JOB AND THE ADVERSARY
One of the most interesting books of the Old Testament is the poetic drama which has come down to us under the name of Job. Who was the author of this extraordinary work? Was Job a real person? Did these experiences really happen to him? These are questions which have remained unanswered through the ages, though scholars have devoted their best efforts to finding the answers. Poets have analyzed the book of Job for its beauty, and philosophers have pondered the age-old problem with which it deals: Why do the righteous suffer; how can a just God permit evil in the universe; is there such a thing as disinterested love of God? Their study has apparently brought them to the conclusions that Job never received an answer to the questions which tormented him and that the ways of God are inscrutable and incomprehensible, even though Job himself seemed at the last satisfied and at peace within himself.
These are matters of academic and intellectual interest, to be sure; but to the Christian Scientist the book of Job presents that which is of much more import, namely, the account of the inward struggle and triumph of some sincere thinker in his journey from sense to Soul. Our Leader, Mary Baker Eddy, tells us that it is the spiritual significance of the Scriptures which should concern us, and the book of Job, studied from this angle, yields especially rich rewards.
It may be helpful to think of the story from an entirely subjective standpoint; that is, to see it as the mental arguments coming to a mortal named Job—in the last analysis, indeed, to any human being. This brings the story into the ken of each one of us.
Which one of us has not had some agonizing mental struggle over the questions of why we were going through some trial, why we were suffering some afflictive physical experience, why this problem had come to us to be solved. With this as a clue to understanding the story, let us see what the book of Job will unfold.
It will be recalled that in the prologue to the tale it is particularly emphasized that Job was a just man and perfect, who feared God and eschewed evil. This point of Job's perfection not only is established in the words of the writer, but is stated twice as representing the thought of Deity Himself. In our textbook, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Mrs. Eddy gives the definition of adversary, which follows in part (p. 580): "An adversary is one who opposes, denies, disputes, not one who constructs and sustains reality and Truth." When Satan, or the adversary, proposed to put Job to a test, it was to prove the answer to the question (1:9), "Doth Job fear God for nought?" To put it another way: Is there such a thing as love of God, of Spirit, just for its own sake? Did Job love God just because He is God, or because of such things as the prosperity and health in matter which had been his? What a challenging question this is! Do we love God, Truth, for His own sake, or do we seek Him because of the loaves and fishes with which He has supplied us?
When in the story before us the test began, Job's family and all his material possessions were first swept away, and finally he was afflicted with a loathsome physical disease. Then began that battle within himself which no doubt started with the words: Why has all this happened to me? I have been a good man. I've tried to live righteously. Why? Why? Why? It is in Job's inward struggles, the mental seesawing from the knowledge of his integrity and righteousness to the effort to find an explanation for his present troubles, that the interest of the book lies, not because it tells of Job, but because it tells of anyone, of everyone, who has some knowledge of God's goodness and is puzzled by the necessity thrust upon him to prove this.
A few of the arguments which came to Job will suffice to convince us that we have heard them in our own inner thoughts. In the depth of his agony Job cried: Why was I ever born in the flesh? I wish I could die right now and end it all. Yet to this question, after various pros and cons, came the conviction that God had made him, that he was the work of God's hands; and he decided he would hold fast to this thought.
Another persistent argument which came again and again to torment him was the suggestion that he must be experiencing all this suffering because of his being a sinner. He did not know what the sin was, but his friends said that suffering was the result of sin. This he recognized as true; but on the other hand, what about all the evildoers who prosper, living in sin all their lives and dying in prosperity? Perhaps my sin, he said to himself, is just in being a mortal man; but if I'm a mortal man, how can I ever hope to find God, who is perfect and immortal? There is no justice in this situation. I know I've lived a life of righteousness. I'd like to plead the justice of my cause.
Receiving from his friends only the reiteration that his troubles represented sinful thinking on his part, he turned forever away from mortal counsel. At this point there came a flash of spiritual insight, which began to lead him out of his darkness, He knew God as his friend: "I know that my redeemer liveth and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God" (19:25, 26). Our inspired Leader, referring in Science and Health to this passage in Job, writes (pp. 320, 321): "For example, the text, 'In my flesh shall I see God,' gives a profound idea of the divine power to heal the ills of the flesh, and encourages mortals to hope in Him who healeth all our diseases; whereas this passage is continually quoted as if Job intended to declare that even if disease and worms destroyed his body, yet in the latter day he should stand in celestial perfection before Elohim, still clad in material flesh,—an interpretation which is just the opposite of the true, as may be seen by studying the book of Job."
For the moment it was enough for Job to see and declare, "I know that my redeemer liveth." This conviction sustained him through another onslaught of accusation coming from his so-called friends. Job was now sure that his heavenly Judge knew his integrity and would deliver him. He was aware of God's omnipresence and omniscience as Spirit, not as matter: "Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: on the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him: but he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (23:8–10).
Job was still troubled by what seemed to him the evidence that iniquity goes unpunished in the world, but for himself he was content to say (27:6), "My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go: my heart shall not reproach me long as I live." He recognized that this experience through which he was passing could teach him wisdom; and God's wisdom, he said, is not always apparent to mortals. He finally arrived at this conclusion (28:28): "Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding."
With this insight he was almost at the end of his search. He saw God as good, reviewed his own integrity, and called on God to judge him. One last attempt was made by the adversary to unsettle Job, to make him see himself as a sinner; but this time Job gave heed to the voice of Truth alone. The voice of the whirlwind recounted the wonders of God as creator, and the wisdom, beauty, variety, order, and law apparent in His universe. The result of this influx of light was to blot out evil, with its seeming reality and presence, and to lead Job to the triumphant statement (42: 5), "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee;" as if to say, I have believed what men told me about God as good and evil, but now I see Him as absolute goodness and perfection.
Thus Job's trial ended with the proof that he did love God supremely. It resulted in a deeper love and understanding of Him, in the conviction of evil's nothingness, and in the proof of God's allness, with the restoration of Job to health and prosperity.
May we not, like Job, cease our futile efforts to find a why for error? Let us realize that if we could ever find a why, error, evil, would have reality and presence. Our efforts to explain its presence serve to give it basis and confirmation. Our textbook says (p. 92), "The foundation of evil is laid on a belief in something besides God." So before evil consigns us to the ash heap of erroneous beliefs from which Job suffered so cruelly, until he fought his way back to harmony, let us learn to recognize and silence the machinations of the adversary, in whatever way it would claim to oppose, deny, or dispute God's allness.