Today’s readings (Track One, here) include the first of four weeks of readings from the book of Job. For me, this is a hurdle: I strongly dislike this book. The God described in Job is a God I frankly don’t much like. He is vain, cruel, compassionless. And this first reading reminds us that the tortures which Job will suffer were not even the result of Satan first bringing Job to God’s attention and daring God to test him (which, once God accepted the dare, was bad enough), but rather the result of God first bringing Job to Satan’s attention for the purpose, in effect, of boasting about His own majesty.
“Have you considered my servant Job?” God asked.
Had God truly valued Job’s worthiness, God would not have taunted Satan with it and would not have then put Job in Satan’s hand to torture.
Oh, sure, this “suffering servant” theme presages the ultimate suffering servant, God’s son, Jesus Christ. But there’s a difference: Jesus is allowed to suffer, and thus, in humility and self-sacrifice, God Himself (in one of His three persons) suffers, in order to redeem the world and make expiation for all that has gone wrong in God’s creation. Job, on the other hand, is deliberately handed to Satan so that he, Job, might suffer and in doing so prove not God’s humility, but God’s majesty. (Later readings from Job will contain famous passages in which God effectively tells Job to stop griping because Job can’t possibly understand how great and powerful God is.)
As wonderful as the other readings are (I especially like the psalm about integrity, a subject about which I reflected some weeks ago), Job is a barrier to my reflections on everything paired with it.
And Job’s eventual reward makes the story no better for me. I just can’t wrap my mind around the idea of God not just as one who allows suffering, but who is instead actively complicit in it (by, in effect, using Job as a pawn in a bet with Satan).
So, for those who feel about this as I do, how should we respond?
All I can figure is that our task is not to try to understand this God; our task is to emulate Job. When Job’s wife, almost mockingly, asked, “Do you still persist in your integrity?,” Job in effect said yes. Indeed, the psalmist may as well have been channeling Job when he wrote, “As for me, I will live with integrity.”
We don’t know exactly what God intends for us. But integrity is a virtue for its own sake. Yes, we must trust that a loving God eventually will reward such integrity. But we must act as if integrity is its own reward. In doing so, we uphold integrity not for the ulterior and ultimately self-serving motive of securing God’s beneficent joy, but merely for the nobly humble motive of deserving it. Without that humble motive, it may not really be integrity at all.