Do God and Satan Negotiate My Trials?

[ 15 ] Comments

by RI Editors

As a group of editors, we find there are questions that have come up from our children, in talking about the scriptures, or imperfectly answered in Gospel Doctrine class, that continue to plague people. One set of questions centers on the story of Job as told in the Old Testament. In the introductory chapters, Job is described as “perfect and upright” and a man who “feared God and eschewed evil,” yet the narrator describes a discussion between God and Satan over what Satan is allowed to do to Job, as if it is some kind of senseless game to torment him, or perhaps that God is aloof from Job’s subsequent suffering. The epilogue also seems ludicrously unemotional, as if after all of that he suddenly has a rewarding mass of blessings summarily dumped on him for surviving.

We invite our readers to weigh in with their observations.

Does God bargain with Satan over our trials, was Job even a real person, and why in the world is such a horrendous story recorded in the scriptures?

15 Responses to Do God and Satan Negotiate My Trials?

  1. SilverRain says:

    To me, it doesn’t matter much if Job is an actual person or not. I have no doubt that someone, many people even, have suffered as much as Job.

    It is pretty clear that whether or not an actual person named Job existed and whether or not the events happened to him exactly as told, the story of Job is a saga. In our Western, scientific, modern mind, we don’t really understand that art form very well. To us, true means factual. We search for truth through accuracy. That isn’t the case in other cultures. They have a greater capacity to reach truth through emotions and connections. History was not a story independent of the listeners, it was a story that depended on the listeners. It was intended to CHANGE people, to change the way they see life, to help them understand and interpret their own story better. History wasn’t dead, the way it is now. It was living, interactive, adaptive.

    I would have to write an entire blog post to explain it well, and I highly doubt I’m the right person to address the issue. But I’m certain that the story of Job as recorded in scripture is written for this purpose. I’m no historian, but the story of Job illustrates to a people who were repeatedly enslaved, foreign strangers in their home country, that whatever your losses here in life, God’s rewards will be yours if you do not doubt Him. To us it seems cruel and harsh, but to them, people who could not control nor escape their circumstances, I believe it was a comfort. If you can define your trials over which you have no control as being still under the control of a God who loves you, you can endure.

    The story of Job was not a recounting of fact, but a living story designed to bring hope to an oppressed people. It is a masterful art which we have largely forgotten or discounted as having no value.

  2. SilverRain says:

    I should add that I do believe there is fact IN the story of Job, but the fact is the setting by which the message was portrayed, not the other way around as we do now.

  3. Susanne Nielsen says:

    I know I’m not smart enough to know the definitive answer for this one, nevertheless it has prompted some pondering on my part – many times before today. I’ve often pondered the Bible story of Jesus being tempted by Satan in much the same way . . . it’s as if I would say . . . ‘as if!’ The thought of it seems ludicrous to me.

    Would it seem logical to believe that Job’s story is much like a Paul H. Dunn story . . . it’s been embellished to fit the need?

    I’ve come to realize through the years that our Heavenly Father doesn’t play by the same rules we do. He bends the rules and does everything completely backward sometimes. I mean . . . His most precious beloved Son born outside marriage? (I know she was married to Joseph, but not to HIM.) The latter-day gospel and eternal covenants, restored to a 14 year old farm boy? It seems our Father does so much so unconventionally that it makes it seem perfectly reasonable to use a story like Job to teach us what He wants us to know.

    • Deborah says:

      Bravo! Our thoughts are not his or is his ways! I know by experience and 46 years of muscular dystrophy that everything that enters into our lives, in too many counts, was agreed to before entering this temporal sphere. There are countless quotations by the prophets that we made covenants and promises before earth life.

  4. Paul says:

    I doubt that God spends much time talking to Satan. And, frankly, I find it hard to believe He talks to anyone about me. (That said, I do have the witness of others who have told me they felt inspired to speak to me about things — extending a calling, checking in on me, etc, so perhaps He’s talking to someone once in a while…)

    I appreciate SR’s discussion of the saga of Job, and it’s an excellent point. I am not sure I’ve ever assumed it was a literal telling of specific events, except perhaps the suffering of a person. (And whether a real person named Job really suffered all of those things is also immaterial to me in the learning of the lesson.)

    Our own general authorities use fictional characters in their talks all the time, citing literary examples of righteousness and trial; President Monson does so more often than most. And the use of fictional characters is as instructive as real ones in teaching morality lessons.

    Even the Savior used fictional (or at least generalized) characters. We have no evidence that there was one particular prodigal son. We have no knowledge of a particular sower who went forth to sow. The fact that the character Job is named does not make him more historical than the unnamed prodigal or the unnamed sower.

    One of the points of the Job story is that our trials are not always a consequence of our poor choices; sometimes bad things happen to good people. The question is how we will respond to those trials, and whether we will retain our relationship with God throughout the period of trials. We can learn that lesson whether God and Satan negotiated those trials or not.

    • Deborah says:

      True, we are being proven, but what’s so difficult to understand whether Job was a symbol or actual person, if God can use him as what we need to learn, to be and become if we choose him as our Father ~ All prophets have been tested far beyond what we can understand or have been told. Bravo on your comment!

  5. Bonnie says:

    It’s so important, as SR has already suggested, that we understand the literature we have in the scriptures in the tradition in which it grew. It’s part of the wisdom literature of the Hebrews, which is a tradition based on TRUTHS, not (as she has already stated), historical fact. We have a number of Garden of Eden stories, and they could be seen in the same light: truths about the way God deals with humankind nested in a narrative that is easily remembered and richly textured with hidden detail.

    There’s a lot that’s been written on Job.

