A Gambling God
“You have blessed the work of (Job’s) hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!”
God and Satan are having a discussion. God points to Job as a faithful servant. Satan argues that Job is only faithful because God has blessed him so richly, and if those riches were removed from him, Job would curse God to God’s face. God takes the bet and allows Satan power over Job’s possessions. Thus begins a series of misfortunes to make the most fatalistic pessimist cringe.
First, there is the theft and destruction of all of his livestock, followed by the murder of his servants. Next, his sons and daughters are killed when a great wind strikes their house and causes it to collapse. Job responds, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (1:21) Satan then causes great sores to cover Job’s entire body. In his misery, Job says, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (2:10) Next, three of Job’s friends turn on him, arguing that it is because of his own sin, wickedness, and refusal to admit his wrongdoing that he is being punished. Job complains mightily to God about the unfairness of his situation, but does not break faith or curse God. In a divine showdown, an unrepentant God humbles Job by reminding him of God’s unfathomable power and Job’s vast ignorance. Finally, God restores Job’s riches to a level twice what he had before, giving him ten more children, and allowing him to live to see his great-grandchildren.
The story of Job raises a number of ethical questions about God. Why would God associate with Satan? Are women, children, and servants no more than property that can be murdered and then replaced with other women, children, and servants? Would God intentionally allow Satan – or anyone else – to destroy the life of a faithful person just to make a point? The gambling God presented in Job seems arrogant, careless, and insensitive.
Job’s story, whether we read it as factual or allegorical, raises the age-old question: Why do bad things happen to good people? Although not to the magnitude of Job, we all know good people who seem terribly unlucky. Many of us have experienced extended misfortune, too. We find ourselves asking, “Why?” One of Job’s answers is that if everything comes to us from God, everything can be taken away – whether by God, fate, genetics, or random events. There is no amount of money, health, or other earthly resource sufficient to provide an impenetrable security against the endless variety of calamities that occur every day on earth. Tornadoes, floods, famine, stock market crashes, medical bills – all can wipe out our possessions quickly. While I do not believe God is the cause of our misfortune, the bottom line is that, like Job, any one of us can become destitute very quickly. Job, however, did not just lose his possessions; he also lost his relationships – his family was killed, and his friends turned against him. Of course, we lose people in our lives, too. People who are near and dear to us are here one day, then gone the next. Some die; others decide they no longer value a relationship with us. Life can be sad and unfair.
The grace in the story of Job, as in our lives, is that there is no hole so deep that God will not crawl down with us and help us find our way to sunlight, again. In his devotional, A Spring Within Us, Fr. Richard Rohr writes, “Like water, grace seeks the lowest place and there it pools.” (p. 148) Job felt unfairly abandoned, and in the hardest times of our lives, we do too. Grace, however, finds us in our darkness and eventually leads us back to the light.
Did a gambling God cause Job’s misfortune? Does a gambling God cause our misery? I do not believe so, but I do know our loving God can restore meaning and treasure to any life that has lost both.
Note: this is the twelfth in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God.