Imagine that you are a poor farmer who lives in northwestern Mexico where the soil consists of rock and sand, where the rain falls only once a year, and where the temperature rises to 115 degrees in the middle of the summer. Is there anything fruitful that you could grow under such harsh conditions? Most garden plants would never survive this kind of adversity, but one plant that will is the tepary bean.
The tepary bean plant is a small plant, with beautiful dark green foliage. It can blossom and fruit at temperatures of well over 100 degrees.
The tepary bean is a highly nutritious legume which you can find in health food stores. For hundreds of years, the Hopi Indians have grown this bean as a staple of their diet. Tepary beans can be boiled and made into soups, stews, burritos, or tacos. Historically, dry tepary beans were also roasted, ground and rehydrated into a sort of "instant bean" trail food. They are a good source of protein, iron, calcium, and other minerals. They are even being presently researched for possible cancer-fighting abilities.
What is the secret to this little plant? How does it survive its brutile environment, while also producing a highly nutritious food? (Have a six-foot-tall person stand.) This little tepary bean plant will set down roots that are six feet deep. Imagine! Because it has prepared itself to draw water from a constant source far underground before the summer heat comes, it is not vulnerable to the harshness and whims of the weather above.
Job was a man who was likewise durable. He could survive any kind of tragedy, any kind of sudden shock, any kind of long-lasting frustration, and yet be fruitful in his faith. Like the tepary bean plant, this man's roots went deep, to the source of Living Water.
THE BOOK OF JOB
Victor Hugo said, "The book of Job is perhaps the greatest masterpiece of the human mind." (Institute Manual, p. 23) Maybe that's why he wrote a masterpiece on a similar theme, Les Miserables.
The great historian Thomas Carlyle said, "I call [the book of Job]...one of the grandest things ever written. Our first, oldest statement of the never-ending problem--Man's Destiny, and God's ways with him on the earth. There is nothing written, I think, of equal literary merit." (ibid.)
The book of Job is written in poetic style and is laid out as a parable or as a fairy tale, since it begins, "There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name Job"--the Hebrew equivalent of "Once upon a time"--and it ends, "So Job died, being old and full of days"--a literary ending similary to "and they lived happily ever after." The beautiful style is one of the things that contributes to its greatness. Some scholars believe, due to the way the story is written in other historical documents, that the book of Job was written as a play, and that Job was fictitious. Job is mentioned in D&C 121:10 by the Lord as if he were a real person. Of course, there could have been a play or a parable or a stylized teaching story written about a real person, with the debate between God and Satan being only theoretical. Whether Job was actual or fictional, parable or biographical, his story teaches an everlasting truth. That beautiful truth is what really makes the book of Job great literature.
"There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil. And there were born unto him seven sons and three daughters" (Job 1:1-2). The numbers seven and three in Hebrew both point to perfection; Job had the perfect family. Job was very wealthy and respected, full of integrity and faith (1:3). But the Lord allowed Satan to buffet him (1:6-12), as He does for everyone in this mortal existence. It is a part of the plan. To a greater or lesser degree, Job's story is the story of all of us.
Everything was going great for Job, and then in a single day, tragedy hit him on all sides. His oxen and asses with all their herdsmen were killed by enemies (1:14-15). His sheep and shepherds were destroyed by lightning or lava flow (1:16). His camels were stolen and their drivers were slain (1:18). All his children were killed by a tornado (1:19). The horrific tragedies are mentioned in the very first chapter of Job. The entire remainder of the book, the real story, deals with Job's reaction.
What was Job's response to this terrible blow? Great sorrow, of course, but something else as well. "Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground [all signs of extreme anguish for a Hebrew], and worshipped, and said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly" (1:20-22). While in the very expression of his sorry, Job worshipped God. His testimony did not waver.
This was Job's first great loss--the loss of prosperity and the loss of posterity--and he survived it with his testimony intact. Would you?
The devil did not give up. He thought that if Job had to suffer personally in physical pain he would curse God. "So went Satan forth from the presence of the Lord, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown. And [Job] took him a potsherd [piece of broken pottery] to scrape himself withal; and he sat down among the ashes. Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die" (2:7-10).
Job's second great loss was the ruin of his health, including physical pain, as well as the lack of faithful support from his wife, and he survived it with his testimony intact. Would you?
"Now when Job's three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came every one from his own place...to mourn with him and to comfort him. And when they lifted up their eyes afar off, and knew him not, they lifted up their voice, and wept; and they rent every one his mantle, and sprinkled dust upon their heads toward heaven. So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights [symbolically the complete time needed], and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great" (2:11-13). The name Eliphaz means "He is my God," and the name Bildad means, "old friendship." The meaning of the name Zophar is "rising early" or "crown." The names signify that these were excellent, religious friends, who mourned with their friend in his tribulation.
BUT, they could not endure their friend's pain without coming up with an explanation for it. Our own fear pushes us to judgment--we must find a reason why someone has suffered, in order that we can be sure that suffering will not fall upon us. "He must have been a poor financial manager," we say when a business fails, in order to feel safe about our own business. "They must have been too lenient, or too strict," we say when someone's kids leave the gospel path, as we look for an explanation that will make us think that we know how avoid that fate. And Job's friends' fear demanded that they find a reason that Job deserved his suffering.
They also could not just "mourn with those that mourned, and comfort those that stood in need of comfort," but they had to try to "fix" the problem. As Job cried out in his agony, they began to reason. Like many people today, "the God they believed in" would not allow good people to suffer; therefore, Job must be in the wrong someway. In order to "help" him, they began to call him to repentance. The more he expressed his pure testimony, the more they demanded his confession. One even claimed that God probably didn't even punish Job as much as he deserved! (11:6) He instructed Job to prepare his heart and stretch out his hands toward God to beg for forgiveness, referring to the priestly prayer, in which the stretching of the hands overhead symbolically exposes the heart to God. (11:13)
This, then, was Job's third great loss--the loss of understanding from his friends, and, even worse, condemnation from them. Job survived it with his testimony intact. Would you?
