Let Go and Let God: Another Narration of the Story of Job

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The poetic books of the bible (Psalms, Job, Ecclesiates, Proverbs, and Song of Solomon) are absolutely fascinating to me. A few weeks ago I was excitedly preparing for my ward's gospel doctrine discussion about Job in the bible. I began to understand his story it in a way I had not before, and for the strangest reason ever: right in chapter one, I started to wonder "What if Job had a little bit of OCD?"

We read in Job 1 that this guy had it all. He had flocks and land and a large family. Not only that, his family actually got along, which is rare, considering the many family feuds mentioned in the Old Testament. Everybody got together and "feasted in their houses, every one his day, and sent and called for their three sisters to eat and drink with them." (Job 1:4) As if this wasn't enough, we learn that Job is basically beyond all reprove, being "perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil." (Job 1:1) Practically perfect in every way.

Then I got to verse 5:
And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually.

When I received my OCD diagnosis, I was screened for a sub-type of OCD called scrupulosity. I did not exhibit any symptoms (a tender mercy for sure), but I learned a lot about it anyway. Scrupulosity involves obsessions and compulsions surrounding religious and moral beliefs. The basis of most obsessions is a fear of being punished or rejected by God for never being good enough. The corresponding compulsions are usually comprised of:

  • strictly following the rules
  • praying for hours and hours on end
  • compulsive confessions to clergy or in prayer
  • constant worrying of having offended God or the Holy Spirit
  • never being able to know if the thoughts in your mind are coming from Satan or the Holy Ghost, so one preemptively avoids the possibility of evil by singing hymns or mentally reciting scripture.

These things aren't bad in and of themselves, but they become a problem when they are done to excess. Here's what tipped me off about Job.

...for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually.

First, let us note that the scriptures don't say his children actually sinned - only that Job worried they did. Because he was so worried, he preemptively prayed and sacrificed on their behalf (as if that's even how repentance/divine forgiveness works). Not once. Not twice. Continually. Now, I can't definitively say that Job had scrupulosity, but it is apparent from these verses that for whatever reason, Job was anxious in his righteousness - to excess.

The story then goes to tell how God and Satan have a conversation during a meeting. Allow me some creative license. Or, if you like things straight from the source, you can read all about it in Job 1: 6-12.

"Hey Satan, why are you even here? Where did you come from?" asked God. 
"I've been wandering the earth to and fro, like you told me to." Satan said. 
"Well in your travels, have you seen Job? He's basically, like, the best ever*." said God. 
"Yeah, I've seen that guy. I've seen his house and his sheep and his family, too. Of course he's the best ever*, you gave him everything he could ever want." Satan said. He continued, probably still a lil' bit bitter from their last meeting in Eden, "I betcha if all that disappeared, Job would hate you." 
God said, "Hmmm, interesting theory. Let's try it."

Why would God do that? I mean, I hope God never says, "Hey Satan, have you met Channing? She's basically the best ever*." That sounds like trouble. Why would attention be called to Job, who has done everything right his whole life? Why would Satan be encouraged allowed to cause him pain?

So a ton of horrible things happen to Job. His flocks are stolen, his house falls down, and all his children die. All that is topped off with an affliction of boils all over Job's body. Job 1:22 makes sure to tell us that Job is still the best ever*, seeing as he "sinned not, nor charged God foolishly." Everyone also likes to note that his super-mean wife gave up on him and encouraged him to do the same.

Or did she?

Maybe its just the feminist in me who wants to say "Stop demonizing women in the scriptures." Or maybe, Job's wife might have seen something in him that needed to change.

 My experience of attending therapy to treat my OCD symptoms was this: it was a fight. Many sessions ended in sweat and tears. I had to wrestle with the parts of my mind that were trying to steal my life from me. I had to be consistent in objectively watching my thought patterns and actions. I had to consciously choose to do the opposite of what my brain was screaming at me to do, and it was terrifying. But the biggest battle I fought was over the part of myself that convinced me for years that the OCD Channing, the one who cleaned for 5+ hours a day and washed her hands until they were raw, was actually the best ever*. My brain's insidious message was that OCD version of me was even better than the real me.

The real victory came when I let my own ruthless expectations of perfection die. Only then, after the storm of intrusive thoughts had quieted, after I wasn't spending all my time fighting with two versions of myself, could the real "me" be re-birthed.

