Back

Vol.VIII, January 2002

 

"The Sons of God Came ..., Among Them Satan"
(Job 1:6)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

In our earlier meditations on the angels we considered already the other small historical books, Nehemiah 9:6, Judith 13:16 and 2 Maccabees (in Oct., Nov. and Dec. 1999). This allows us now, after our reflections on Tobit, to direct our attention to the book of Job in which we can verify certain parallels to the book of Tobit.

1. Both the book of Tobit and that of Job present us with a father of a family. Just as Tobit was identified as a righteous man, similarly does God speak of his "servant Job: 'There is no one like him on the earth: a sound and honest man who fears God and shuns evil'" (1:8). Each of these men suffered the greatest difficulties. While Tobit in his misery was reduced to the point of praying: "Lord, ... let me go away to my everlasting home" (Tob 3:6), Job's spiritual darkness was so deep that his three friends "sat there on the ground beside him for seven days and seven nights. To Job they never spoke a word, for they saw how much he was suffering. In the end it was Job who broke the silence and cursed the day of his birth ... 'Why give life to those bitter of heart who long for a death that never comes?'" (2:13-3:1.20-21).

Whereas the main theme in the book of Tobit is the marvelous help of the hidden angel Raphael in moments of sickness and diabolic persecution, the book of Job is a study of inscrutable suffering. It starts with the horrible, but hidden attacks of the devil, so that Job no longer knows what to think of God. In Tobit the glorious heavenly intervention irradiates over the entire story; in Job, not until the last chapters does even the least ray of light penetrate the horrible darkness: Job does not know if he had fallen into the hands of God or into the clutches of the devil.

We may also speak of the same fundamental divine lesson in both books, albeit with two totally different arguments: Man should trust absolutely with unlimited confidence in the active, watchful and caring presence of God, be it on the one hand because of the possible miraculous intervention of the holy angels, be it on the other hand in spite of the activity of the fallen angels, in other words: God is acting upon man in a way that implicates the activity of the good and fallen angels. A more detailed observation of the narration and the role of the holy and fallen angels will offer us clearer insights and deeper motivations. What does the sacred text say?

2. We read in the sacred text: "One day when the sons of God came to attend on Yahweh, among them came Satan. So Yahweh said to Satan, 'Where have you been?' 'Prowling about on earth,' he answered, 'roaming around there.' So Yahweh asked him, 'Did you pay any attention to my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth: a sound and honest man who fears God and shuns evil.' 'Yes' Satan said, 'but Job is not God-fearing for nothing, is he?' ..." (Job 1:6-9).

a) "The sons of God came to attend on Yahweh, among them came Satan." Here, "the sons of God" are generally understood to be the holy angels (see later ch. 38:7); it is their characteristic to "stand ever ready to enter the presence of the glory of the Lord" (Tob 12:15). St. John "heard the sound of an immense number of angels gathered round the throne … ; there were ten thousand times ten thousand of them and thousands upon thousands, loudly chanting: "Worthy is the Lamb..." (Rev 5:11-12). In justification of this interpretation and to distinguish the faithful and fallen angels, St. Augustine points out, that concerning Satan it is merely stated, that he "came" before God, but not that he would have seen Him; for the vision of God is the specific grace of heavenly happiness according to the word of Jesus, Who explained: "I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of My Father Who is in heaven" (Mt 18:10). Origen becomes more explicit: There were standing before God angels who gave Him thanks for the sanctity of Job, for his merits, justice and piety, for his innocence and integrity. But what causes joy and praise among the holy angels and inflames their zeal, that provokes the envy of the adversary. When the holy angels came to thank God for Job, the devil came with his malice, to lie, to accuse and call him guilty.

b) Why should the devil come before God at all? There are two possible answers to our question.

In the first scenario is the supposition that he had to present himself by divine order. Note that it was God Who initiated the conversation with him, asking him a question! In this case, he is called to fulfill a mission like any other servant of the Lord! In fact, he is not only there to accuse Job, but "to put him to the test in order to verify the authenticity of Job's goodness. In this way he assumes the role of the tempter, although it is done under the dependence of Yahweh, for he will always need the divine permission in order to act against Job; so in the last analysis, it is Yahweh Himself Who puts man to the test (cf. Job 1:11; 2:4)" (R. Lavatori, Satana. Un caso serio, EDB, Bologna 1996, 63).

