Director’s Note: Last week, for your consideration into why God allows suffering (and as part of our on-going series of impossible questions), I submitted a rather quick overview of the book of Job. Since Job’s job is to make things clear, I thought it would help. Apparently, it didn’t. For most of us, even after my blog, Job remains rather enigmatic. So today, to help clear things up from last week, we offer Job’s Job: The Limn. It’s like a Broadway play without the broadways. So, sit back and read the script in different voices and be introduced to all sorts of wonderful characters (15 of them, by my count) and enjoy Job like never before. Welcome to the River’s Edge production of Job’s Job: The Limn! Please note: Job’s Job was first performed at the Edge on a Friday night not so long ago. Anything that doesn’t strike you as insightful, funny or engaging, probably means you are too old.
Job’s Job: The Limn
Narrator: Tonight, we present the story of Job. The book of Job is hard to understand, and you can get really lost if you don’t have a good overview of the book. So, behold, an overview! It’s a story of suffering, of fighting against God, of asking life’s biggest questions, of figuring out the best way to go through suffering and of determining whether we can trust God or not. It’s a wisdom story. And it’s a story of patience, the patience of Job.
Job [impatient and angry]: Hey, would you hurry up! I’m dying here! I want to hear the story!
Narrator: That’s Job. Let me just say it this way. In chapters one and two, he’s a great guy. And then he gets increasingly impatient, demanding and rude. That Job is a real jerk. But then in the last chapter, he turns a corner and becomes an even greater guy than before. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Our story of woe begins with these words, “In the land of Uz . . .”
The Skeptic: Wait a second! Wait a second! Uz? Uz? Really? I know geography pretty well. I can tell north from south and east from west. But I have no idea where Uz is. So, wise guy, where is it?
Narrator: Well, that is hard to say. Some think it is in Syria. Some think it is on the Arabian Peninsula, and some people (including Jeremiah) say it is in Babylon. Babylon, can you believe it? But we’re not really sure where it is.
The Skeptic: Exactly! And did you know that when the Wizard of Oz was translated into Hebrew, the translators called that magical land, not OZ, but UZ! In other words, they thought it was made up; and I do, too.
Narrator: Saying it is made up is strong, but I get your point. It seems the author was intentionally trying to be vague here. Maybe the land of Uz was just his way of saying somewhere over there.
The Skeptic: And maybe he doesn’t want to pin this story down to any one specific location because he knows it’s not real history. And that is my point. There is no doubt that it is real theology, but I doubt strongly that it is real history! But I could be wrong, so let’s go on with the story.
Narrator: Thank you. In the land of Uz, there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned 7,000 sheep and 3,000 camels.
The Skeptic: Wait a second! Seven sons? Three daughters? 7,000 sheep? 3,000 camels? Wow! Ever notice how the Bible often uses numbers symbolically? Not all the time, but oftentimes? Like here. Seven is the number of completeness or fulness, and three is just like seven only a little less so. In other words, the story is telling us Job had it all. But again, it doesn’t sound like real history. Nobody had 3,000 camels! Nobody! Be that as it may, it does sound like a good story. Matter of fact, it sounds more and more like a wisdom story. Maybe it is like Proverbs, with 3,000 camels, but whatever, let’s go on.
Narrator: In the land of Uz, there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright. And he loved his children and prayed for them all the time. All in all, he was one heck of a guy. And then, one day in heaven when the angels were coming before God, the accuser also came.
The Skeptic: Wait a second! The accuser? I’ve read my Bible. That’s Satan! The devil himself.
Narrator: Well actually, the term here is NOT a proper name. It’s not identifying a person as much as a function. His job (so to say) is to accuse Job and to question God’s policies and decisions. There’s even a place in the Bible where God himself is called the accuser. He accused Balaam.
The Skeptic: Wait a second. You’re saying that when Job says, “the satan,” it does not necessarily mean the devil, Satan? It just means someone who accuses someone?
