The Question in Job

“Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” Job 1:9-11
“Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” Job 2:4-5 (Both NRSV)

I have had the pleasure of being able to research Job for two essays this semester. It has been fun. One of things I like is that Job brings up so many questions, and seems to offer so few answers. It is most often associated with the problem of pain. How can God allow evil? Or why do bad things happen to good people? This may be the most common question, but it is not so central in the text itself. Getting closer to the center, one might ask where did the friends of Job go wrong? At the end of the book God declares they have not spoken rightly of Him. I am not saying that you can’t find where they make mistakes, but do you know? Its interesting reading and looking for them. Reading the first speech, by Eliphaz, I realized that he gives a lot of advice I agree with. Odd, to say the least.

Most often, if I hear anything about Job, it is very short and simple. Job was righteous, patient, and good at persevering through suffering. His friends were idiots who tried to steer him wrong. God blessed him in the end. The book isn’t that simple though. I’ll avoid the language and translation issues, though they abound. The real question of the book is this: what is the relationship between piety and prosperity? This is a question I very rarely hear asked. Must God bless us for obedience/faith/faithfulness/etc.? and if he does, does it taint our faith? Why are really following God, why do we really try to love Him? Job had no concept of heaven, death was it for him, Hades and the life of shades at most, and yet when he lost everything, according to the book, he remained faithful. With no concept of reward here or after, wishing for death from the very beginning of his speeches, Job somehow remains faithful.

I bring this up because I feel that we very rarely ask this question of ourselves. I don’t ask it very often. In a consumerist society we all too readily ‘sell’ the good news, and therefore it would be counterproductive to ask why we are really faithful, to ask if we only follow for the good things we will get. We presume that that is the case in the very way we present out message. Heaven forbid we talk about what it might cost, let alone the fact that the rewards are beside the point. “Do you know if your going to heaven when you die?” A common question, and perhaps even a good one, to ask as an opener before sharing the gospel. Yet, the presumptions hold. “Do you know that Jesus is waiting for you to, completely out of self-interest, come to Him and profess, so that you can gain all He has to offer at no cost?” The problem, of course, is the large grain (or grains) of truth in such attitudes. People really are motivated by self-interest, and your results will probably be much better if you use that to your advantage (of course, then the question is what kind of results are you looking for?). Also, grace really is free for those who need it; it really comes at no cost. Some have pointed to this cruel paradox in despair. To be told to be selfless by the man who offers you everything. Jesus teaches us to give in secret, yet knowing we will be rewarded greatly by our Father in heaven.

As one man puts it, Gavin Drew in this article, “Our 'What's-in-it-for-me' attitude to faith, our 'pie-in-the-sky-when-I-die' use of the God-idea, is merely the religious reflection of the same drive for self which motivates individualistic rightist social theory and capitalism. Only when we realize that our 'blessing-for-me' attitude has its roots in 18th Century Enlightenment ideas and has nothing much to do with the relational personalism of biblical revelation will we be liberated for right action and thought.”

And still, the question remains: what is the relationship between piety and prosperity? Why do you follow God?

This has been a difficult question for me to face. I am so used to everyone pandering to my self-interest. Trust Christ, he will get you eternal life in heaven. Pray, God will answer. “Knock and the door will be opened to you, ask and you shall receive, seek and you will find.” Again that truth. If you know how to give good gifts, how much more so your Father in heaven? There are definitely two sides of a coin here. We are only servants, and poor servants who can’t even do their duty. We must leave all and follow him, hate mother and father, sister and brother. And, just in case you wanted to privilege one side over the other, they mix happily together. Sell everything to gain the pearl of great price, give it all to buy the land with the buried treasure.

Though the final count works out in favor of those who follow Christ, we must follow without that as goal or motivator. These problem stabs at the very base of my nature, and there is really only one way I know of to solve it. Knowing Christ. Only when I am taken up in worship of God, when my mind is surrounding by the light of His glory, when my heart is filled with His compassion, when my life is directed by His hand; only in those rare moments do I escape my selfish and grasping inner darkness.

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