The Story of Job
A spiritual emergency, or what has been called a “dark night of the soul”, can happen to any of us. The story of Job from the Old Testament of the Bible illustrates how even those with the greatest of worldly and spiritual wealth can find themselves in a bleak place.
Job had a vast estate that was lush and profitable, herds of animals, many servants and children who honoured and loved him, good health, wise and affectionate friends, and an impeccable reputation among his countrymen. He was known as a man of great devotion, ascribing all his good fortune to God.
Yet neither Job’s great prosperity nor his renowned piety could keep him from the calamities that life may inflict. Wealth is, at best, fleeting and unstable; and living a spiritually correct life does not ensure that we will be spared misfortune. Our connection to God through our spiritual path is our only true source of sustenance.
Doing his best to live well
Job was in many ways like every one of us: someone doing his very best to live his life well, take care of his family, and serve God. He was subject to the same passions as us, and was not without sin – but he was most sincere in his devotion to God. He was a rich man, but of that rare kind who keeps his wealth in perspective. As a man of great piety and as a householder, he lived in the world but was not of it.
People thought that Job’s prosperity was so great and so firm that nothing could alter his situation. But the truth is that our temporary comforts are borrowed in this world. Our money, our families, our work – all are false security.
God loved Job, who was truly his most devoted servant. He was, in our terms, the perfect disciple. However, according to the Bible story, one day God called a meeting of his sons, including his most arrogant and troublesome son, Satan, a character also known as Kal. Nowadays we understand the notion of Satan or Kal, not as a personification of evil but as the abstract idea of worldly temptation, the influence of the mind and senses. But in the language of the Old Testament, Satan is evil personified.
God allows Satan to test Job
According to the story, as described by Matthew Henry in his Commentary on the Whole Bible, Satan jealously claims that Job is a hypocrite without genuine love for the Lord, and wants to prove this. So God gives Satan permission to afflict Job to test his sincerity – throwing at him any calamity he chooses so long as it does not hurt his actual body. God believes he will pass the test, but Satan predicts that Job “will not only let fall his devotion, but even curse thee to thy face”. By proving Job a hypocrite, Satan hopes to show God he has not one faithful disciple among men.
So Satan throws one calamity after another upon Job. They come so fast that Job has no time to catch his breath, to reason out what is happening, to make plans to stop the devastation, or to keep himself balanced. His wealth is destroyed, his servants and children slain, and Job is completely overwhelmed. This is where he enters into the dark night of the soul – a time when one’s faith and trust in God are tested to the limit.
The despairing Job tears his clothes and shaves his head, normal expressions of great sorrow at the time. Yet he keeps his temper and his faith in God, and bravely maintains the peace of his own soul, saying, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb and naked shall I return”. He does not see himself as a victim, or as having been abandoned by God. Rather than being maimed, Job sees himself as naked: in other words, returned to his original state as a man.
There are times in our lives too when we are challenged to trust in God’s plan for us. It might be that we have lost a job and wonder how we are going to care for our family, or that we endure a chronic, painful illness or a devastating accident that shatters our world. Perhaps we’re facing retirement and frightened of financial insecurity. Or we might be struggling with our meditation. This, too, can bring on a dark night for our soul, for it is our faith in the Master’s instructions on how to return to the Lord that keeps us hopeful and inspired.
Whenever our minds are preoccupied with our problems and needs, our meditation can be affected. Just as Job’s relationship with God was under fire, so can our spiritual work and our relationship with the Master and with God come under duress. Serenity, acceptance and faith are what keep the inner light burning and our souls moving forward on the path to God realization. Like Job, we should not curse God in the darkness; rather, that is the time when we need to rely on him most, to believe that he has us just where he knows we need to be.
Job remains thankful to God
Job, stripped of his former life, acknowledges the hand of God – not only in his former, privileged life but also in his new, impoverished state. “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away”, he says, and continues to adore the Lord. Job’s story shows us that afflictions must not divert us from our spiritual journey but heighten our appreciation of God in holding us and caring for us, no matter what.
