The Book of Job in the Old Testament is about a man who would not forget. He would not forget that his life was inextricably tied to his Maker, that God had created him in the first place, and that God alone determined whether he lived or died. “Thy hands fashioned and made me,” he prayed, “and wilt thou turn me to dust again?” (10:8,9)
Certainly Job was suffering horribly. He lost all of his livelihood, and his sons and daughters died in a tornado (ch. 1). But the crowning blow was that he was afflicted with “loathsome sores form the sole of his foot to the crown of his head,” so that all he could do was sit in the village dump and scrape himself with broken pieces of pottery. Three of his friends came to comfort him, but instead, were struck speechless at the horrible sight of his agony (ch. 2).
HIS DESIRE FOR DEATH
Suffering such torment, Job wished to die. “I loathe my life,” he said, and he would gladly choose death (7:15-16). He had no pain killers to dull his misery, no hospice care to ease his suffering. He wished that he had never been born or that he had died at birth: “Why is light given to him that is in misery?” he asked (3:11). He could see no purpose for his life or suffering.
Yet Job knew it was not in his power to determine his own life and death. To God belonged every living thing (cf. 41:11), and God alone could say when and how he should die: “In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind” (12:10). He knew that eventually God would bring death upon him (30:23), but the “number of his months” was entirely up to God (14:5).
GOD AN ENEMY?
It has often been said that the Book of Job principally concerns undeserved suffering. But that is not Job’s basic problem. Rather, his main concern is that God, who was once his friend, seems to have turned into his enemy. “Oh, that I were as in the months of old,/ as in the days when God watched over me…as I was in my autumn days,/ when the friendship of God was upon my tent” (29:2,4). And perhaps that is the main concern of every sufferer. Has God become an enemy?
Yet, for all his perplexity, Job will not abandon his faith that his life belongs to God. And so he will not forget that God alone will determine when he should die. He pleads to God to let him die, because that would be evidence that God cares for him and is not his foe (ch. 14). But he will not take his death into his own hands.
THE TEMPTATION OF AUTONOMY
His wife wants him to do that, of course, “Curse God and die,” she advises him (2:9). In other words, deny your relationship with God, become your own autonomous individual, as if you are the master of your own life and death, and go to your grave free of your Maker and Owner. But that Job steadfastly refuses to do. Despite his loss of livelihood and health, deprived of all meaning for his living and suffering, Job still is a man who will not forget that his life is God’s, not his own.
The comfort that Job finally receives from God in the Creator’s speech out of the whirlwind (chs. 38-41) is that God cares for Job as he cares for all of his creation. God has not abandoned him, but comes to him and speaks to him. And Job, because he will not deny his relationship with his Maker, hears God tell the three friends, “You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (42:7) Job’s faith is vindicated. His life and death lie solely in God’s hands. And God is and will always be his friend.Perhaps the Book of Job is one we should study and its message one all persons should absorb in this time of abortion, euthanasia, and assisted suicide. We do not own ourselves or others, born or unborn, young or aged, not even when we are suffering. God alone is the Lord of our lives, and all lives, and God alone can command life or death.