Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” (Job 1:6-11)

I used to think that the Book of Job was the inspired answer to the problem of evil. Why do bad things happen to good people? If God is all-powerful, He could prevent evil and suffering. And if God was totally good, He would prevent evil and suffering. Yet evil and suffering exist. How can this be? The Book of Job will answer this question, I once thought.

But approaching the book this way always left me a little unsatisfied. I don’t mean that Job has nothing to say about these issues. It certainly does. And later in this series I will touch on some of those lessons. But as the comprehensive solution to the problem, the Book of Job is lacking. The book does not end with a great epiphany in which Job says, “Now I completely understand why there is pain and crime!”

The book does end with a great epiphany, though, one that directly relates to what I believe is the real focus of the book. And that focus is the question posed by “The Accuser” (Hebrew הַשָּׂטָן, haśśāṭān), who asks, “Does Job fear God for no reason?” By posing this question, The Accuser maligns Job, and he maligns God.

In the first place, he maligns Job. He insinuates that Job’s fear of the Lord is motivated only by self-interest – God gives him lots of stuff. In the words of John Mark Hicks, Job is a consumer rather than a communer. Job doesn’t love God for God’s sake, but only for his own sake. God means nothing more to Job than Walmart or McDonalds – He is a source of goods and services. But take those away, says The Accuser, and Job will curse You!

In the second place, The Accuser maligns God. By asking, “Does Job fear God for no reason,” he is implying that God is not worthy of such love and devotion in and of Himself. God has to “buy off” human beings to fear Him. Otherwise, no one would have any reason or desire to serve God. “In Satan’s warped mind and total rebellion against God and all that is good, there is no such thing as a pure and holy life, nor is there a service apart from pay. He sees no love in the world except self-love” (Homer Hailey, A Commentary on Job, p. 36).

The Messengers Tell Job of His Misfortunes, by William Blake (1826)

Perhaps the reason The Accuser makes these assertions is because he is projecting his own motives on Job. If we agree with Homer Hailey’s identification of The Accuser as the one called “Satan” in the New Testament, a strong case can be made that The Accuser did not believe God was worthy of adoration and devotion. No text spells this out explicitly, but putting the pieces of data together (on the basis of passages like Colossians 1:15-16; 2 Peter 2:4; 1 Timothy 3:6; Ezekiel 28:1-19), Scripture suggests that Satan fell because of pride. In the words of Satan in John Milton’s Paradise Lost (or, for the culturally sophisticated, Khan in The Wrath of Kahn), “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.”

So is God worthy of our commitment? Is it possible to be a communer with God, to seek His presence, even if we do not have any tangible rewards from Him for doing so? Or does God have to entice us to fear Him with wealth and health and happiness? Is God great enough to be desired for His own sake, or must we be bribed to bless Him?

That is what I think the book is all about.