The story of Job in the Bible tells of an honest and good man who, beleaguered by an evil character called Satan, must wrestle with his faith in God as, piece by piece, his comfortable daily existence unravels.
Job's friends don't prove to be much help. In fact, instead of supporting him, they try to convince him that he must have done something wrong in order to have deserved all the punishment. Even his wife urges him to "curse God, and die" (Job 2:9). Have you ever had a day when you were tempted - even just a little - to ask, as Job must have, What kind of a life is this? And - when you couldn't come up with a satisfactory answer right that minute - to think about putting an end to your life?
If so, you're not alone. I hit bottom like that myself once. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever met anyone who hasn't felt that way at least once. And that's probably why Job's poignant story has touched a chord in the hearts of readers for so many centuries. In a way, it sums up the question of all theology. That is, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, is it still possible to believe that there is a loving, good, all-powerful God?
Eventually, as Job remains steadfast in his search to find God, he begins to make progress. He even prays for his misguided friends. The story has a happy ending, assuring us that "the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before" (42:10).
But even though we're glad to have the happy ending, the real message here may be that sometimes, like Job, we need to face the difficulties of life with no other goal than an unconditional desire to learn all we can about God. In fact, it's at the worst point in Job's life that he comes to this conclusion. He says to the Deity whom he is still trying to understand, "I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee" (42:2). And he decides to continue his vigorous and courageous struggle, no matter what.
All sorts of good lessons can be gleaned from Job's story. Maybe to avoid succumbing to conventional thinking. Or to discouragement over bad events or bad timing; or to the supposed irreversibility of bad decisions. Or to the criticism of friends and family members who don't think we're doing the best we can - and think they're being helpful by letting us know what they would do if they were in our shoes.
At moments like these, I've needed to vigorously, persistently insist that I desire above all to understand the goodness of God. To refuse to passively give in to chaos and unhappiness - refuse to simply accept whatever comes along as my lot in life.
Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, gives many spiritual insights on the nature of this kind of deep motivational prayer in her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." The opening sentence of the first chapter (which is in fact entitled "Prayer") reads, "The prayer that reforms the sinner and heals the sick is an absolute faith that all things are possible to God, - a spiritual understanding of Him, an unselfed love" (pg. 1).
The kind of faith that works modern "miracles," then, begins with an absolute trust in an all-knowing God who is good - not just faith in circumstances or in ourselves or in other human beings.
Trials can be avenues for spiritual progress, as they were for Job. Despair may come at times along the way. But it's always possible to begin again to seek a deeper understanding of our unbreakable relationship with God - a bond that endures and outlasts any problems.
Then Job answered
the Lord, and said ....
I have heard of thee by
the hearing of the ear:
but now mine eye
Job 42:1, 5
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor