Saturday, May 05, 2018

Skin for skin

9 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”...4 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life (Job 1:9-11; 2:4).

i) The problem of evil is typically cast in terms of why God allows humans in general to suffer harm, yet the problem of evil in that popular as well as philosophical sense is hard to find in Scripture. For in Scripture, the problem of evil is more specific: why doesn't God do more to protect his own people from harm? 

ii) But suppose God invariably intervened to spare Jews and Christians from harm? What would that say about their piety? Would they be serving God for his sake or their sake? God has showered Job with security and prosperity. Job would be foolish not to honor a God like that. To serve a God like that is self-serving. An ideal arrangement, where he has everything to gain and nothing to lose. 

The Adversary compares Job's situation to sheepfold made of thorny hedges that shields sheep and goats from straying, or predators from picking them off. Is Job blessed because he's faithful–or faithful because he's blessed? Do he value the giver or the gifts? 

The Adversary accuses Job of acting out of enlightened self-interest. He proposes a test to distinguish disinterested motives from self-interested motives. If Job remains faithful after God suspends the gravy train, then Job's motives are pure. 

iii) However, that poses something of a conundrum. To be a creature is to be needy, dependent, and vulnerable. God can't suffer, but we can. Why should we be faithful to a God who's faithless to us?

Is it wrong to be concerned with our own welfare? Indeed, Scripture promises eschatological rewards and compensations. What we ultimately get out of it is an incentive to persevere.

iv) Do we do the right thing because it's the right thing to do? Do we do the right thing even when it hurts? Sacrificial love is a good example. "Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends" (Jn 15:13). That's the acid test of friendship. Are they prepared to suffer with you, or even suffer in your place, when they could avoid suffering by disowning you or leaving you behind? Or take someone who has to put his plans on hold to provide for an ailing family member. He does it out of love or duty. 

It's natural and proper to care about ourselves. But it's improper to care only about ourselves. On the proverbial lifeboat, do we share the rations or do we heave passengers overboard to have more rations for ourself? 

So it seems necessary that God not prevent Christians from having to experience suffering. If the walk of faith was harmless and pain-free, there'd be no difference between virtue, fidelity, and selfishness. Although it's legitimate to care about your own needs, you shouldn't be self-centered, but care also about the needs of others. Cost-free altruism is dirt cheap. The litmus test is when there's a conflict between your own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others. Self-interest and self-denial need to be counterbalanced. Shouldn't be one-sided in either direction. 

v) Commentators dispute whether the antagonist in Job is the Devil. Other issues aside, his allegation is revealing. His suspects people ultimately act out of naked self-interest, disguised as mock-piety. Although that's a legitimate concern, his suspicion raises questions about the purity of his own devotion to God. Although his query is directed at Job, what does that cynical outlook say about his own motives? Has the antagonist unwittingly tipped his hand? By impugning Job's motives, is he inadvertently impugning his own motives? 

1 comment:

  1. I think there's an additional aspect. Worship of the gods in ANE culture was all about self-interest on both sides. People took care of the gods through sacrifice and offerings and the gods were supposed to take care of them. Egyptian laments typically include the complaint to the god or gods that the person has upheld their part of the bargain. So, while satan is definitely pointing out the self-interest aspect, part of it may be an accusation that worship of Yahweh is no different than worshipping Isis or whoever the god of the week may be.