By David Jones
The character of Job is familiar to the Abrahamic religions.
He’s considered a patriarch, a prophet and the ultimate example of human patience. The phrase, “the patience of Job” has to do with enduring despite trials and hardship, as James 5:11 says:
“As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
The quote above uses the word “perseverance” instead of patience because the Greek word really means “to persevere or endure,” waiting out the bad times until they end. The book itself is, in many ways, a big, plodding roundabout of dialogue as Job and three associates try to see the purpose behind Job’s bad fortune.
The basis of the book teaches that nothing good or bad happens on its own. Good things are blessings from God, bad things are punishments from God. And if God isn’t causing the bad things, *someone* is, which is why this book is a major step in the character development of Satan.
The book can be boiled down like this:
Job is rich, successful, has it all and is therefore happy. All of his children are killed and his possessions stolen. He gets a skin disease and no one likes or respects him anymore. In his mind, it’s only reasonable to accept the bad hands God deals you if you also accept the good ones. His wife can’t stand to see him suffer to his bones, so she tells him to curse God so He will put Job to death and Job will finally be free. Job refuses.
If you believe the character of Job is a man who suffers tragedy with noble silence, you probably haven’t read the book for awhile. While he doesn’t curse God, he does blame God.
Job: “God’s unfair because he’s supposed to punish wrong-doers and I haven’t done anything.”
Associates: “God’s totally fair and just. If He’s punishing you, it has to be because you’ve done something terrible and you’re hiding it. If you’d just ‘fess up He’d stop all this.”
Job: “God’s not loyal and this is unfair and unjust. I’d tell Him to His face if He’d just let me.”
Associates: “You’re an idiot.”
Job: “And you’re lousy friends.”
God: “Ahem! Hey Job, when you can say you created the universe and have all power and wisdom, then I’ll agree with you. But you can’t, now can you?”
Job: “<GULP> Sorry God, I didn’t understand what I was saying.”
In the end Job was justified and got double the blessings. That’s the point James made—if we patiently stay faithful in times of trouble, God will make it all better eventually.
I’ll just say that Job didn’t maintain his patience gracefully. Calling God an “unjust wrecker of my faithful life while letting horrible people get away with everything and prosper” and begging to die doesn’t make me say “wow, what a patient guy,” but there it is.
So what lessons can we learn here?
-Impermanence. Bad times don’t last forever. Whether by someone’s hand or by the mere passage of time, things get better. It might feel like misery is permanent, but misery and joy ebb and flow.
-Right action. Bad times don’t justify bad behavior. Even if we think, “Why act wisely if I’m going to just get dumped on?” Just remember things will change, but unwise behavior out of anger or spite can rob us of the opportunity to see and enjoy it.
-The views and behavior of others don’t have to infect ours. If another person’s attitude bothers us, it really won’t get better if we slip down to their level.
-Not every comforter brings comfort. Try to keep the advice and counsel of others cautiously in context.
And some of my own:
-Understand the value of allegory. An event doesn’t have to be a literal account of history to teach us stuff.
-Manage your expectations of others. Even good people can go off the rails sometimes, so accept outbursts mindfully. It doesn’t mean they’re awful, it means they’re human, and we’ve all said something thoughtlessly.
-Don’t base choices on anticipated blessings. Your situation may get better but not the way you’d prefer.
-Wise behavior and endurance should be based on compassion, not expectation.
-Stuff happens. It just does. Even if we feel that God is directing some things, it doesn’t mean He’s up there pulling every single string. Nor do angels, nor demons, nor even Ol’ Scratch himself. Unfair things go on, good things happen to bad people and bad things to good. It’s not our job to sort it out, and enduring with wisdom allows us to let it all go. That said, if someone’s only coping mechanism is believing everything happens for a reason, who am I to demand they stop thinking that?
In today’s world, patience seems to be getting less common and valued. Things move fast, and many folks like it that way. But patience is a mindful property.
It takes patience to be in the moment rather than always speeding toward the next step; patience to let things play out naturally at their own speed rather than jumping prematurely into them or rushing them to match our expectations.
And pottery shards aren’t the best way to treat skin infections. Just a little tip there for folks wanting to live Biblically.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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