In a second scenario we may suppose that Satan approached God on his own initiative. Considering his scurrilous affirmation before God, that Job is only so good because God is good to him, and he would curse God to His face if He would but "lay a finger on his possessions", this second view seems more reasonable. But then, we have to bring up the difficult question: How much is Satan ready to pay for the condemnation of one single soul, if for this purpose he is willing to approach the fiery love of God which burns him to the very core of his being?

In both cases, however, we have, first of all, a clear confirmation of the Sovereignty of God and the slavery of the devil. The Psalmist says: In the sea, "the ships pass to and fro, and Leviathan whom you made to sport with" (Ps 104:26). For, even for the slightest gesture against man, Satan has to ask permission of God, as the Catechism states very clearly: "Although Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God and His kingdom in Christ Jesus, and although his action may cause grave injuries - of a spiritual nature and, indirectly even of a physical nature - to each man and to society, the action is permitted by divine providence which with strength and gentleness guides human and cosmic history" (CCC 395).

3. Whether the devil was obliged by God to appear before Him or whether he crept in, the fact of his presence itself before God is a manifold lesson for us today.

a) The fact itself may reveal more about God and creation than many words can say. Seeing the devil before the throne of God, having to ask His permission for the slightest aggression against man, we can understand, first of all, that this act runs totally against his will and must "cost" him very much! The essence of 'being a devil' consists precisely in the rebellion and the distance from God, in having fallen away from God. He avoids all and everything which reminds him of God. What authority then, can bring him before God?!

Secondly, his appearance before God is a clear sign of his weakness. Such a one goes to see a person, only when he expects to get something from him which he does not have of himself and which he cannot get on his own. That the devil has to go to God, is, therefore, a confession of his own incapacity to resolve matters by himself. It is an open confession that he himself is far away from "being like God" and that all his promises to man, namely to "become like God", are empty, seductions and illusions.

Thirdly, it is a confession of God's omnipotence and of His goodness. If it stands so well with Job, it is because of the goodness of the Lord: "Have You not put a wall round him and his house and all his domain? You have blessed all he undertakes, and his flocks throng the countryside" (v. 10). (Observe: The devil's assertion here is true, it is his insinuation that is false, namely, that Job's service before God is only mercenary and not genuinely sincere.)

b) How many tourists these days walk around in the presence of God in our churches. Many do not know that they are near their Lord and God. How important it is, that there be "sons of God" who know where they are and manifest this knowledge by their reverent comportment. Do not even people in the world know how to show respect before certain dignities?! Therefore, it is our duty before the supreme dignity, that is, before the Holiness of Our Lord and God, to manifest His greatness by the depth of our holy fear and reverence. We show this respect, for example, through the faithful praxis of the "genuflection" before the Blessed Sacrament to which we are recently again admonished (cf. Congregation of the Clergy, The Priest ... in view of the third millenium, III,2.6 and Institutio generalis (3rd) 43.3-4; 160; 274). Or again, pilgrims to Rome show respect for the authority of the Holy Father as the representative of Christ here on earth. Or, the faithful show this religious respect for the priest when he transmits the word and will of God and the judgement of the Church, and so on.

4. Dear Brothers in the priesthood!

Even if we did not yet look at the concrete ramifications of the devil's presence before God, still, the simple fact that he appears before God and expressed his mistrust against Job, gives us already some points to reflect on:

If the devil makes so much effort to seduce some one from the way to God, how much effort and sacrifices should we apply in order to lead some one to God and his salvation?

If the devil appears before God with bad intentions, then we should ask ourselves too: What are my intentions, when I approach the tabernacle? How pure is my intention? How much do I look at the people, and let myself be led to please them?

If the devil is willing to bear such pain in appearing before God to pursue his evil purpose against man, what sacrifices am I willing to undergo in order to appear before God on their behalf in prayer and intercession?

What joy is waiting for us at the day, when the Lord calls us to Himself! How many times have we stood there in the ministry and in prayer in the obscurity of faith, but on that day, ascending in the light beyond all creatures, we will appear before Him in glory.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC