Back

Vol.VIII, May 2002

 

Fight the Devil With the Praise of God (cf. Job 1-2)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

In the last letter, we reflected upon the modes of diabolic influence on man. We know of such influence from the very first chapters of Scripture. Therefore, we should be familiar with the principle ways such attacks occur. Nevertheless, it is more important to always know the right response–to seek the best reaction and defense. In this regard Job is a model.

1. Consider the exemplary responses of Job to each attack of the devil. The entire book of Job is a struggle with his destiny.

After the first attack "Job stood up, tore his robe", he "shaved his head" out of readiness for any penance. "Then, falling to the ground, he prostrated himself" in humble and public recognition of the greatness of God the Almighty whom man ought to adore at every moment and in all circumstances of life. He said:

"‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I shall return again. Yahweh gave, Yahweh has taken back. Blessed be the name of Yahweh!’ In all this misfortune Job committed no sin, and he did not reproach God" (1:20-21).

In the second attack, the devil "struck Job down with malignant ulcers from the sole of his foot to the top of his head". This time Job responds in this fashion: he "took a piece of pot to scrape himself, and went and sat among the ashes"(2:7). In all this Job says nothing; he guards silence in the face of such tribulation. When, however, his wife suggests that he "curse God and die" he spontaneously retorts: "That is how a fool of a woman talks"(2:10). Her foolish words provoked a further statement from Job, which also offer us an insight into his heart: "Job replied, ‘If we take happiness from God’s hand, must we not take sorrow too?’" Here again the sacred author notes: "And in all this misfortune Job uttered no sinful word" (2:10). We need observe that the author also understands the words of his heart, his interior thought. Notwithstanding this clear testimonial of his innocence, the story does not end here, but rather begins. First followed the seven-day period of Job’s silence. Finally, he ended his silence and cursed "the day of his birth"(3:1). In thirty-five lengthy chapters, the extensive list of questions and arguments is raised which the human mind presents so often before God: "Why was...? or Why did I...? Why were there...?"(3:11-12). At the end, God Himself guides Job through His discourse into the knowledge of His omniscient Goodness and transcendent Wisdom.

Does this mean, that Job was wavering in his faithfulness to God? Or rather, does Divine Revelation want to give to all mankind, in the person of Job, an instruction on the proper disposition of man toward God in days of happiness as well as in days of sorrow?

2. Reviewing Job’s response we can discern four significant moments in his reaction to the diabolic attacks. There is first a firm confession of God’s sovereignty. Secondly, an open confession of faith before his neighbor, his wife. Thirdly, the prudent silence of a man whose suffering is baffling to himself—both because of his innocence and because God in His sovereignty permits it. Finally, there is the fourth, which ends in a blind and trustful surrender to God.

a) The first words of Job were: "Yahweh gave, Yahweh has taken back. Blessed be the name of Yahweh!" We have to see in these words a clear confession of God Who is the absolute Sovereign, the sovereign Giver (of life), sovereign in Goodness and Power. He owes no one any explanation; rather, man is always in debt before Him and can only see his own nothingness. In His Sovereignty, God is the owner of all–the Lord, and thus, the Judge as well. Therefore, He can require back whatever He has given and whenever He wishes; and nobody has any right to claim anything from Him. Job expressed this as a clear and conscious decision in favor of God when he exclaimed: "Blessed be the name of Yahweh! Praised be God, His Honour and Glory. To Him we all owe adoration, praise and thanksgiving". By this confession of faith and truth about God, Job rejected the liar(cf. Eph 6:16; 1Pt 5:9; for the nature and power of praise, cf. Circulars VI,12 and VII,1).

b) Job’s second reaction is directed to his wife: "If we take happiness from God’s hand, must we not take sorrow too?" First, Job recalls the need of gratitude. Those who know how to properly esteem God’s Goodness do not question what He gives them, for they are convinced of His Goodness quite independently from the quality of whatever He may send them. On the basis of Job’s confession of faith and love for God, he refuses to judge this inscrutable action of God. Instead, he surrenders himself and accepts whatever He may send or permit. Through acceptance man humbles himself before God, and by so doing, is lifted up and found to be worthy of friendship with God! Job knew what psychology teaches today: Surrender to the omniscient and all-good God is the golden road to freedom and peace for man; whereas, man becomes psychologically sick when he avoids God and His will, and seeks his own(cf. e.g. Josef Pieper, Fortitude, ch. IV).