    Mack Stirling did a wonderful job at the Temple on Mount Zion Conference (2012)

    Nibley, in Abraham’s Temple Drama, makes the following observation:

    I have shown elsewhere that the round dance of the creation drama takes the form of the prayer circle in the temple. The Testament of Job brings it vividly to mind. Job himself is not committed to any tribe or nation; like Abraham he was just one of the “men of the East.” Job’s story is indeterminate in time and place but is still full of ancient reminiscences and familiar undertones. The valuable apocryphal Testament of Job, discovered at the beginning of the century, lays special emphasis on temple ordinances. It has long been generally accepted that the book of Job is authentic theater. The texts go back to the fifth century.

    And I’ve written a few times as well, here and here and here, because the book fascinates me.

    • Jendoop says:

      Your comments are interesting Bonnie, I want to read every link. Before I do I wonder, would you teach this in your Sunday school class? Or would you be stoned? I can’t imagine this going over well in any Sunday school class I’ve attended.

      • Bonnie says:

        It would really depend on the class. People are in Church on Sunday to be encouraged in their walk and to fellowship with one another. If the class had people at a more fundamental level with these concepts, no, I wouldn’t, because it is unkind to raise more questions than people can wrap their minds around. The Book of Job is far too richly layered to expose it casually. I find that the best conversations about some of the deeper layers occur in private. I don’t agree with Mack’s assessment of Elihu as the voice of Eve, but I have to admit that I’m still figuring Elihu out.

  6. Jonathan says:

    The story of Job is the plan of salvation. I don’t think we are pawns in some great cosmic wager. Rather we are each at the nexus of a conversation between good and evil. If it were enough to be good, Satan’s plan would have been sufficient. Goodness can only be considered righteousness after the trial of adversity. God and Satan did indeed discuss the reality of the potential of our faithfulness.

    Also, The Book of Job also definitively rejects the Old Testament misconception that adversity is the temporal consequence for sin. Adversity is the natural consequence of life. But that’s another thought.

    • templegoer says:

      Absolutely. If nothing else, it’s a marvelous piece of story telling and a great piece of literature, reminding us that we are infinitely precious and held in the mind of God, and also nothing compared to the power of the leviathan.

  7. ji says:

    I don’t see Job as a horrendous story — I see it as an incredibly powerful story, a wonderful story, that teaches the plan of salvation (as Jonathan wrote) — it teaches us that God is always in control, that man cannot (and should not) judge God, that suffering is not always linked to sin, that truth can come from unexpected places (like the young man at the end), and that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord. I love it! And when I teach it, someone invariably tells me they never heard the story that way before. Our scriptures benefit from Job’s inclusion.

  8. h_nu says:

    Satan != lucifer, in this case
    KJV translators mistranslated this.
    in the book of Job, “Satan” means “the accuser”, a member of the divine council, someone who worked for God, who went about trying to find the misdeeds of humans on earth.

    Sometimes our own cultural biases keep us from properly interpreting the story.

  9. Forgive me, I’m just going to put my two cents in here. The first penny is on the question of faith and the importance of sacrifice, vv. sacrifice of all things is required for the perfection of faith. It’s not unusual for those who suffer to be angry with God, clearly if we have a mature faith, it will sustain us through affliction and even death.

    The other cent regards doctrine. There are a lot of times we get things wrong, sometimes just a little, other times more. It helps to know something about the book of Job as a matter of context, but doctrine, Truth as has been said, is independent in its sphere and it is essential to teach with the Spirit and understand with the Spirit in order to get it and hold on to it. Nevertheless, the Lord is patient with us.

    This conversation led me back to the Old Testament, Gospel Doctrine teachers manual as well my KJV Bible and the Netbible which I’ve always liked because of their detailed notes on translation and their honesty in remarking about language choices. Did a little bit of a search for Job through Google and that was interesting, but the most useful and of course the most appropriate choice for Sunday School instruction is the KJV and the manual and definitely the Spirit.

    The question of whether Job was a real person is an interesting one. The manual strongly suggests that he was real. This is from the manual. Sorry for the length.

    “There are other reasons for regarding Job as an historical person but, to me, the most decisive criterion in this regard, is the fact that when Joseph Smith and his people were in great distress, and Joseph Smith went to the Lord and said, ‘Oh God, where art thou? Where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place.’ The Lord responded to his appeal for help by saying, ‘my son, peace be to thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high … Thou art not yet as Job; thy friends do not contend against thee, neither charge thee with transgressions, as they did Job’ (D&C 121:7–10, emphasis added). Now, if Job were not real and his suffering, therefore, were merely the figment of some author’s imagination, and Joseph Smith on the other hand was very real, and his suffering and that of his people were not imaginary, then for the Lord to chide him because his circumstances were not as bad as Job’s were, would provide an intolerable comparison, since one cannot compare real with unreal things. On the other hand, since the Lord did make the comparison, it must be a real one. I would, therefore, conclude on this basis alone, that Job was a very real person. The Brethren, also, when they have referred to Job, have regarded him as a real person, for example, John Taylor, Journal of Discourses 7:197–198; 18:309–310; 20:305–306; 22:319–320; Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses 18:30; Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 19:315.” (“Job: ‘Yet Will I Trust in Him,’” pp. 154–55.)

    Anyway, thanks for the very enlightening discourse!

    • Jendoop says:

      Thank you for that quote and the thoughts with it. It’s wonderful how all scripture works together, modern and ancient, to provide insights and greater understanding.

      Personally, I think Job was real. Although I keep in mind that every time a story is transferred/translated it loses detail. With Job living such a long time ago and the various translations of the Bible (“as far as it is translated correctly”) I think we only have the barest bones of Job’s story. One day I hope to hear from his own resurrected lips the story of his life and great faith.

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