Job has passed his test. Satan, dissatisfied, goes back to God and asks to be allowed to inflict pain on Job’s body. God agrees. And so Job becomes afflicted with horrendous, painful boils; no salve or surgery can alleviate the pain. Others urge him to curse God, but Job says, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil also?”
Here Job shows us that no matter what God sends us, good or bad, it all comes from him, and we need to submit positively to his plan for us. In addition, we must keep dedicated to our spiritual path. Just as Job holds on to his integrity by not cursing God, we need to keep our faith in the Master and be true to our promises to him.
In his sorrow, Job curses the day that he was born, but he does not curse God. He is suffering not only from his losses, but now from terrible physical pain as well. He states that he would gladly part with his life but not with his connection to God.
He trusts God to keep holding his hand
His friends come to console him, offering their own perspectives on why he has been so afflicted. They say that if he had truly been an honest man, he would not have been so afflicted, and so they encourage him to confess that he is really a hypocrite. Job will not do this, for to do so is to deny his love for God. Instead, acknowledging his miserable condition, Job begs God to pardon him for any sins that he may have committed. Job complains to God, but he does not complain about God. He comforts himself with the belief that no matter what he must go through, he is held by the hand of God.
Even though he is complaining, Job says (in Matthew Henry’s words) that “the soul is the life, the soul is the man, and this is the gift of God: Thou hast granted me life, breathed into me the breath of life, without which the body would be but a worthless carcass. God is the father of spirits; he made the living souls, and imbued us with the powers of reason; he gave us life and favour, and life is a favour.”
Job admits he cannot understand why God would give him so much wealth and happiness and then so much struggle and pain, but he concludes humbly: “These things thou hast hidden from my heart.” We too would love to know the mind of God when we pass through difficult times, but like Job we must acknowledge there are things man cannot know. We have to be humble enough simply to accept what God gives.
Job’s friends speak to him again. They accuse him falsely of things he never did. They count among his sins wantonness and uncleanness of heart; fraud and injustice in commerce; adultery; cruelty towards his servants; idolatry; neglect of the poor. In essence, they claim that he has indulged in the five vices of lust, anger, ego, attachment and greed. Furthermore, they cite his present sickness and poverty as proof of his sins against God.
Job’s suffering is thus increased further, for now he has no one to comfort him and help him make sense of his situation. He begs to speak to God, and when God comes to him, he angrily puts his case. Finally, he has lost his temper. But still, he does not curse God.
In order to help Job, God shows him the infinite distance between them, showing that Job is by no means a match for God. He shows Job his weaknesses and impotence in the light of God’s omnipotence. He says to Job:
“Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me if you have understanding … have you ever in your life commanded the morning and shown the dawn its place?” … Then Job answered the Lord and said: “Behold, I am of little account; what can I answer you? I put my hand over my mouth.”
In the end, Job recovers his temper and humbles himself before God. God then acknowledges Job’s limits as a man, especially since men are so subject to their passions. Although Job has tried to argue with him, God knows that never once did Job curse him, and that he maintained his love for the Lord in the face of all his trials. God lets him know that he is well pleased with him.
The rest of Job’s life is spent with even greater wealth, more children, and much love. But the greatest thing in his life is his continually growing spiritual relationship with God.
In the end we see that we cannot judge where God places us in our lives. Like Job, we need to accept humbly that no matter what God puts us through, whether we label it positive or negative, it is all from him and it is all given to us for our own good. Armed with our faith in God and our devotion to him through our meditation, we can face any dark night of the soul, confident that the Master is holding us close and directing us through the darkness – even when we ourselves can see no light. With such faith, humility and acceptance, we will find our way home.
Plough your field with the Lord’s Name,
Sow the seed of devotion;
Even if there’s a drought
Till the end of the world,
The seed will not fail to sprout
Nor fail to yield a rich crop.