Job, we are told, was a righteous man, graced by God with all manner of blessing. But when Satan struck a wager with God that he could make Job curse God, a rash of calamities befalls Job. He loses everything, including all those who were dear to him and all his property.
The book of Job is a meditation on tragedy, suffering, and the finitude of the human condition. It forces the reader to confront the fact that life brings with it periods of loss and destruction, even a vacuum of meaning. In Job’s case, after suffering tragedies, his friends sit with him for seven days, not speaking—only being present to Job as he teeters on the brink of despair. Having lost everything, he cries out to the Lord: “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) We are told that even in his grief he does not sin or curse God’s name.
After the period of silence, Job’s friend Eliphaz asks him, “Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope?” (4:6). He poses this question, I think, because he recognizes that even with the loss of everything and everyone dear to him, Job is not without hope, because he is still a beloved child of God. Further, Eliphaz observes that a lifetime of fidelity to God and of practiced discernment of how to live before God, represents a source of hope. For even in the darkest moments, he seems to aver, what lies before a person is always a mystery and thus, for the faithful person, an opportunity for God to lead him toward newness of life.
I read the story of Job as a kind of meditation on what St. Ignatius described as a period of desolation, a time of distance from God, sadness, and listlessness in prayer. One of Ignatius’s counsels stays with me: he advises us not to make any major life changes while in such a period. Eliphaz’s counsel says as much: trust your faith; trust your way of living; trust that God can bring forth the good even while you are in the midst of the bad. It is no small matter that he and the other two friends of Job simply sit with him in silence for a week, recognizing the enormity of Job’s loss. Their presence is the beginning of a balm to Job’s soul. And they recognize, I think, that desolation seldom offers easy or quick solutions. I imagine them holding close the words of Psalm 27:14: “Wait for the LORD; / be strong, and let your heart take courage.”
Image: Job and His Friends by Ilya Repin. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.