Mrs. Job Reevaluates Her God
Mary Crocker Cook
Then his wife said to him, Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God - die!" (Job 2:9)
For generations, the cry of Mrs. Job has been contrasted with the "patience" of Mr. Job. Her crisis of faith in the face of her anguish has been held up as a negative example and her one line has condemned her to the role of the "faithless one" down through the ages.
Perhaps we do Mrs. Job an injustice, and I would propose that not only was her crisis of faith normal, but necessary to her spiritual growth.
Mrs. Job has lost 500 oxen, 70000 sheep. 3000 camels, her servants, 7 sons and 3 daughters. Yet even in the midst of what must have been mind-numbing grief, there is no record of her questioning or objecting to the theology of her world. She lives in a time dominated by a theology of an anthropomorphic, king-like arbiter of justice based on strict obedience to His laws.
As peers of Abraham, Job and Mrs. Job would see the world and their relationship to God based on a predictable cause-and-effect formula: goodness results in goodness and wickedness deserves wickedness. Each had their role in this exchange, and it imposed a comforting sense of order on what is essentially too vast and mysterious for human comprehension. The desire to establish order can appear as John Aurelio suggests in Skipping Stones in his chapter entitled "Faith and the Mechanical God".
"As the stakes get higher we manipulate the levers more frantically . . . .All too often, unfortunately, the prize [we seek] is lost and we are left with no one but ourselves to blame: we didn't pray properly; we lacked the proper faith; God doesn't like me, or there really is no God.
Any attitude or activity that ultimately makes the living Lord a mechanical God will eventually leave us wondering, 'Who's pulling the strings - Him or us?'"
In Mrs. Job's world, her tragedy would clearly be blamed on her failure before God.
It is only when Job himself is struck with what appears to be leprosy and becomes an untouchable do we see evidence of Mrs. Job's primal anger that the God she has worshipped and honored is no longer operating under the same rules. Despite Job's stated "righteousness" she has lost everything that she holds dear. In essence she says to Job, "We don't really know this God like we thought we did. Your "integrity" no longer appears to matter".
In Your God's Too Small, J. B. Phillips describes the spiritual consequences of a God who has failed us. "Such a god is, of course, in the highest degree inadequate. It is impossible for people who have persuaded themselves that God has failed, to worship to serve Him in any but a grudging and perfunctory spirit". (p.59) It is more common and self-protective to turn from worship altogether.
Feelings of betrayal and abandonment by God continue to affect his people even 2,000 years later. This is a timeless heartache, which we have attempted to address with various explanations and rationalizations, as Harold Schulweiss points out in For Those Who Can't Believe:
" Conventional religious apologists tend to read God's value judgment
into natural events. To them suffering is God's verdict. Tragedy is
the result of an unknown divine decision, but one that holds the
secret of meaning in His hands . . . without poverty there would be
no motivating drive for philanthropy; without sickness, no spur for
medical research . . . what of the multitude of blind, deaf, poor,
or tormented people who are unable to . . . turn their adversity
into triumph?" (Pg. 108-109)
It is a short step away to blame the poor for their poverty, blame the sick for their cancer . . . somehow they have "brought it on themselves".
The heart of Mrs. Job's argument is that, like Job, she recognizes that he has not violated any requirement that would provoke such severe divine retribution. She is well aware of his attempts at righteousness and reverence for God. She has no doubt echoed them in her own worship and lifestyle. So clearly, the rules have been changed, and not by Job! Her God is no longer a God of predictable principle. When she warns, "Curse God - die" perhaps she is acknowledging what Job does not acknowledge until much later in the story: they never really knew their God.
His nature is more unpredictable, unconfined, and too great to comprehend. As Professor Titus Yu, Ph.D. once envisioned during a Course on Job, Mrs. Job issues a warning, "The God we thought we knew is gone. Do not antagonize this new God any further - the rules of the new God are unknown to us".
While the book of Job continues with Job's pursuit of the relationship with God, which has always sustained him, it is at this point that Mrs. Job feels called to reevaluate her faith. If her God is not present, is there a God at all?
Legalistically following the rules she believed ordered the world has failed to protect her from grief, sickness, humiliation . . . and for the first time in her life she must acknowledge her absolute vulnerability to a God she thought could be controlled through faithful attendance to His law. As she begins this journey, she takes steps that many after her will be led to take.
Mrs. Job's spiritual growth requires her to discard her legalism and move foreword to discover a connection with God founded in relationship, and not fearful sacrifice. As the Bible reminds us in a multitude of ways, God does not want sacrifice and legalism in the place of a relationship based on responsive and heart-felt love. The Book of Job warns of ego-centered religiosity, which is filled with its own self-righteousness. Over-reliance on rules may lead to a lack of generosity and a judgmental outlook - an attitude clearly present in Job's friends and contemporaries.
Like Mrs. Job, we will all face our own "dark night" and it will be our opportunity to transform what appears to be abandonment to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the love being offered to us. We, too, may find ourselves offering this ancient Gnostic Holy Eucharist prayer:
"I have been apart and I have lost my way . . . And in my hours
of darkness when I am not even sure there is a Thou hearing my
call, I still call to Thee with all my heart. Hear the cry of my
voice, clamoring from this desert, for my soul is parched and my
heart can barely stand this longing".
Aurelio, John. Skipping Stones. Crossroads Publishing, NY. 1990
Crocker Cook, Mary. God As I Understand God. Connections Publishing, CA. 1997.
Phillips, J.B. Your God's Too Small. Touchstone Books, New York, NY. 1997.
Schulweiss, Harold. For Those Who Can't Believe. HarperCollins, New York. 1994.
Yu, Titus. Course on Job. California Christian University, Berkeley, CA. 1999.