Narrator: Exactly! The accuser here may not be the “devil.” It could just be someone who acts like a prosecuting attorney trying to determine the truth about someone. So, God says to the accuser who could have been just an angel, saying. . . .
God: Hey, you accuser, you satan you, have you considered my servant Job. He’s the greatest. He is blameless and upright, a man who fears me and shuns evil.
The Satan: Job? What are you, high and lifted up? Job is only good because you bless him. It’s a business deal. He promises to be righteous, and you promise to bless him and give him seven of everything. He prays. You answer his prayer. He gives money to the poor. You give him more money. It’s all business, and Job has figured out the way to get on your good side is to do what you command and then life will be great. I bet that if you stopped blessing him, he would also stop being good.
God: How much you want to bet?
The Satan: Really? I’m 100% sure I am right. I’ll bet my good name on it. If I lose, may people think I’m the devil himself instead of being a true and loyal skeptic.
The Skeptic: Hey, that’s me! I’m the skeptic in this script! Who knew me and the satan had the same job?
Narrator: I did. But let’s go on. The satan responds, saying:
The Satan: But if I win the bet, you have to do something to enhance my image. I’m tired of being accused of being bad everywhere I go. I don’t look good in horns and goat feet.
God: Fair enough! You can do whatever you want, except you can’t harm Job.
Narrator: And so, the satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
The Skeptic: Wait a second? So, everything that happens to Job is because God and the satan made a bet? That hardly seems fair!
Narrator: It is perfectly fair. Read the Persians. Read the Assyrians. They also had secret agents going through the empire trying to ascertain the allegiance of certain groups and individuals. And if they thought someone was disloyal to the king, they would bring charges against them. It was a common practice, and everyone knew about it.
The Skeptic: So, you are saying that the book of Job is using this same ancient practice to determine if Job is loyal to God or not? That the story of an accuser being sent out from God to test Job would not be surprising to anyone in the ancient world, even though it sounds strange to us?
Narrator: You’ve got to remember the Bible is an ancient book filled with ancient practices that seem odd to us today, but back then seemed perfectly normal.
The Skeptic: But wait. The accuser seems to be saying that Job only worships God because God blesses him—that Job’s heart isn’t in it. And that Job is righteous and good only because God gives him stuff and makes him rich. Am I reading that right?
Narrator: Absolutely. The accuser says Job is only into God for the blessings, that he is simply using God so that life can be good. The more faith, the more righteousness, the more rewards – that’s Job’s religion. Just do it and get rewarded.
The Skeptic: Well, that stinks. Spirituality should be about love, not business. The story hasn’t even started yet, and I already hate Job.
Narrator: Whoa now! The accuser thinks that is Job’s motivation. The book will tell us if he is right or not. And the way the accuser hopes to uncover Job’s motivation is by making him suffer and then seeing how he responds.
The Skeptic: Well, that stinks, too. But the show must go on. What happens next?
Narrator: One day, Job was at home when, suddenly, a servant came running in, saying . . .
Servant 1: Holy Kamoley, lousy rotten goalie! There I was, watching over your oxen and donkeys, when out of nowhere, Ethiopian raiders came sweeping down on us and stole them all. They’re gone, and you’re broke.
Narrator: But that was not the only bad news. As soon as that servant was done with his bad news, another servant came running in with more news.
Servant 2: Holy Kamoley, lousy rotten goalie! There I was, watching over your 7,000 sheep with all your other shepherds when, suddenly, fire fell from the heavens and burned up everything and everyone except me. Do you hear what I am saying? God fried your sheep!
Narrator: But that is not all. When that servant was done, another one ran in, saying . . .
Servant 3: Holy Kamoley, lousy rotten goalie! There I was with your camels when, suddenly, a Babylonian raiding party swept down upon us and killed all your servants except me and then carried away all your camels. You are camel-less! You’ve got no humps. You’ve got no ride!
