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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Job's Wife

This blog is my column in my church's newsletter for the week of July 12-19, 2009.

“Curse God and Die” (Job 2:9b)

The Biblical book of Job prompts endless discussion, and theological speculation in several directions. The number of angles and opinions are impossible to keep up with. Once people start talking about Job and the issues raised in Job, they can’t stop. This is the surest sign that Job is (a) brilliantly conceive and written, and (b) literature in which God is still at work, still speaking.

The multiplicity of views includes a variety of thoughts on Job’s wife. Though she appears only in Job 2:9-10, she impacts readers greatly. Upon an initial reading, she strikes me as antagonistic. I read Job and I am ready to dismiss his wife as faithless, negative, and unhelpful.

Recently I shared these views, judgmental as they are, in a group discussion. I wasn’t imposing my views on the group, just sharing what I thought. My voice was one among many, and there were definitely other opinions. “She has lost all her children, and her wealth,” one person said. I paused in my thinking on Job’s wife, and took a step back. It dawned on me that even though she is only heard from in these two verses, she is there, a part of the story. Furthermore, hers is a complex character, even if a silent one.

Bible scholars who read with a feminist bent would be justified in pointing out that even though she isn’t mentioned in chapter 1, Job didn’t have those 10 children by himself. She was there and she had a say, even in her silence. She mattered greatly. Also, we remember that in ancient Semitic cultures all a woman had was her father, and then her husband, and ultimately her sons. Job’s wife was wealthy because her husband was wealthy, and respected, and they had 10 kids including 7 boys. Due to her wealth, Job’s wife was an important woman in the community.

Then, Satan, with God’s permission, stripped all the wealth away by provoking the Sabeans and Chaldeans (1:15, 17). Then Satan, obviously endowed with limited elemental powers, provoked a desert tornado of sorts that collapsed the house where Job’s 10 children were enjoying fellowship with one another. Finally, Satan inflicted loathsome sores on Job’s body. The woman had nothing – no kids, no property, and her husband was reduced to grief on an ash heap.

Should she have stood by her man? Of course! Compassion and support were what Job needed more than anything. But, before we jump to quick judgment of this woman, it behooves us to remember she also suffered greatly. In truth, when we go through trials that rip at the soul, how do we respond? Blessed be the name of the Lord; or, curse God and die. Clearly, the former is the ‘right answer.’ But has that been the honest answer in your life or mine?

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was an army officer in Soviet Russia when he was arrested by state police for dissidence in the 1940’s. He saw the evil wrought by Stalin, evil millions of Russians dared ignore. He even wrote about what he saw and he ended up in the misery of the prison system for 10 years. One of his closest friends in the army was Lieutenant Ovsyannikov.

Unlike Solzhenitsyn, Ovsyannikov was not arrested even though he knew many of Solzhenitsyn’s subversive views. In fact, just the opposite happened. Solzhenitsyn lost contact with his old friend during his prison years. When he tried to track him down, Ovsyannikov was evasive. Finally, he got a hold of him only to discover that his old lieutenant had gone to work for the very corrupted government that arrested and brutally tortured Solzhenitsyn and millions upon millions of others. He criticized the beast; one of his best friends became the beast (see The Gulag Archipelago, ch, 4).

The whole point in recounting the journey he took and that of Lt. Ovsyannikov was to say either man could have gone either way. “If there were only evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds,” writes Solzhenitsyn, “and it were necessary only to separate the rest of us from them and destroy them; but, line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart” (p.168).

Solzhenitsyn could become the persecuted idealist, or the immoral interrogator. So could you or I. We could face the pain of life with the courageous faith to “bless the name of the Lord” even in instances of unspeakable pain. On the other hand, we could be hit with tragedies that are sad, but not all that uncommon. And yet they drive us to “curse God and die.” We each have in us the potential for spiritual success and spiritual failure.

Knowing this, I pray that our church is a place where people who want to curse God and die can be welcomed and loved. I don’t affirm that conclusion. But, I do affirm the pain of the person who is so broken he or she feels that is all there is left to do. I pray that our church will heap mercy and more mercy when we meet those who have lost their way. I pray our church will be a place where they can voice their most bile-filled vituperations at God. I don’t want to see people in that condition remain in that condition. But, we must allow them to voice their pain. Redemption and healing won’t come until they do.

1 comment:

  1. bile-filled vituperations? I didn't need that thought after lunch.

    Job's wife certainly went through suffering; but perhaps she was considered 'of the same flesh' as Job and thus off limits to get rid of her. Satan probably didn't leave her behind just to nag Job (even if that is what she did).