What if Job had mirrored his wife’s despair and given up?
The heart is the boss of us. This is certainly true when we fall in love. It’s equally obvious when we’re consumed by rage or sorrow. Joy puts a dance in every step and colors each exchange and decision. Jealousy can also rule our days, as do hope, fear, hatred, and excitement.
What may be less obvious is that the individual heart is profoundly shaped by the contents of hearts around it. Science proposes that a similar kind of “mirror neuron” fires in humans. It’s why we love watching movies in which heroes do the very things we long to do. When others act nobly, we feel the personal swell of success. It’s why we tell someone “I’m so proud of you” when we ourselves have done nothing to inspire pride. We feel the reward as if we acted ourselves. Ever cry when you hear a sad story? That’s the mirror function at work.
This could explain why biblical Job defends his confidence in God against his wife’s recommendation that he curse God and die. Job trusts that his “Redeemer lives” even when everything worth living for has been taken away. Hope is the better card to play, though considerably tougher when no one is mirroring it to you. This also explains why Job’s response to his situation isn’t uniformly confident. Check out his lament about life being drudgery, gone swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, or an earlier one about cursing the day he was born. The day Job declares, “My eye will never again see good,” is decidedly grim. But it didn’t make him feel any better to declare it.
If you read the Book of Job to the end, it’s also not true. Job does see a hopeful future again. It’s not the same happiness he started out with. It surely bears the scars of the suffering he underwent. The restoration of Job’s happiness doesn’t erase the anguish of the dung heap, the loss of his children, the ruin of his prosperity, and the moral accusation he had to carry. Yet despite the depth of his trials, happiness remains possible, which makes sticking around for a story’s end the wise thing to do.
What if Job had mirrored his wife’s despair and given up? What if he’d soaked up his pious friends’ rigid theology and admitted that his misfortune must signal some terrible hidden sin? Hard as it is to resist the negative messaging of people he trusts, Job finds the courage to hold fast to the God he knew before the calamities. Sure, Job voices laments, raises earnest questions, and yells his pain as far into the universe as he can hurl it. This is what humans do in the face of grave injustice—and so we should. It’s what Jesus does in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of his great trial. But because the heart is the boss of us, Job also knows that entrusting himself to the God of rescue is what will ultimately save him. Job needs faith in divine justice more than he can afford to be overwhelmed by circumstances that would dissolve any creature that doesn’t summon the courage to reach above them.
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Alice Camille is the author of Working Toward Sainthood (Twenty-Third Publications) and other titles available at www.alicecamille.com.
With thanks to U.S. Catholic, a publication of the Claretian Missionaries, a Roman Catholic religious community of priests and brothers dedicated to the mission of living and spreading the gospel of Jesus.