…The modern habit of saying, ‘Every man has a different philosophy; this is my philosophy and it suits me’: the habit of saying this is mere weak-mindedness. A cosmic philosophy is not constructed to fit a man, a cosmic philosophy is constructed to fit a cosmos. -GK Chesterton, On Job
Confession: I’ve been a Christian for a decade and have read every book of the Bible except for the book of Job. To make amends for this (not that penance is required), I decided to read the book during this Lenten season and will conclude it this Holy Week. To be honest, it’s not been the easiest to read. I anticipated it would read like Isaiah or the Psalms – lament, then joy, rescue, or some sort of resolution, but that’s not the case. There is an enormous crescendo at the end of the book to be sure, but I’m not satisfied. Job presents his demands of God, but God doesn’t give him answers in the way that I want him to. Yet, despite this, a lot of things about the book have stuck in my mind in profound ways.
Like Job, I want to know what something is, not just what it seems. I think this is a lot of what the book of Job is about: understanding rather than assuming. Job doesn’t understand why all these horrible things are happening to him – why he’s had to taste suffering and torment- and his friends can’t understand why the bad things are happening to him either; outside of the natural realm of consequence. Perhaps Job’s transgressed God, or has done something to anger Him that he shouldn’t have done in the first place. Their minds can’t understand how Job could not have provoked God’s wrath. Thankfully Job doesn’t give into this his friend’s way of thinking. And neither should we.
As per usual, Chesterton says it best:
“Job…wishes the universe to justify itself. Not because he wishes it to be caught out, but because he really wishes it to be justified. He demands an explanation from God…He does it in the spirit in which a wife might demand an explanation from her husband whom she really respected. He remonstrates with his Maker because he is proud of his Maker. He even speaks of the Almighty as his enemy, but he never doubts, at the back of his mind, that his enemy has some kind of a case which he does not understand…He is anxious to be convinced, that is, he thinks that God could convince him.”
So often, especially over these past four months, I’ve yelled at God, asked him why, and demanded He show himself and his ways to me. I’ve demanded God justify himself to me like Job pleaded of him first. I’ve lived a holy and honorable life – not pure or blameless, but I know it’s been beautiful and meaningful and something worth emulating. I’ve become a good person. So why have so many bad things happened? Why have my expectations and desires been allowed to be dashed into pieces, especially when what I had or chased were good things, even God-honoring things, things that could further what I perceived was His Kingdom?
“The mechanical optimist [Job’s friends] endeavors to justify the universe avowedly upon the ground that it is a rational and consecutive pattern.” But God says to Job, in effect, “that if there is one fine thing about the world, as far as men are concerned, is that it cannot be explained…Instead of proving to Job that it is an explicable world, he insists that is a much stranger world than Job ever thought it was.
…Here in this book the question is really asked whether God invariably punishes vice with terrestrial punishment and rewards virtue with terrestrial prosperity…For when a people have begun to believe that prosperity is the reward of virtue their next calamity is obvious. If prosperity is regarded as the reward of virtue it will be regarded as the symptom of virtue. Men will leave off the heavy task of making good men successful. They will adopt the easier task of making our successful men good.
…Job is not told that his misfortunes were due to his sins or a part of any plan for his improvement. But in the prologue we see Job tormented not because he was the worst of men, but because he was the best…I need not suggest what a high and strange history awaited this paradox of the best of man in the worst of fortune. I need not say that in the freest and most philosophical sense there is in one Old Testament who is truly a type; or say what is prefigured in the wounds of Job.”
And like Job, our prosperity is not contingent on our virtue. Virtue is not hocus-pocus or an “if…then” conditional guarantee. If glory and prosperity is our focus and we think we can get there through our own actions and behavior, we’ll set ourselves up for unfathomable disappointment. We can live the holiest of lives- being earnest in prayer, faithful to read the word, tireless to serve others, always looking after those whom cannot take care of themselves – and at the end of our striving our dreams of X, Y, or Z may or may not come true. More likely, living virtuously will mean that we will suffer gravely like Job; but it won’t be for want. We’re promised something cosmic: an eternal weight of glory. Even more, if we belong to Christ we are Children of God, and if “children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:17)
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
-CS Lewis, The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe