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Truth, Sorrow, and Job

Job used to be one of the most confusing books of Sacred Scripture for me. When it was read during my bible reading plan, I would often be more bewildered than illumed by the Sacred Page. Yet, this has recently changed in reading St. Thomas' Commentary on the Book of Job, where he describes the book as.

In it, St. Thomas brilliantly leads the reader through this perplexing book, showing that Job, rather than an irrelevant parable, is truly a compendium of comfort in affliction. The book of Job, as explained by St. Thomas, fulfills the task of being the encapsulation of that truth one ought to contemplate in sorrow or depression (c.f., ST.I-II.Q38.A4), which, according to St. Augustine "if the light of that truth were to dawn on our minds, either I should not feel that pain, or at least that pain would seem nothing to me." (Soliloq. i, 12)

The most potent verse that encapsulates the entire truth to contemplate is Job 1:21,

"Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave; the Lord has taken away. As God pleased, so it has been done. Blessed be the name of the Lord!"

In order to understand the context of such a statement, we need to step back and analyze the suffering of Job. Job is not an evil man, on the contrary "He was a man without guile and upright, and he feared God and turned away from evil." (v. 1) He excelled in piety and often offered sacrifice to God for the sins of others. (v. 5) God describes Job as "blameless and upright" and His "servant," that there are "none like him on earth." (v. 8)

Job is the perfect test case for what is to come. We cannot postulate that Job is suffering as some punishment for imperfection. This is deliberate. Often, when we suffer, we can fall to two extremes. First, that it is a Divine punishment and we deserve it. Second, that this is a Divine punishment and we don't deserve it. Job is able to set both contraries in relief, for, in being innocent, he shows that tragedy can be disconnected from God's punishment, yet not from God.

Then is enumerated Job's blessings, descending from greatest to least. First, he had "seven sons and three daughters." (v. 2) Second, it describes his property, "his property was seven thousand sheep..." (v. 3)

Then, we are able to peer into heaven. Satan comes to God and God asks Satan about "my servant Job." Satan then challanges Job's piety, saying that "you have blessed the work of his hands and his possessions have increased on earth." (v. 10) He then suggests that he take away these blessings, which would result in Job's cursing of God. Shockingly, God grants such a request, saying "all that he has is in your power," yet, God sets a limit, "only do not extend your hand to him." (v. 12)

This section of Sacred Scripture has often drawn the mockery of non-Christians, pretending as if this is some sort of "show down" between God and Satan. They are partially correct. For Satan, it is meant to be a showdown. He does attempt to draw Job into blaspheming in order to "win." Yet, God's intentions remain mysteriously unstated and will become the topic of debate throughout the entirety of the book.

This passage refutes two opposingly blasphemous views. First, that God is not soverign over the affliction that is brought about. Second, that God directly causes the affliction to the innocent.

Why does God allow Satan to afflict Job? Why does God allow Satan to afflict us? We aren't supposed to know. "Seek not the things that are to high for thee." (Eccl. 3:22)

"LORD, I am not high-minded; I have no proud looks. I do not exercise myself in great matters which are too high for me. But I refrain my soul, and keep it low, like as a child that is weaned from his mother: yea, my soul is even as a weaned child." (Ps. 131)

It is from this position of ignorance that we are to dwell it. To provide a clearer example than the psalm gives, think upon a child receiving a shot. The child is not able to dwell upon the causes of things. Rather, the child can only feel the pain. The child is thrown into confusion as to why his mother is allowing him to be exposed to pain, yet, there is a good that will be brought about. So too with God, even while we do not know why some suffering has come upon us,

"We know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints." (Rom. 8:28)

The calamity now strikes Job. The order is now reversed, from least to greatest. For, when we feel a greater pain first and then a lesser pain, we can ignore the lesser, but, when we begin with the lesser, we feel all pain. This is meant to cause the maximinum sorrow on Job. First, his property is destroyed. Second, his children are destoryed.

Further, there are no breaks described. A man is able to recover from a certain sorrow when given time to process, yet, this is designed to maximally afflict Job. There are a series of messangers that come "while the other is speaking" in order to drive home the pain even more intensely.

It is also important to note the means whereby they are destoryed, two means in particular, i.e., the "fire of God" (v. 16) and "violent wind" (v. 19). St. Thomas comments,

"the fire of God...as if to impress on his mind that he was suffering persecution not only from men, but also from God, and thus he might more easily be provoked against God."

and

"This is said to show the force of the wind, which unusually destroyed the whole house at once, showing how the wind proceeded by divine will, so that Job would be moved more easily against God when he was afflicted by one whom he had served with a devout mind."

This is meant to provoke in Job a feeling of total Divine abandonment, as if He is afflicted by the very hand of God.

Yet, how does Job respond? He says,

"Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave; the Lord has taken away. As God pleased, so it has been done. Blessed be the name of the Lord!"

In this, he makes three truthes, followed by a benediction. These three truths form the entirety of what ought to be contemplated as a remedy of sorrow. First, he says "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there." In this, he contemplates the origin of all his goods and their end. All men are born with nothing. All men will die with nothing. As Solomon says, "all things go to one place: of earth they were made, and into earth they return together." (Ecc. 3:20)

St. Thomas comments,

"In saying this, he reasonably shows that a man should not be absorbed with sadness because of the loss of exterior goods, since exterior goods are not connatural to him, but come to him accidentally. This is evident since a man comes into this world without them, and leaves this world without them."

Second, he says, "The Lord gave; the Lord has taken away." Here, he contemplates the Divine action. For, "God owns the cattle on a thousand hills" and "the earth is His footstool," thus, if He so pleases, He can recall anything He wants back to Himself. "How do I murmur against God for taking those children that He Himself gave?" If St. Peter said to Ananias "Whilst it remained, did it not remain to thee? and after it was sold, was it not in thy power?" How much more can we say this to God, who has absolute dominion over all things?

St. Thomas comments,

"This leads to the conclusion that man does not have a just complaint with God if he should be despoiled of his temporal goods, because he who gave freely could bestow them either until the end of his life, or temporarily. So when he takes temporal goods away from man before the end of life, man cannot complain."

Third, he says, "As God pleased, so it has been done." Here, he contemplates the Divine will. For, "He hath done whatsoever He pleased." This ought to be a great comfort for those who are of God, for, we ought to pray daily to God that, "thy will be done." In fact, rather than be filled with sorrow, we ought to rejoice in what is done.

St. Thomas comments,

"Friends will, and do not will, the same thing. Thus if it is the good pleasure of God that someone should be despoiled of temporal goods, if he loves God, he ought to conform his will to the divine will, so that he is not absorbed by sadness in this consideration."

We see here a certain fitting order,

"In the first argument it is posited that temporal goods are exterior to man... [so we] should not be absorbed by sorrow because of the loss of temporal goods. In the second, it is posited that they are a gift given to a man and taken away by God...[so we] cannot even complain. In the third that this happens according to the good pleasure of the divine will...[so we ought] even to rejoice."

In response, due to these considerations in his afflication, Job says "Blessed be the name of the Lord." May we all do likewise.


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