But the last and greatest trial was yet to come, in a similitude of what Christ suffered on the cross, and what Joseph Smith endured in Liberty Jail (D&C 121): the feeling that God was withdrawn from him, that there was no response to his fervent prayers. "Oh that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat! I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would know the words which he would answer me, and understand what he would say unto me. Will he plead against me with his great power? No; but he would put strength in me. There the righteous might dispute with him; so should I be delivered for ever from my judge. Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: on the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him..." (23:3-9)
How did Job answer his own query? With faith: "But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (23:10)
Job's testimony survived the fourth great loss--feeling abandoned by God. Would yours?
Finally, after this period of great trial on many different levels, the Lord answered Job out of the wirlwind and reminded him of the plan of salvation and of His great power over all creation (38-41). Chapter 41 is probably the only place in all of scripture where the Lord compares himself to a crocodile (leviathan), in order to describe his power.
Job acknowledged the Lord's answer, and in great humility repented (42:1-4). But of what did he have need to repent? Possibly just of the whining, the wishing that things were different, the wanting of his own way, the feelings that would have been natural to any man (40:6-9).
Then the Lord commanded the three friends who had condemned Job to offer sacrifice and ask Job to pray for their forgiveness, which they did (42:7-9). But it is very interesting to note who was blessed by his forgiveness: Job himself! "And the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends" (42:10). Forgiveness freed Job. All of his blessings in the end were double what he had before (42:12), even the number of children, because all the children who died were still his and were waiting for him in the afterlife (42:13).
Interestingly, for a change, the daughters' names are mentioned and the sons' ignored. The first daughter was named Jemima, which means "dove," a symbol of the peace and joy that Job received. The second daughter was Kezia, named for the tree that produces the precious spice cinnamon. The third was named Keren-happuch, which means literally "horn of the cosmetics" or "eyeshadow" or "makeup," but which infers, "child of beauty." Job's life in the end was peaceful, precious, beautiful.
JOB: AN EXAMPLE FOR THE LECTURES ON FAITH
"I'm impressed that the book of Job vividly illustrates a teaching from The Lectures on Faith, that if anyone is to endure in faithfulness in his life, he must know three things: 1) that God exists, 2) that He is perfect in His character and in His attributes, and 3) that the course of life which one pursues is pleasing to the Lord" (Keith Meservy, Insitute Manual, p. 23).
Job knew that there was a God (19:25). He knew that God was perfect and there must be some reason why he was, as Job thought, inflicting all of these troubles upon him (12:7-10). And he knew that he himself had done his best in life to be righteous and obedient (27:5-6).
Victor Frankl was the author of Man's Search for Meaning, a book that tells the true story of his existence in a concentration camp and his discovery there that, no matter what can be taken away from you, you always still have one freedom, and that is the freedom to choose your own thoughts and responses.
Parley P. Pratt said, "Faith...is a state of the mind itself." We are free to choose to cultivate faith in our minds, and once we do, no person or circumstance can take that away from us (2 Ne. 2:27).
President David O. McKay, speaking at the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple Annex in 1963 said, "[I always] thought that the purpose of the book of Job was to emphasize the fact that the testimony of the...Gospel is beyond the power of Satan's temptation or any physical influence" (Institute Manual, p. 27). It may not be easy, but the truth of the matter is, nothing can shake our faith, unless we choose to let it!
WHY DO BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE?
The question the book of Job raises in everyone's minds is, Does God cause bad things to happen as a part of His plan, or does He just allow them happen as a part of life in a fallen existence? Job seemed to think that the Lord was causing all the evil, but the narrator of the story blames the devil for it all, and only credits the Lord with allowing it to continue for a time.
When asking whether God causes bad things to happen, President Kimball said, "Answer, if you can. I cannot, for though I know God has a major role in our lives, I do not know how much he causes to happen and how much he merely permits. Whatever the answer to this question, there is another I feel sure about.
"Could the Lord have prevented these tragedies? The answer is, Yes. The Lord is omnipotent, with all power to control our lives, save us pain, prevent all accidents, drive all planes and cars, feed us, protect us, save us from labor, effort, sickness, even from death, if he will. But he will not...If all the sick for whom we pray were healed, if all the righteous were protected and the wicked destroyed, the whole program of the Father would be annulled and the basic principle of the gospel, free agency, would be ended. No man would have to live by faith" (Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, p. 96-97).
Job's faith was strong from the beginning of the story, but his trials perfected it, as they did for all the great believers listed in Hebrews, "And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better things for them through their sufferings, for without sufferings they could not be made perfect" (JST Heb. 11:39-40).
ALL WORKS FOR GOOD TO THE RIGHTEOUS
Woody Allen said, "What I'd like is a blessing that's not in disguise." But perhaps one of the most comforting messages of the book of Job is that even bad things will have a good end for those who continue in faith. Everything that happens to the faithful turns out to be a blessing.
"If we looked at mortality as the whole of existence, then pain, sorrow, failure, and short life would be calamity. But if we look upon life as an eternal thing stretching far into the premortal past and on into the eternal post-death future, then all happenings may be put in proper perspective" (Kimball, ibid.).
"My son, peace be unto 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 shalt triumph over all thy foes" (D&C 1221:7-8).
Every story of every faithful person has a happy ending, if we take it into the final chapter: the next life. Our family will be perfected, our blessings will be multiplied, our faith will be gratified, our honor will be restored. God is faithful and will fulfill all his promises.