March 16, 2003

The Adversary’s Strategy: Removing
Our Crutches
Job 1:6-12

I never heard my older brother scream louder than he did on that day in our upstairs bedroom back in the early 60’s. The cast stretching from his hip to the tip of his toes had just been removed, and his board-stiff leg was propped nervously on the edge of the bed. As Barry gently turned to reach for something on his nightstand, his leg slipped off of the bed and collided with the hardwood floor below. “Ahhhhh,” he cried at the top of his lungs, sounding more pathetic than a screeching mourning dove whose nest in the middle of the field had just been discovered by an oversized tomcat. When the crutch in our upstairs bedroom disappeared, my brother’s still tender leg tumbled painfully downward. That is often what happens when crutches are taken away.

With Job’s credentials clearly established in 1:1-5—he was profoundly religious, unusually successful, and deeply caring about his family—the remainder of the prologue here in 1:6-2:13 depicts a drama that is actually acted out on two separate stages: the heavenly stage and the earthly stage. In this drama, we shift from one stage to the other and back again as the writer recounts the events that are unfolding. Importantly, the characters on the heavenly stage are well aware of everything that is going on on the earthly stage. God and the rest of the heavenly cast can peer over the edge of the stage, so to speak, and watch what is going on below. The actors on the earthly stage, however, enjoy no similar privilege. Job and his associates are unable to see what is happening on the stage above, and they have no clue of the conversation that is about to take place.

You and I, in fact, have better seats in the theatre than do Job and his friends. We are not only further removed from the tragedies that will soon occur, but we can also view both stages. We can listen in on all of the conversations. We even know what the various characters on both stages think and say to themselves. We have a perspective—remember this as you journey through the rest of the book—that Job and his friends are consistently denied.

As the action picks up in 1:6-12, attention focuses first on the heavenly stage. The curtain rises, and the writer invites us to imagine an ancient Near Eastern throne room. It is as though we are on what we expect to be a routine tour of the White House, when surprisingly the tour guide leads us right into the oval office as the President and his cabinet members are in session. Here in Job, God is sitting on his royal throne, and various advisors—“heavenly beings”—bring to his attention the affairs of his kingdom. They report what is happening here and what is going on there. Suddenly, a seemingly unexpected informant steps out on the stage.

It is important to note, right from the start, that this unusual visitor, though diabolical in nature, is not the fully-blown version of Satan that we later hear about in the New Testament. It is too easy for us to get lost in this story by unreasonably analyzing its apparent demonic implications, as though Satan himself somehow has free access into the inner chambers of heaven. In doing that, we run the risk of missing the main ideas that the writer so desperately wants us to think about. When the story of Job was originally told, a developed concept of Satan and his demons simply did not exist yet. Much of that conception rests on later revelation and reflection. In Job 1:6 and following, the noun satan has attached to it the definite article, and it is best translated “the adversary” or “the accuser.” Only later does this word appear as a proper name with reference to God’s archenemy.

How, then, are we to understand this mysterious adversary? In stories like this from throughout the ancient Near East, kings at times have what appear to be spies—what we might call today the Secret Service—who roam about the kingdom undercover. Their purpose was to keep an eye on things and to bring to the king’s attention any possible breaks in the peoples’ allegiance. The adversary here in Job seems to function in a somewhat similar way, although the relationship between him and God is apparently far less cordial. It might be better, therefore, to imagine an ancient district attorney or prosecutor who is at odds with his supervisor.
But what are they at odds about? Apparently one crucial issue, and it is precisely with respect to this issue that the man Job becomes so important. To state it as simply as I can, the issue that God and the adversary are debating is this: Is it possible for an individual to love God and to serve him faithfully when all of his crutches are removed? Can a person, in other words, remain true to God without regard for personal gain or fear of personal punishment? Is what the Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutierrez refers to as “disinterested religion” even imaginable? Gutierrez, be careful to note, does not address the matter of “uninteresting religion.” All of us know that uninteresting religion is not only possible, but prevalent - religion that is boring, outdated, and irrelevant is everywhere. Instead, Gutierrez speaks of “disinterested religion” - religion that is based on more than a concern about personal gain or loss. Do I love God only because of what he has done and continues to do for me? Do I love God only because I fear the consequences if I don’t?