Job: Man, this is one crappy day! What else could go wrong?
The Kids: Holy Kamoley, lousy rotten goalie! Dad, it’s me, your oldest son. There we were, partying, all ten of your kids when, suddenly, a huge tornado came sweeping across the plain; and it knocked the house down on top of us, and it killed every one of us except me! I alone have survived. But I think a stone fell on my head (cough, cough). In fact, I can’t feel my legs any more. In fact, I can’t feel anything, That’s not true. I feel pain. Lots of it. And I feel like I am dying. Yep (cough, cough), I’m dying. Yep, Holy Kamoley, lousy rotten goalie! You’ve got no kids. We’re all dead.
Job: Wow. This IS a bad day. Oh well. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. May the name of the Lord be praised.
Narrator: In all of this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
The Satan: Rats! I was sure he would curse God by now. Who believes in God when all these terrible things happen to them? What the heck, Job? Do something wrong. Prove me right!
Narrator: Fast forward a day or two. The angels are all gathering around the throne of God and having a good time, and then the satan shows up again; and God says . . .
God: So, mighty accuser, how’s it going? I see Job is still worshiping me. Looks like I’m going to win the bet.
The Satan: Not so fast. As I have always said, skin for skin. I have no doubt that Job will curse you to your face IF you just allow me to inflict him with something. So far, I’ve just made him feel sad. Let me make him feel pain, and then he will give up his faith in a flash.
God: Fair enough. You can’t kill him, but you can do anything else you want to him.
Narrator: And so, the accuser went out and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.
Job: Oh, man, now I’ve got the sores. I’ve got ‘em all over my body. You don’t even want to see where I’ve got them! I’ve got more itch per square inch of me than there is scratch. The only thing that brings me any relief is scraping myself with this broken pottery. Man, I hurt all over. I’ve got the broken pottery blues.
Job’s wife: Hey, Job.
Job: Hey wife! Wow, you look fine tonight. I am so glad nothing bad has happened to you. I may not have any wealth or children or camels or health, but I have you; and so, I guess I am okay. Come here and give me a hug.
Job’s wife: What? Are you crazy? Look at you! You’re nothing but a big sore from head to toe. You’ve even got sores on your tuchus! Whatever creepy crawly scuzz you’ve got all over you, I sure don’t want. You stay away from me.
Job: But honey dumplings, I love you.
Job’s wife: Fool. You’re cursed by God, and yet you still act like God loves you. He doesn’t love you. He hates you and has an awful plan for your life. You’ve got the sores, man, and they are all over your body. Curse God and die!
Job: Really? Shall we accept good from God and not trouble? Get a grip, woman. It’s all going to be fine. Now, excuse me, could you turn around? I’ve got an itch in a really bad place, and I really need to attend to it.
Job’s wife: Jerk.
Narrator: And that is when Job’s three best friends in the whole world came to grieve with him. There was Eliphaz the Temanite.
Eliphaz: Hi, I’m Eliphaz the Tea-men-ite. What is up with these Biblical names? Can’t we all just have normal names like Fred or Don or Pete? Have you ever tried getting a date when you name is Eliphaz the Tea-men-ite? Every woman instantly thinks I’m some sort of disease! Don’t date him! He will give you the demonite tea-men-ite.
Narrator: And there was Bildad the Shuhite.
Bildad: Hi. I’m Bildad the Shuhite. That’s right, go ahead and laugh. Everyone thinks that just because my name is shoe-height, I must be short. Well, I want to tell you I am well over 3 feet 8 inches; and I have a monster intellect, so there!
Narrator: And there was Zophar the Na-am-ath-ite.
Zophar: Hi. They think they have bad names. All through high school, whenever I asked someone out on a date, I would always get the same response, “Au revoir, Zophar!” “Au revoir, Zophar!” I hate my name.
