13 One day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, 15 and the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 16 While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 17 While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three columns, made a raid on the camels and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 18 While he was still speaking, another came and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, 19 and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you.”
20 Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” 22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.
JOB: Well, bless your little heart. I remember the first time someone said those words to me. I reckon’ it wasn’t exactly a compliment. Bless your heart…you self-righteous jerk. As if the blessin’ somehow made it more kind. People sure like to throw that word–blessed–around a lot. We’re just so blessed. The Lord has really blessed me today. We’ll even say it to a complete stranger when they sneeze. Bless you, because apparently you must need some kind of a blessin’ after makin’ that god-awful noise.
But here’s the thing. Bein’ blessed…is a double-edged sword. ‘Cause when you’re blessed, with money, with property, with success an’ happiness, with beautiful, healthy children…you sometimes get to thinkin’ that maybe you did something to deserve those blessings. That they belong to you. And when your blessings run out (’cause sometimes they do) you get to thinkin’ that it ain’t fair. That God ain’t fair. That it would have been better if you’d never been blessed, never even born, at all. Bless your little, broken heart.
NEAL: The Book of Job, and the story of Job, is hard. Especially for those of us who look to the Bible for inspiration, for hope–and for easy, simplistic answers to really difficult questions. That’s why a lot of people skip over the next 40 chapters to get to the “happy ending” where Job gets everything back tenfold. But as a parent myself of three amazing, beautiful children, I’ve always had a problem with that. If God took away my children, but then said “Oh, don’t worry. After you suffer a little, I’ll just replace them with another three new ones,” it wouldn’t take away the pain of that loss. I read passages like this one, and honestly, I think, “What are you doing, God? How can you allow things like this to happen?”
CALVIN: My dear friend, Viret. I would have written to you long ago, had I not been aware that my letter could not reach you one moment sooner than if I delayed writing until your return. Greet all the bretheren, and your wife, to whom mine returns her thanks for so much friendly and pious consolation. She is unable to reply, except by me, and it would be very difficult for her to dictate a letter. The Lord has certainly inflicted a severe and bitter wound in the death of our infant son, Jacques. God gave me a son. God has taken my little boy. But he himself is a father, and knows what is good for his children. Again, Adieu, and may the Lord be with you. Yours, John Calvin.
NEAL: And, just a few years later…
CALVIN: My dear friend, Viret. Although the death of my wife has been exceedingly painful to me, yet I subdue my grief as well as I can. I have been bereaved of the best companion of my life; she was the faithful helper of my ministry. Many thanks for your friendly consolation. May the Lord Jesus watch over and direct yourself and your wife. Present my best wishes to her and to the bretheren. Yours, John Calvin.
JOB: The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, my friend.
CALVIN: Blessed be the name of the Lord.
NEAL: How can you say that?? Both of you–how can you just be…okay with it, and…?
JOB: And what? You want that we should be okay with all the good things God sends us in this life, but then not accept the bad things, too? Good luck with that. They go hand in hand.
CALVIN: Let us observe then, a disease many people are stained with: that is, that in time of prosperity they can bless God–but if he afflicts them, they change their minds, and begin to hold a grudge against him, forgetting all the praise they had given him, as long as he gave them what they desired. This is great hypocrisy.
If we are not patient when God afflicts us, then all the service that we do for him when we are blessed…means absolutely nothing! And do not forget that without him, we would perish a hundred thousand times each day. If we have lived even just one day, we must acknowledge that it was a gift from God, and to him we must give thanks and praise for all our days.
NEAL: I just…I don’t think I have that kind of patience.
CALVIN: Patience is a great virtue, but there are very few who know what this word means. It does not mean you feel no anguish in your heart. For if you were like a tree, or like stone, there would be no virtue in you, only stupidity. Some people, wishing to be patient, extinguish all thoughts of problems and difficulties–they push them far away to avoid them. But what did our friend, Joe Bob, here do?
NEAL: He tore his robe. He shaved his head. And he fell to the ground. Customary expressions of grief in the Middle East.
JOB: They always leave out the part where I cried like a baby…
CALVIN: It is good and useful, that when God afflicts us, we should think to ourselves, “Who am I?” and “Who is God?” and “Why is this happening to me?” These are commendable questions to ask…and this is why we observe that the most spiritual people, the most graceful, and humble, and kind people are often those who have suffered much in this life, and asked these questions many times.
JOB: Or there’s the alternatives: You can go through your life bein’ angry at God and at the world for all the things that didn’t turn out the way you wanted. You can try to pretend that everything’s just fine, even when you know it’s not. You can look for a different God to believe in, or no God at all–but that still don’t make things any better, and it’s a pretty lonely road to walk down. Believe me…I tried ’em all. I’m not really as patient as Johnny boy over here thinks I am.
CALVIN: You are patient, not in spite of your sorrows, but because of them and all they have taught you. And we are blessed not because of what God has given…or taken…but because he loves us enough to take and give at all.
NEAL: So…I know I’m only allowed to invite two people from the past into this conversation. But to the words of my favorite theologian, and my favorite Biblical character, I can’t help adding the words of my favorite poet, Lord Alfred Tennyson. In contemplating the loss of a dear friend, he said:
I envy not in any moods
The captive void of noble rage,
The linnet born within the cage,
That never knew the summer woods:
I envy not the beast that takes
His license in the field of time,
Unfetter’d by the sense of crime,
To whom a conscience never wakes;
Nor, what may count itself as blest,
The heart that never plighted troth
But stagnates in the weeds of sloth;
Nor any want-begotten rest.
I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.