When Bad Things Happen
By Diane Wilczak
Recently I started feeling that someone was “out to get me.” It all started with my air conditioner. One day it just stopped working. I thought, “Well, that’s not so bad. I don’t have time to find an air conditioner repair source right now. The weather forecast is for unseasonably cool summer temperatures to continue, so I can live with this for a while until I can have it repaired.” But then bad things started to suddenly pile up. It was my cell phone next. Like my air conditioner, my cell phone became terminally ill and refused to either send or receive phone calls. Next, my car was smashed by a hit-and-run driver while parked overnight in front of my mother’s house. That isn’t all. Next, my refrigerator stopped cooling. I found this out when I sipped a glass of milk that had soured due to lack of refrigeration. To top things off, I did my usual laundry last week, and after I put the last load in the washer, forgot to remove those clothes when I should have. The next morning I discovered the timer mechanism had failed causing the machine to continue to spinning the clothes for sixteen hours.
I couldn’t make any sense of all of this. But then I started to think about the theme of this issue of the Evangelist. I had asked the parishioners of St. Luke to write articles about the Old Testament. Paul said, “Everything that people wrote in the past was to teach us.” They wrote these things so that we could have hope, and develop the patience and strength to continue when life becomes difficult. The Old Testament can teach us, encourage us, and strengthen us. Perhaps the Book of Job could help me make sense of these bad things that had happened to me recently. It had been a while sense I read about Job. Certainly my troubles did not compare either in scope or suffering to Job’s, but perhaps this was the perfect time to refresh my memory and reflect on the story and the lesson it teaches.
The Book of Job tells the story of Job, a “true, blameless, righteous, and God-fearing man who abstained from every evil thing (1:1).” One day God allowed Satan to test Job. In the course of one day, Job received four separate messages that his livestock, servants, and ten children had all died. Satan caused Job to lose everything. Job responds by tearing off his clothes and shaving his head, but still he blessed God in his prayers. Satan tests Job once more. This time Job is afflicted with terrible skin sores. The disease became so severe that his friends could not even recognize him. All of this suffering caused Job to sink into a deep depression. His life seemed to have no value or purpose. Job did not know that Satan caused all of these problems. He felt that he would be better off dead, but he still praised and trusted God and fell to the ground worshipping God and saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. As it seemed good to the Lord, so also it came to pass. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” After all these things, Job still did not sin against the Lord or blame God for his suffering (1:20-22).
Soon three of Job’s friends come to comfort and console him. They think that they understand the reason why Job has suffered these terrible problems, but they give him very bad advice. Bildad the Shuuhite speaks first. He talks about things that occurred in the past, about those who have forgotten God, implying that this applies to Job. Eliphaz the Temanite mocks Job for the very virtues he had been praised for. Eliphaz says he cannot understand why God would allow a righteous man to suffer this way. Even worse, Zophar implies that whatever wrong Job has committed probably deserves greater punishment than what he has received.
St. Gregory’s comments in the Orthodox Study Bible explain that Job’s friends typify teachers of false doctrines who pretend to hear hidden words from God in order to confuse the weak and to cast a veil of reverence over their preaching.
In the end, the Lord blesses the latter days of Job more than in the beginning. Job’s fortunes are returned tenfold. He has fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand oxen and donkeys. He also has seven sons and three daughters and lives to the age of 248. Before he dies he sees his children and grandchildren for four generations.
The main theme of the book of Job is the difficulty in understanding why an all-powerful God allows good people to suffer. God explains to Job that people should not try to comprehend divine justice since God’s power is so great that humans cannot justify His ways. In reflecting on this Book, I think that there are four important lessons that we can learn.
1. In our suffering, we cannot know all of the facts. Only God knows the facts.
2. We must never think that following God means no trouble or suffering. We should live a holy life because it is what God wants.
3. We may experience pain and despair in our lifetime. True help and strength comes from God.
4. Physical suffering is not God’s punishment. There is a spiritual value in suffering; the Holy Spirit gives us the strength to continue when times are difficult.
The Orthodox Study Bible tells us that “Job’s voice is the voice of mankind, eagerly desiring to advance from fear to love. Job seeks the presence of his Creator, familiarity, in the flesh, that he might both hear and be heard.” In our prayers, Job’s words have been given a special place in our Divine Liturgy: “Blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21).