Narrator: And they all came to console Job. But when they saw him, they said nothing for seven days and seven nights because he was suffering so much. And then something strange happens. Everyone starts speaking in poetry.
The Skeptic: What? They start speaking in what?
Narrator: You heard me—poetry. . . . Turn up the beats and cue Job. . . .
I’m a good guy, that’s for certain,
but God has turned on me and now I’m hurtin’.
I’ve done nothing wrong to deserve this pain;
that God is punishing me is just insane.
I wish I could just give up and die,
then all my pain would go good-bye.
It’s Eliphaz again; I need to talk,
so listen up, Job, and do not balk.
We all three agree, that’s all of your friends;
you’ve done something wrong, now make amends.
You know you’re guilty. You know you’ve sinned.
God doesn’t punish people unless they break wind.
So, confess what you did and come clean, you lying scum,
and God will bless you and make you his chum.
You reap what you sow, my friend, that’s the deal;
you’ve broken God’s law, that’s God’s wrath you feel.
God is always just, and God is always fair;
so just confess your sin and say a simple prayer.
Since I have to rhyme,
I’ll just call you pig slime.
As comforters go,
you’ve got nothing to bestow.
See, I’ve done nothing wrong; I’m completely innocent.
All my deeds fly to heaven and make a sweet scent.
It is God who is wrong here; I’m just a victim.
I know that sounds bad, but that’s how I depict him.
God is punishing you, so you must be wrong.
That’s how life works, even in Hong Kong.
Everyone knows God doesn’t grade on a curve;
the facts are this—you get what you deserve.
Repent, you sinner, and stop being bad,
or God will get you, that’s a promise ironclad.
I’m innocent, I tell you. I’ve done nothing wrong.
God’s the one to blame so, to you, I say, so long.
How dare you say such things about God?
You say he’s unjust, and you don’t think that’s odd?
God’s going to get you for being so bad;
and when that happens, I’m going to be glad.
How can God treat the innocent so cruel,
while to the guilty he gives wealth and a jewel.
Bring God to me, and I will plead my case
and will prove I’m right when I see him face-to–face.
Let me cut in here. My name is Elihu.
You’ve gone off course; you’ve gone askew.
You want to know why the righteous suffer.
I want to tell you things are going to get rougher.
God can do anything he wants.
He doesn’t need to give you any response.
But God is in control because he’s the king.
And suffering produces good if you let it do its thing.
So, don’t fight against God when it comes to tribulation.
God will fix it all in the new creation.
God [to Job]:
All right, I’ve had enough.
Hang on tight, this could get rough.
I’ve got a few questions that I want to ask you.
You better have answers or, baby, you’re through.
Where were you when I made the earth?
Do you have any idea how much the sky is worth?
I could go on and ask you questions all day;
but I think my point is clear, you have nothing to say.
So, if you can’t answer a few minor questions,
how can you think you can give me some suggestions?
I know what I am doing. I don’t need your aid.
I’m doing just fine without you throwing shade.
Surely, I spoke of things I did not understand.
All my thoughts now seem really, really bland.
What I have been saying has all been ridiculous.
I should have been far more meticulous.
I repent now and choose to sit in silence,
feeling sorry that my words caused so much violence.
And now, I see what I did was wrong.
I should have faith and not be so headstrong.
I should have had patience and confidence in God.
Instead, my whole outlook was terribly flawed.
I was focused on me and demanding my rights.
I should have been quiet and refused the fights.
I am sorry, man, I really am;
give me a new heart or an electrocardiogram.
I have nothing more to say; I was really wrong.
I should have had faith in you all along.
Narrator: And at that point, shockingly—the poetry ends. It just ends. Job finally said something true.
Job: Wait a second! Wait a second! Let me see if I can get this straight. At the beginning of the story, I was righteous and loyal and innocent of all major sins.
Job: And the only reason I had to suffer was because God and the Satan, the accuser, made a bet – not because I was guilty of any sin.
