Job had 10 children (Job 1:2). When Satan challenged God’s assertion of Job’s righteousness, he asked God for permission to harm Job’s loved ones and take Job’s possessions (vs. 10-11). God acquiesced, and Satan used human conflict (vs. 15, 17) and natural disaster (vs. 16, 18-19) to destroy all that Job had, and kill all whom Job loved, save his wife.
My biggest fear is that something would harm one of my children, let alone both of them. I know people who have lost children. It is completely devastating. Yet, from the text of the story of Job, the death of his children functions more as an element of movement, than a cause for mourning. Job must move from prosperity to pain so we can get to the meat of the story and find out if Satan was right. The death of 10 “young people” (vs. 19), as well as their spouses and servants, is a tool for the use of the storyteller. The event gets us to the point where Job has to react, and his reaction is the story.
The narrator never comments on the sorrow of such an awful human loss. Satan is utterly indifferent. Satan does not care a whit for Job’s children or for Job. Satan wants to prove God wrong. God also comes across coldly. We love reading “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they” (Matthew 6:25-26)?
These words of Jesus clearly state that God values us, loves us, and provides for us. Genesis chapters 1 & 2 declare humans made in the image of God; humans and humans alone are special in God’s kingdom.
And yet, in Job 1-2, humans (Job’s children and servants) are mere fodder for the wager. God seems more intent on proving Satan wrong than valuing Job’s children. In fact, God appears to be completely indifferent to the fate of Job’s children; and, God is not at all sympathetic to Job’s grief. What gives?
First, this is a good example of why we strive to consider the entire testimony of the Bible and not just isolated verses. When we read the New Testament we have to remember the Old, because the New is built on the Old. When we read the Old Testament, we have to remember the New because our interpretation of the Old is determined by the teaching of Jesus and Paul and the other New Testaments voices. With other passages as a corrective, we remember we can trust God to watch over us and care about us.
Second, death is not always the worst thing to happen to someone. We don’t see the Job story from the perspective of Job’s children. Their view is never considered. From their vantage point, maybe something is gained by their deaths. I don’t know. I look into the New Testament and see Stephen willingly face death for the sake of the Gospel (Acts 7). Jesus embraced death to save humanity.
This step of trying to step into the shoes of the peripheral characters does not put God in better light. God doesn’t look good in Job 1 & 2. But, lest we commit Job’s sins, let me hasten to add, we cannot understand God’s perspective. We cannot know the divine mind and I accept that. What I wish is that we had some dialogue or some knowledge of the thoughts of one or two of Job’s children. It might help us understand the morality of the story.
In seeing that we don’t have that, I am eternally grateful we have passages like Genesis 1 & 2 and Matthew 6 to remind us that God does value us and does care. These passages don’t provide relief to the seemingly capricious theology and theocentric morality of Job. But they remind us that God is good.