When I hear Job's wife say, "Curse God, and die," (Job 2:9) I hear compassion. I know how weird that sounds, but hear me out. I hear the voice of wisdom that says, "Do the thing you are afraid of and let this fear, which has overtaken your life, die." I hear a wife who wants her husband back.

The next 36 chapters are a long back-and-forth conversation between Job and his friends arguing about whether or not Job had sinned, thereby causing his unfortunate circumstances. A large amount of chapters contain Job's self-assured, defensive rebuttals to his friend's accusations.

Eventually, this cycle of self-reassurance morphs into something a little more insidious. I think the turning point comes in chapter 29. Its worth reading when you get the chance, but I'll give a summary here. Job, in essence, says this to his friends:

I remember the good ol' days when my life was perfect, when my house was in order and all my children were around me. Remember that, guys? Remember when I would walk in the street, the old men stood to honor me and the noblemen held their tongues? Remember when "the ear heard me, then it blessed me"? (29:11) I delivered the poor and the fatherless. I caused the widow's heart to sing. "I put on my righteousness, and it clothed me... Unto me men gave ear, and waited, and kept silence at my counsel." (29: 14, 21) Remember when I was the best ever*?

Reading this chapter reminded me of something Christ said in Matthew 6:1

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them, otherwise ye have no reward... 

Job's best ever* list in chapter 29 seems to me to describe the opposite of secret and hidden good deeds. Even if his service had been performed in a humble manner as described by Christ, that was not how it seems Job expected it to be received.

Job's heart was glad in the physical blessings surrounding him, including the social prestige and privilege he enjoyed . He assumed that these treasures had come to him because of his righteousness, and to a point that may be true. Choices have connected consequences. When righteous choices are made, the consequences are blessings. Put good in and get good out. Put bad in and get bad out. Right?

But here's the funny thing:

God is not a vending machine.

You don't put service
or tithing
or long-suffering
in the money slot
like a crisped five dollar bill

and have houses
and children
and friends
and a bag of chips
deposited to you after pressing A-6.

In chapter 31, Job issues a challenge to God to judge and punish him if he's done anything wrong. By Job's own account, he hasn't, because remember? He's the best ever*.

My favorite part of this story is when, in chapters 38 and 39, God answers all the voicemails Job left on his proverbial answering machine. The entire scene is basically a giant "Who do you think you are, Job?" Here's some highlights:

  • "Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. (Job 38:2,3)
  • Where [where you] when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou has understanding. (Job 38:4)
  • Where is the way where light dwelleth?... knowest thou it, because thou wast born? or because the number of thy days is great? (Job 38:21)
And then in Job 40:2:

Shall he that contendeth with with the Almighty instruct him? He that reproveth God, let him answer it. 

Translated: Come at me, bro.

Job is terrified.

But why? Hasn't Job been the best ever* this entire time? And now he's over here like, "Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? (Job 40:4)

God's not done yet. He says, "Wilt thou disannul my judgement? wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous?" (Job 40:8)

that thou mayest be the best ever*?

that thou mayest be


Finally, Job understands. In chapter 42, he repents with these words:

"I know that thou canst do every thing (2)... I have uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. (3) I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. (5) Wherefore, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes. (6)

I can imagine Job in awe of God, finally admitting to himself and the Lord that his worship before wasn't really worship at all. "Vending machine worship" is a faith born of fear, not love. Now, after all that has happened, Job is ready to participate in a relationship with God that actually does "lay up treasures in heaven".(Matthew 6:20) God forgives Job and restores to him everything that was taken in the beginning of the story.

The story of Job holds many lessons, but the one I read teaches me of a God who wants to make mortals perfect. Did you know that the biblical meaning of perfect is "whole"? (ref)

God's message to Job
(and to all of us) is
let go:

Let go of the need to control
to perfect,

let go of the unreasoned obedience,
the compulsory shame,
the lifetime's score of saintly cause or sin, and

be unapologetically in a constant state
of worship of a God
who is and does majesty,
one who loves,
and creates.

Hope lies in Love, and
the price it asks
is not a ledger
nor the ashes of repentance,
but a marshmallow heart.

**I am indebted to this essay titled "I Had Heard of You, But Now My Eyes See You": Re-Visioning Job's Wife by Roger Scholtz, from which I gained the foundational understanding of this alternate narration.
**Also, I can't stop thinking about this post I wrote about the connection between pride and shame. I swear to you that I'm not tooting my own horn. I genuinely think the concept is fascinating.
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