community—an active member of his church and probably a past president of his civic club—and he would want for nothing. Granted, he would still have to work, but he would never have to worry about making his house payment, paying for medical care, or putting food on the table. He would be living the American Dream.
And then he would lose it all.
Poet Archibald MacLeish retold the story of Job in much the same way in his 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning play J.B. Like that of his biblical predecessor, J.B.’s plight raises a series of age-old questions: Why is there suffering in the world? If God is loving and all-powerful, why does evil exist? Or, as Rabbi Harold Kushner puts it, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” The answer, when it comes, is never satisfying: They just do.
Neither the book of Job nor the play J.B. comes close to solving this mystery—or so it appears to me. Bad things do happen, and reason can’t explain them away. We should be troubled by genocide and starvation, war and disease. We should be distressed when we see some among us receiving excellent medical care and others receiving none, when we see some schools operating with the latest in high tech equipment and others struggling to simply repair the roof.
What the story of Job gives us is not a “God will take care of it” ending, but a very real picture of a life lived out in faith. Regardless of what happens, good or bad, Job knows that God’s hold on him is not contingent on events; it is a function of who God is. Job may lapse into anger and self-pity at times, he may cry out for justice, he may resent his supercilious friends. But through it all, he can also experience a paradoxical trust that enables him to say, in the words of Thomas Merton, “mercy within mercy within mercy.”
O God, when my world falls apart, when my losses seem to far outweigh my gains, help me to know that, through it all, you are still God, that you will never let me go.