The Caliber of the Human Heart

26th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday (Year II)

Job 1:6-22; Psalm 17; Luke 9:46-50

Why believe in God and follow his commandments? Do motives of fear or gain fuel religious observance? Can lovers of God transcend the fear of loss or the desire of gain (even the reward of heaven)? 

From the divine end, do karma-like principles govern the universe? Must the good always prosper and the wicked suffer?

The Book of Job wrestles with these questions in a scenario of extremes involving a man of impeccable virtue above reproach, numerous and auspicious progeny, and bountiful wealth and prosperity, who loses it all at once in a trial to explore the limits of purity of heart.

In the courts of heaven, an “accuser” or “challenger” (ha satan) facilitates an extraordinary spiritual experiment to filter out all sediment of ulterior motives in Job, as well as turn the retribution principle on its head: What if God’s beloved suffers the lot of the wicked?

The New American Bible (Revised Edition) and a few other translations have rendered ha satan (“the accuser”) as a title and role rather than a personal name (Satan). The word is used of David as an “adversary” (l’satan) to Saul in I Samuel 29:4. An angel of YHWH was sent to oppose Balaam as an “adversary” (l’satan) in Numbers 22:22. In 1 Kings 11:14, a satan (“adversary”) is raised up against Solomon as a political rival (see NABRE footnote). In Zechariah 3:1, the “adversary” (satan) is a figure in the Lord’s heavenly courtroom.

“The satan” might be akin to the role of the “devil’s advocate” in the canonization process of a saint. The accuser, adversary, or challenger plays a pivotal role in bringing to light the truth of a candidate’s life, faith, and heroic virtue. By posing difficult questions and deliberately looking for “chinks in the armor,” obstacles to canonization are cleared away.

The satan in the first chapter of Job, who is not a sinister character, plays the auxiliary role of  “devil’s advocate” to test the mettle of humanity at its finest, and to challenge the divine retribution principle widely assumed to be incontestable. 

One day, when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, the satan also came among them. The Lord said to the satan, “Where have you been?” Then the satan answered the Lord and said, “Roaming the earth and patrolling it.” The Lord said to the satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him, blameless and upright, fearing God and avoiding evil.” The satan answered the Lord and said, “Is it for nothing that Job is God-fearing? Have you not surrounded him and his family and all that he has with your protection? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock are spread over the land. But now put forth your hand and touch all that he has, and surely he will curse you to your face.” The Lord said to the satan, “Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on him.” So the satan went forth from the presence of the Lord.

One day, while his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the house of their eldest brother, a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys grazing beside them, and the Sabeans carried them off in a raid. They put the servants to the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” He was still speaking when another came and said, “God’s fire has fallen from heaven and struck the sheep and the servants and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you.” He was still speaking when another came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three columns, seized the camels, carried them off, and put the servants to the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” He was still speaking when another came and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the house of their eldest brother, and suddenly a great wind came from across the desert and smashed the four corners of the house. It fell upon the young people and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you.”

Under God’s watch, Job is dismantled of every external good that he considered precious—children, servants, property and possessions. His foundational faith and piety remained unshaken at this stage: 

Then Job arose and tore his cloak and cut off his hair. He fell to the ground and worshiped. He said,

“Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb,
and naked shall I go back there.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
blessed be the name of the Lord!”

In all this Job did not sin, nor did he charge God with wrong.

Job recognized his existential poverty: the God of the universe owed him nothing. From the dust of the earth in his mother’s womb he was formed, and to the dust of the womb of Mother Earth he shall return. 

Job mustered up all his faith in God’s goodness and blessed (barak) him. Unbeknownst to the suffering servant, the “devil’s advocate” had predicted a curse (barak) from the saint. The Hebrew word for “bless” is used euphemistically by the satan in Job 1:5 and 11.

To explore the hidden caverns of human motives and intentions, Job’s heart was dipped in a fiery cauldron to purify it of all dregs. To what heights of disinterested love (agape) can humanity soar? 

The heart is a complex, incomprehensible spiritual organ: “More tortuous than anything is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) The hearts of Jesus’ disciples were also put to the test, not by a satan, but by the Son of God himself:

An argument arose among the disciples about which of them was the greatest. Jesus realized the intention of their hearts and took a child and placed it by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest.” 

A disciple of Christ does not serve God for individual profit—power, prestige, or position. Actions flow from identification with the eternal, divine Child in the Womb of the Father.

The prayer of David is the prayer of Jesus and his disciples:

“Though you test my heart, searching it in the night,
though you try me with fire, you shall find no malice in me” (Psalm 17:3).

-GMC

One Reply to “The Caliber of the Human Heart”

  1. Thank you for your post. It makes me think about today’s situation. In this pandemic we too have been tested like Job. And like him we have found an unshakeable faith in God. Now, we present ourselves to the precious Eucharist at Mass like never before, knowing what it’s like not to receive because churches were closed. Now, our family, faith community and neighbors are so precious to us since we hadn’t seen them in a while. Now, we take nothing for granted and give all glory to God. Now, we see how much we need Him in our lives and we accept.

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