Everyone who lives long enough experiences tragedies. Our world is fallen and broken, and it sometimes breaks us, too. Predicting how someone might grieve when tragedy strikes is almost impossible. Some are vocal in their grief. Others withdraw. Still others proceed — or try to proceed — as if nothing happened.
By the end of Job 2, we see Job’s grief. The once-prominent man of the east sits in a dung heap, using a potsherd to scrape the scabs that cover his body. When his friends arrive to console him, they barely recognize him. What has happened to cause such a respectable and even enviable man to sink so low?
After introducing us to Job’s integrity and wealth, the author of the book pulls back the curtain to show us what few human beings this side of eternity have ever seen: the court of heaven. The Lord converses with Satan, the great enemy. Why was Satan in the presence of God? Why was Satan roaming around the earth? The book doesn’t tell us. What we do see is that the Lord suggested Satan consider Job: “No one else on earth is like him, a man of perfect integrity, who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8, CSB). We saw this description of Job in the introduction, and the Lord reaffirms this statement after Job’s first round of sufferings (1:1, 2:3).
Satan responds with an accusation: Job only fears God because of how easy Job has it. The Lord then gives Satan permission to take away Job’s goods and his children. Job’s response is one of the sayings the book is known for: “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21).
Satan then modifies the charge: Job will no longer fear God if God takes away Job’s health. The second round of suffering leaves Job in the situation I described above. He responds to his exasperated wife, “Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?” (2:10).
What do these first two chapters teach us about tragedy and grief? One lesson is for us to be aware of how much we’re not aware of. We, as readers, know in Job’s case what’s going on behind the scenes, but we have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes in our own lives. The passage could not be any more explicit that Job’s sufferings had nothing to do with his personal sins. But Job doesn’t know that. God didn’t give Job an explanation. (Spoiler alert: He doesn’t give Job an explanation at the end of the book either.)
Second, Job is an ideal for us in a couple of ways. He responds to unfathomable loss by worshiping. I have a difficult time imagining Job blessing the Lord without tears flowing down his cheeks. Yet he still worshiped. Sometimes, the absolute best thing we can do is to join God’s people and say — even if through tears — “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Job’s worship brings us to the last point. Yes, Job is on trial. Will he curse God or not? How deep is his devotion to the Lord? However, God is also, in a sense, on trial in Job’s heart. Is God worth loving, worshiping, and fearing only because of what He might give? Or is He worth loving, worshiping, and fearing because of who He is and because of what He’s already done, regardless of what He might give? Through his refusal to abandon the Lord, Job gives his answer to these questions. What will our answer be?