Bernard of Clairvaux, you might recall from a sermon I preached last summer in the “Heroes of the Christian Faith” series, wrestled with much the same issue. In his perceived degrees of love, he described the first degree as one in which people love themselves for their own sake. People are, Bernard suggested, self-seeking and self-serving. In the second degree, people begin to experience difficulties and questions that lead them beyond themselves. As they move beyond themselves, they often sense the presence of God and begin to love him. They love him, however, for their own sake. They love God because of what he can do for them. “God will do this for me. God will not let that happen to me.” In the third degree, people begin to love God for God’s sake. Personal gain ceases to be important. The fear of punishment is no longer a driving force. People love God because he is good. A person who loves God in this way could very well say, “Even if God does nothing more for me in this life, I will love and serve him anyway. Even if I lose all that I have—my wealth, my job, my health, my reputation, even my family—I will love and serve God anyway.” Is such love, however, even worth thinking about? Is such love possible?
In the adversary’s mind, it is not. The adversary, this unexpected and somewhat mysterious character, believes that people who love and serve God do so only for self-serving reasons. “Does Job fear you for nothing?” he asks God.
Have you not put a fence 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. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has,
and he will curse you to your face.
Clearly, the adversary assumes that people like you and me look out primarily for ourselves, and that we are incapable of loving God for anything other than selfish reasons. “Knock out their crutches,” he asserts, “and they will abandon God as quickly as an inexperienced back-packer flees from a hissing rattlesnake.”

It is interesting, of course, to note strands of similar theology floating around our world today. Such theology is typically stated in reverse, but it is no less diabolical. Some would say, for example, that if we give our lives to God, he will do whatever we ask. If we truly love and serve him, he will keep us in perfect health or lavish material blessings upon us. Loving God, some people would say, leads directly and intentionally to health, wealth, and earthly prosperity.

One of the most blatant examples of such theology that I ever experienced firsthand occurred in the lobby of Bittner Dormitory soon after my family moved to Messiah. Deb was the resident director in Bittner, so we lived in the first-floor apartment there. One afternoon during a summer conference, three people were standing in the lobby discussing their spiritual journeys. During the conversation, one woman, decked out in fine clothing and weighted down by more jewelry than one might find in the entire Capital City Mall, explained her wealth by paraphrasing Luke 6:44: “you will know them by their fruit.” I nearly gagged as I stumbled across the hall to my office. In her own contorted sort of way, this woman articulated the adversary’s theology—godliness is directly associated with health and prosperity. If one of these elements is removed, you can kiss God goodbye.

It is on this crucial point, then, where God apparently disagrees with the adversary, and it is an important enough point that God is willing to pose a possible exception to the adversary’s rule. “Have you considered my servant Job?” he asks. “There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” “No!” I want to shout as I sense what is coming. “Leave Job alone.” Then two things dawn on me as I reflect further. For one thing, what a stunning thought it is that God might actually find such pleasure in a person like Job—in people like you and me. I am well aware of the fact that I can frustrate God, and I’m quite certain that I have done so many times. I also know that I can anger God sometimes, the stubborn child that I often am. But think about this. I can please God, too. I can bring joy to his heart and an expression of confidence to his entire countenance. Can you dare to imagine this conversation between God and the adversary rephrased? “Have you considered my servant Terry?!? Have you considered my servant Ruth? Chick? Karen? Al?” What an extraordinary thought. We might actually cause God to raise his chest and burst his buttons with joy?
A second thought enters my mind as I sit fidgeting in my seat, resisting the temptation to jump up onto the stage and come to Job’s defense. When God poses the possibility that Job is an exception to the adversary’s rule, he actually places himself at risk. God makes himself vulnerable, it seems to me. What if Job fails? What if Job crumbles when his crutches are removed? As a proud parent, I would find it far safer and easier to conceal my child during a moment of such tension than to expose my child and myself to possible disappointment. “The mud is in your face,” I can imagine the adversary responding to God were Job to fail the test. God takes risks when he places his name upon his people.

Apparently, this issue of disinterested religion is important enough to take the risk. Apparently, this issue of whether or not people like Job—people like you and me—will love God, regardless of what happens, is more important than all of life’s pleasures and securities. Apparently, this issue of loving and serving God for his sake rather than our own is of eternal significance.

Back in the early 60’s, my brother Barry’s sore and unbendable leg fell off of the bed that had been supporting it. Did he ever scream! Losing a crutch can be scary and excruciatingly painful. My brother, however, does not need to prop up his leg anymore, and he walks and runs now without crutches. What props do you lean upon? If the adversary devised a scheme to knock your crutches out, what would he go for first? What might be the ultimate test of your commitment to the Lord? What would you have the most trouble letting go of? Can you imagine God asking, “Have you considered my servant ______________?” Dwight Moody once commented that the world had never seen what God could do in the life of a person who was totally committed to him. Moody then suggested that he hoped to be that person. What about you and me?