Narrator: Correct again.
Job: But I never know anything about that, at the beginning of the story or at the end.
Narrator: That’s correct. You had no idea what God was thinking.
Job: But regardless, instead of trusting in God despite my circumstances, I began to complain and whine and grumble. And that is where I sinned.
Narrator: Absolutely. 100% Correct.
Job: And for like 35 chapters, I am just completely annoying. I am demanding my rights, protesting my innocence and demonstrating a complete lack of trust in God while still proclaiming my righteousness. I was full of self and mad at God, but still saw myself as deserving God’s immediate help and rescue. God owed me help.
Narrator: Yep, that was you. You were a huge jerk.
Job: But then, after God confronts me and shows me I don’t know everything, then I shut up and become truly righteous again.
Narrator: See, this book isn’t that hard to understand.
Job: And by proclaiming my lack of wisdom, I become wise.
Narrator: That’s how it works.
Job: And by just trusting in God, despite what things look like, and not worrying about why I am suffering, but instead, focusing on how to go through suffering, I grow in wisdom.
Narrator: Absolutely. I don’t know why your wife thinks you’re an idiot.
Job: And when people think that God rewards good behavior and punishes bad behavior and that the way to get on God’s good side is to be good—that spirituality is nothing more than a business transaction—they are whacked, just like my three friends were whacked.
Narrator: Yes, they were whacked out of their minds. God never treats people on the basis of “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” There is no “quid pro quo” here.
Job: Of course not. He wants a relationship. He wants us to love him and trust him and walk with him—exactly the opposite of what I was doing for 35 chapters.
Narrator: Exactly. 100% correct.
Job: I get it now. That all makes sense. When we’re fighting with God, we can’t be trusting God; and that is what we need to do when we go through hard times. We just need to know that our pain does not define us and that God is with us and that one day he will put things to rights. Man, this is a great book! I am glad I am in it.
Narrator: You’re not just in it. You’re the main character.
Job: Awwww, I bet you say that to all your stories.
The Skeptic: But wait a second! The story is not over yet. After God restores Job and forgives his friends, he gives Job back twice as much as he lost. He had another seven sons and another three daughters. It sounds like the promise of a restoration! It sounds like a promise made to the people in exile that they will be restored once again in the land—that the exile won’t define them, but that a restoration is coming! Was this a story first told in the exile? I bet it was! Man, this IS a great story.
Job’s Wife: Enough already! I am Job’s wife, and I am so disgusted. The whole story should have been about me! I’m the one who had to suffer here! And look at me! I only get one good line. 42 chapters and I get one lousy line: “Curse God and die!” Really? That’s my big moment? That’s not going to earn me an Oscar. I need more than that.
And why didn’t I get to rhyme.
I do it all the time.
I am a really good poet.
And I promise I won’t blow it.
I should be the star of this show.
Not that guy and his banjo.
Holy Kamoley, lousy rotten goalie!
Ask me out if you want some good ravioli.
And don’t you know, I can sing.
I can do most everything.
But will I get a chance?
Not in any circumstance.
So, I’m stuck with my one line;
but I love it, it’s divine.
So, here’s the end of our sad tale;
learn it well and you’ll prevail.
When it hurts and you want to cry,
just curse God and hope to die.
Job: You really are a bitter woman. Curse God and hope to die is terrible advice! There is a much better way to go through suffering than cursing and yelling and accusing God and demanding that he explain himself to us. Haven’t you been paying attention?
Job’s wife: Sorry, after I said my one line, I went over to visit Ecclesiastes and then I dropped in on Lamentations. What did I miss?
Job: 42 chapters! But let me help. Let me summarize the whole point of the book.
Trust God and patiently wait;
he will answer and won’t be late.
That’s all I’ve got, that’s all I know,
Except to say it is past time to go.
So, here’s my last word, so please attend.
It’s not hot or cold, but it is . . . the end.