3. After Job’s second reaction, he withdrew into a long and painful, and certainly a prudent silence. Job’s friends "sat there on the ground beside him for seven days and seven nights. To Job they spoke never a word, for they saw how much he was suffering"(2:13).

a) There might be two reasons for this silence. First, the two confessions of Job can be understood as an active means to reject the devil. His silence is a positive and continued affirmation of his response to God, to which Job needs to add nothing further. God, Who delights in making more perfect what He finds good in us, rewards Job’s fidelity by letting him enter almost immediately into the darkness of the passive purification through which God will lead him to wisdom and greater perfection.

Another reason for this silence is that Job is interiorly trying to come to grips with his inscrutable sufferings which he cannot understand. This is why when he breaks his silence, it is to seek an answer from God as to why the innocent need to suffer. In His response God does not give Job a full answer to this question which is only fully answered in Christ. This might be seen in the fact that Job is a member of mankind marked with the consequences of original sin. As such, God might have asked His singular, faithful and innocent servant to suffer and make reparation for the sins of all mankind. As a certain substitution of all men (reparation), he is to "go through" everything which a man must go through on the way out of his sinful and desperate distance from God to the union with Him in holiness. Could it be that the silence "for seven days and seven nights"–the time-period for the work of creation–symbolically points to this universal restoration through suffering(cf. Ez 3:15)?

b) The intense suffering in his silence to which Job consented provided the best conditions for his transformation and growth. It helped Job to keep his passions under control and to subordinate them to reason. It enabled him even to bow his own reason before the incomprehensible thoughts of God before he starts to seek an answer from Divine Providence. Job’s example illustrates that man should neither act, nor talk, and nor perhaps even reason in the midst of trial, but rather, keep quiet until he is at peace with himself and with God.

c) Then, "In the end it was Job who broke the silence and cursed the day of his birth...‘Why give light to a man of grief? Why give life to those bitter of heart who long for a death that never comes’"(3:1.20-21)? Man’s openness for dialogue is a sign that he has broken the circle of darkness within himself and is ready to "go outside of himself" in search of an answer, to subordinate his understanding to that of others. Job’s outburst can only be properly understood when we see that Job sincerely seeks an answer from God or man. When others turn to such cursing, they are actually sinning because they have already repudiated any answer God might give.

By the light of his own reasoning Job overturned the fallacious arguments of his friends, like in the discernment of spirits. This is proper because, not even in his darkest moments is man allowed to fall into disordered thinking; Job always retained his moral rectitude in the fear of the Lord. Still, he matured in the humility of spirit so much so that, in the end(cf. ch. 38-42), he accepted God’s authority without understanding: "Before, I knew You only by hearsay but now, having seen You with my own eyes, I retract what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes...I know that You are the All-powerful"(42:5-6.2). That is to say, Job has come to a contemplative, experiential knowledge of God. What he knew in the beginning, he can now say with much more emphasis and conviction, with deeper faith and trust, and now with even sincerer love: "Yahweh gave, Yahweh has taken back", Yahweh knows what He does! Therefore, "Blessed be the name of Yahweh!"

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

A man like Job is a man of faith and trustful surrender to God’s inscrutable Wisdom. Trust and thanksgiving, acceptance and silence, these are the dispositions through which God can mold a soul, guide and educate it, and lead to its happiness in His bosom!

Let us look at God like the angels and not pay attention to what we have to go through or what God allows to happen to us. We never know for what important reason God asks this or that from us: this pain, that sickness, a calumny, or whatever.

How important it is to transmit to others a true "Image of God", even if it remains always incomplete.

"Who is like God?" That is the content of the last words of Job and the summary of his wisdom. Let this be our constant mental prayer this month, and in such days unite ourselves with Our Lady: a silent, persevering confessor of trustful faith in Christ’s Final Victory.

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC