Job versus Satan
Leadership in Darkness and “Light”
The Enigma of Job
The story of Job is a moving rebuttal to facile explanations for the causes of human suffering. As Job’s life unfolds, the reader is gripped with that reality that life is both unpredictable and ultimately unfathomable. Life sometimes appears to be dreadfully unfair, and terrible suffering comes out of the blue for no apparent reason. A man who is morally upright, kind to those around him and devout in his service to God, not only loses his fortune, he must bury all of his children. Then, in spite of his remaining loyal to the Lord, he is inflicted with excruciating pain from a disease with no known cure. Such is the bewildering saga of Job.
The Leadership of Job Prior to his Trials
When one thinks of Job, words such as pain, bewilderment and patience come to mind, not leadership. Yet Job was an extraordinary leader, widely admired and highly successful before that fateful conversation between the Lord and Satan turned his world upside down. Job “owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants” (Job 1:3). It is difficult to translate wealth from one system of economics to another, especially one separated by thousands of years, but this is significant wealth by anyone’s standards. To put Job’s business success into a modern context would be to compare him to someone as successful as Microsoft’s Bill Gates, someone who is head and shoulders above his peers in terms of wealth and the power and influence that wealth brings. Indeed, that is exactly the kind of leader who Job was: “He was the greatest man among all the people of the East” (Job 1:3).
Job was a man of science and learning, demonstrating knowledge that ranged from birth to death, animal life, geography and the movement of the stars. When Job spoke of God, he described him as one who “speaks to the sun and it does not shine; he seals off the light of the stars. He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea. He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the south” (Job 9:7-9; cf. Job 3:9, 10; 9:5-9; 12:7-9; 17:13-16). Job was skilled in legal matters (e.g. Job 9:3, 20, 32; 13:15) and knew that he “had influence in court” (Job 31:21). He was a keen observer of how other people conducted business and was not naïve regarding the unscrupulous practices of his day (Job 24:2-11), yet he was always fair and honest, bending over backwards to ensure that no one ever lost in a venture with him: “If my land cries out against me and all its furrows are wet with tears, if I have devoured its yield without payment or broken the spirit of its tenants, then let briers come up instead of wheat and weeds instead of barley” (Job 31:38-40). One cannot read Job’s responses to the conventional “worldly wisdom” of his friends and miss the literary prowess of the man as he is given voice in the book.
Because his wealth was coupled with knowledge, wisdom and integrity, Job exercised considerable political and social influence:
When I went to the gate of the city and took my seat in the public square, the young men saw me and stepped aside and the old men rose to their feet; the chief men refrained from speaking and covered their mouths with their hands; the voices of the nobles were hushed, and their tongues stuck to the roof of their mouths (Job 29:7-11).
Managing such wealth required Job to oversee a large number of workers. He secured the loyalty of those whom he oversaw by treating them equitably and with humility: “Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?” (Job 31:15, 13, 14)
Unlike many who have worshipped wealth in order to get it, Job remained throughout his life a humble and generous worshipper of the Lord, a man who rejected pagan idolatry as well as the worship of mammon:
If I have put my trust in gold or said to pure gold, ‘You are my security,’ if I have rejoiced over my great wealth, the fortune my hands had gained, if I have regarded the sun in its radiance or the moon moving in splendor, so that my heart was secretly enticed and my hand offered them a kiss of homage, then these also would be sins to be judged, for I would have been unfaithful to God on high (Job 31:24-28).
Job’s generosity was proverbial: “Who has not had his fill of Job’s meat?” Job could state, “But no stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler” (Job 31:31, 32). And he could challenge:
If I have denied the desires of the poor or let the eyes of the widow grow weary, if I have kept my bread to myself, not sharing it with the fatherless—but from my youth I reared him as would a father, and from my birth I guided the widow—if I have seen anyone perishing for lack of clothing, or a needy man without a garment, and his heart did not bless me for warming him with the fleece from my sheep . . . then let my arm fall from the shoulder, let it be broken off at the joint (Job 31:16-22).
Indeed, the seal on Job’s character and integrity are given by God himself: “This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:3).
Prior to the events that began to unravel his life, Job stands as a tower of success in virtually every field. Were he to be lifted out of his milieu and placed into that of twenty-first century America, the earlier Job would be celebrated throughout the Christian world, and his biographical sketch would undoubtedly be found in books on business ethics, management and leadership. But Job’s stupendous leadership before his trial would never have caused him to transcend his own civilization, much less to have made it into the Book of the ages. It is precisely Job’s leadership under trial that has spoken to untold millions of sufferers for thousands of years.
An Introduction to Job, the Leader in the Darkness
It is not the incredibly wealthy, wise and powerful leader whom Scripture commends; it is Job the person of prayer who remains steadfast under overwhelming trials. Because of his love for people and awareness of human frailty, Job regularly interceded with God on behalf of others. Scripture teaches that those who confess their sins are counted righteous, and that the “prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). The impact of Job’s righteous intercession on the lives of others was twice cited by the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 14:13, 14, 19, 20). But it is not the leadership model of Job as a person of intercession that has resonated with those who have heard the story; it is Job’s steadfast refusal to turn his back on God, even in the darkness that has struck the chord with sufferers down through the ages:
Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy (James 5:10, 11).
The leader whom God commends is the Job who remains faithful in spite of all tangible things telling him that he is wrong. It is the Job struggling in the darkness.
The God who Is not There
Until God speaks to him out of the whirlwind, Job experiences only the material universe, yet Job understands that nothing in his world happens outside of the sphere of God’s control. Repeatedly, Job expresses belief in God’s sovereignty: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). After the loss of his children, his fortune and his health, Job asks his wife, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10) However, Job’s affirmations are the affirmations of faith, not of sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), for Job dwells in a place of darkness, where the light is as the darkness (Job 10:22).
The theme of darkness dominates most of Job’s speeches. From his opening lament until his final protestation, Job sees his life in terms of twilight and gloom. When he curses the day of his birth, he calls for the shroud of darkness to drop on it:
That day—may it turn to darkness; may God above not care about it; may no light shine upon it. May darkness and deep shadow claim it once more; may a cloud settle over it; may blackness overwhelm its light. That night—may thick darkness seize it; may it not be included among the days of the year nor be entered in any of the months . . . May its morning stars become dark; may it wait for daylight in vain and not see the first rays of dawn . . . why was I not hidden in the ground like a stillborn child, like an infant who never saw the light of day? Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in? (Job 3:4-6, 9, 16, 23)
Job had once known the light of God shining on his path: “How I long for the months gone by, for the days when God watched over me, when his lamp shone upon my head and by his light I walked through darkness!” (Job 29:2, 3) But now Job’s repeated calls to God for answers are met with silence, the lonely silence of the deep darkness: “He has blocked my way so I cannot pass; he has shrouded my paths in darkness” (Job 19:8). His hope is eclipsed under the hopeless shroud of gloom: “Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness” (Job 30:26). As he reflects on the course of life, he can comprehend it only terms of darkness and isolation, from conception in the womb to burial in the earth:
Why then did you bring me out of the womb? I wish I had died before any eye saw me. If only I had never come into being, or had been carried straight from the womb to the grave! Are not my few days almost over? Turn away from me so I can have a moment’s joy before I go to the place of no return, to the land of gloom and deep shadow, to the land of deepest night, of deep shadow and disorder, where even the light is like darkness (Job 10:18-22).
But the darkness does not silence Job: “Yet I am not silenced by the darkness, by the thick darkness that covers my face” (Job 23:17).
The God who Speaks
Near the end of the book, the silence of God is broken, and he speaks to Job out of the whirlwind (Job 38:1). But God’s revelation does not answer all Job’s questions, nor does Job receive an explanation of how the world ultimately works or why he has been singled out for such extraordinary suffering. What Job receives is a revelation of God himself, and that revelation undoes Job as much as anything he has experienced in all his trials.
Then Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:1-6).
The answer that Job receives transcends human reason. It is the answer of worship, not of logical discourse. As with the Psalms, the story of Job finds resolution in the sanctuary, not the academy: “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny” (Psalm 73:16, 17).
Revelation is always on God’s terms, not on the human need to know. The Voice from the whirlwind speaks to Job in his darkness, leaving him partially in the darkness and never fully pulling back the veil for Job to understand all of the reasons why he was singled out for such suffering. When the curtain is pulled back on Job’s drama, as it is in the prologue to the book, it is for the reader, not for Job, that this apocalypse is given. Job is never given the ultimate revelation of all the ways that the world works. Even with God’s speaking to him, Job still sees “through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12), remaining ignorant of the satanic plot against him.
Three Paradigms for Understanding
The book of Job presents the reality of both the natural and supernatural worlds without ever explaining how they impact each other. The author of Job simply accepts both views of reality as completely true without establishing boundaries of delineation between them the way that modern Western people do. Life may be viewed correctly under the model of cause and effect within a natural universe, and all the catastrophic events recorded in the first two chapters of Job are described for what they are: natural phenomena with natural causes behind them. While lighting is called the “fire of God,” there is no hint of an Olympian Zeus casting down lighting bolts or of any other such suspension of the chain of nature (Job 1:16). Job’s children are killed because a sudden, violent “wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house” (Job 1:19). Sabean and Chaldean bandits raid Job’s goods and put his servants to the sword, acting according to their own wills, not as puppets being manipulated by supernatural strings (Job 1:15, 17).
Yet life may also be viewed correctly as the unfolding of the plan of an utterly sovereign God, and all the catastrophic events recorded in the first two chapters of Job may truthfully be described for what they are: the outworking of the decree of almighty God. In the epilogue of the book, the author describes Job’s agony as “all the trouble the Lord had brought upon him” (Job 42:11). Without making God the author of sin and without ever offering an explanation of how God’s decree is actually carried out in the material universe, the book of Job simply accepts the reality that it is God who has ordained all of this tragedy, employing the Hebrew word ra to describe it (h[r “injury, wrong, misery, evil, trouble,” Ludwig Koehler And Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, pp. 899, 900.).
However, the book of Job presents yet a third paradigm for understanding reality, a paradigm apparently unknown to the protagonist, Job himself: the conflict between Yahweh and Satan. That conflict is revealed to the reader in the apocalypse that is part of the prologue to the book:
One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.”
Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:6-8).
This apocalypse unveils the conflict that lies behind the whole book, yet Job himself remains utterly unaware that such a conflict exists, even after Yahweh speaks to him from the whirlwind. In this conflict between the Lord and Satan, Satan becomes Job’s great antagonist, but Job experiences his suffering simply as the result of natural things. Satan is the one who “afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head” (Job 2:7), yet Job’s torturer remains behind the veil. And while by faith Job accepts these tragedies as ultimately under the control of God, he is never given a glimpse of the malicious supernatural being that delights in torturing him.
As with how it deals with the connection between the natural and supernatural worlds, the book of Job does not compartmentalize the impact of the conflict between the Lord and Satan. The book simply accepts this paradigm for understanding reality as real, alongside the paradigm of the natural cause and effect world of ordinary human experience and the paradigm of the ultimate sovereignty of God over all things. All three paradigms are real and conterminous. The tragic events Job undergoes are natural things with natural causes. Yet these events are the outworking of a supernatural conflict between the Lord and Satan, a conflict that is every bit as real and every bit as impacting as the material causes that connect events within the natural world. And all of these things are under the overarching sovereignty of God, a God who is even involved in the death of sparrows (Matthew 10:29). It is as if three witnesses to the same event were to testify in court under oath, and each witness told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Yet each witness told a different story, and while their stories did not contradict each other, at no point were their accounts exactly the same.
It should not surprise the modern reader to discover that the book of Job simply assumes certain things to be true without attempting to reconcile and delineate them the way that Western thought does. While the Bible is one of the pillars on which Western Civilization is founded; it is not itself a product of Western thought. The Bible often assumes certain things to be true that seem contradictory to the Western mind. How can Jesus of Nazareth be fully divine and fully human, and yet one Person? How can there be only one God, yet three distinct Persons are God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit? How can God be completely sovereign, and yet human beings remain free moral agents, fully accountable for their own authentic choices? The Bible proclaims that all these things are true, without ever explaining how, other than pointing to the greatness and majesty of God. The task of the theologian is not always to reconcile but to proclaim biblical truth biblically. This is what the Westminster Assembly did with the sovereignty of God, on the one hand, and the will of creatures and the nexus of events in the natural universe, on the other:
God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established (The Westminster Confession of Faith, III, i.).
It is because the universe is more complex than humankind can ever comprehend simply by examining material things, that both predicting the future and fully comprehending why things have happened as they did in the past remain ultimately elusive. Awareness of this is an antidote to the hubris of modern man.
The Leadership of Satan
Satan stands out as the ever hidden, but very present antagonist of Job. God “never lies” (Titus 1:2). He “is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5, KJV). He is “the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17, KJV). Yet this God of light and absolute truth remains hidden from Job and even allows Job wrongly to conclude that God himself is his adversary: “Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy?” (Job 13:24) Satan, on the other hand, is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). The darkness is the place of his power (cf. Luke 22:53; Acts 26:18) and his eternal abode (cf. Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; Jude 1:13) “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4), yet Satan “masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).
While the Bible does not conclusively answer all questions about Satan and his origins, Satan’s very name points to his essence: the Hebrew verb satan means to “bear a grudge,” or “cherish animosity against” (!jf Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, op. cit., p. 918.). He is “the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night” (Revelation 12:10). What Satan does in the first two chapters of Job is what he is always about: “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him” (Zechariah 3:1). Satan’s light is the light of the prosecutor; he is ever the voyeur, lurking to see what he can see and to shine his light on the weaknesses and failures of others that he may exercise control over them to his own ends.
The essence of Satan’s approach to leadership is introduced in his question to the Lord: “Does Job fear God for nothing?” (Job 1:9) Satan’s method is to provide relatively immediate, tangible results for actions: reward or punishment, pain or pleasure:
Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face (Job 1:10, 11).
Satan sees Job as he does the rest of humankind, a materialistic being whose goals are selfish and material: “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life” (Job 2:4). This one who is fallen from heaven cannot comprehend a fallen humanity that remains in the image of God (Genesis 9:6; James 3:9), or how God could love this creation from the dirt of the earth to the point that he would send his Son into the world to take on human flesh (Hebrews 2:16; cf. Ephesians 3:10; 1 Peter 1:12). Humankind, in Satan’s view, is not fundamentally different from Pavlov’s dogs: if one provides sufficient pain and sufficient pleasure, one can make a human being do anything. He assumes that Job is loyal to God only because of material rewards: “You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land” (Job 1:10, 11). That is why he challenges God, “But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face” (Job 2: 5).
Satan cannot comprehend that anyone would ever act contrary to his own best interests or delay immediate relief from pain for a future reward based on faith in what is unseen. Yet Satan’s vision is always ultimately a lie because Satan cannot accurately predict the future, much less control it. When Satan “enlightens” humankind, it is always to cast a deceptive vision, a vision that he illuminates as beautiful and satisfying at the beginning, but a vision that always ends in darkness. Like Proverb’s “Folly,” Satan calls out “to those who pass by,” offering them immediate gratification and fleshly pleasure (Proverbs 9:13ff.), but he always hides the final results in the darkness: “But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of the grave” (Proverbs 9:18). Satan’s way is the way of the wide gate and broad way that end in constriction and misery (Matthew 7:13).
In his attacks on Job, Satan manipulates the forces of nature to bring Job down to the ash heap. But Satan also marshals Job’s closest companions to do his work; he is the ultimate manipulative leader who inspires and incites his followers to be satanic themselves, falsely accusing Job of secret and stubborn rebellion against God. People who read verses here and there in the Bible often twist Scripture, and the book of Job is prone to mishandling because people fail to realize that their quickly garnered proof-texts are sometimes actually satanic attacks on God himself. At the end of the book, God speaks to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7). God’s indictment means that nine entire chapters of the book are filled with lies, distortions and half-truths: Job 4; 5; 8; 11; 15; 18; 20; 22 and 25. Twice God tells Eliphaz that he has distorted the truth (Job 42:7, 8).
Eliphaz is singled for special rebuke because of the vicious level to which he descends as his anger builds against Job who continues to refuse to acknowledge that conventional theological wisdom applies in his case. These attacks come to a climax in chapter 22, when Eliphaz accuses Job of being a wealthy but stingy miser who “sent widows away empty-handed and broke the strength of the fatherless” (Job 22:9). In his hubris, Eliphaz believes that he has a complete handle on the truth, and so he explains that Job’s misery is strictly the fruit of Job’s own sin: “That is . . . why it is so dark you cannot see” (Job 22:11). Eliphaz accuses Job of being an apostate who scoffs and says, “What does God know? Does he judge through such darkness?” (Job 22:13; cf. 22:23) And Bildad the Shuhite ends the accusations against Job by comparing humanity to maggots and worms (Job 25:6). But it is Job’s wife who actually presses him to commit apostasy, when she ‘said to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!”’ (Job 2:9)
As the crescendo of these human speeches intensifies against Job, one must see the skill of Satan, orchestrating an attack that is ultimately directed against God himself. Satan is an effective leader because he has great understanding of human nature, and he is able to marshal that understanding effectively in manipulating people to do his bidding. His effectiveness lies within his ability to get people to do what he wants them to do without their realizing that they are being manipulated. Thoughts, desires and decisions seem to be their own, not the intrusion of a sinister force, alien to them and their welfare. Neither the book of Job nor the rest of Scripture address exactly how Satan is able to lodge his fiery darts within the human soul; Satan’s ability to do this is simply assumed (cf. Ephesians 6:10-17). Murder, sexual sin, theft, rage, jealousy, discouragement and pride are all trophies to Satan’s effective leadership.
The Suffering Job as a True Leader
Why should Job under trial be considered a leader? By the standards of some of the best sellers in modern Christian publishing, only the earlier Job would qualify. Job under trial certainly would not. Job under trial has lost his wealth and his legacy. Gone entirely is his ability to wield pressure and influence to gain his way with others:
Men listened to me expectantly, waiting in silence for my counsel. After I had spoken, they spoke no more; my words fell gently on their ears. They waited for me as for showers and drank in my words as the spring rain. When I smiled at them, they scarcely believed it; the light of my face was precious to them. . . But now they mock me, men younger than I, whose fathers I would have disdained to put with my sheep dogs. . . And now their sons mock me in song; I have become a byword among them. They detest me and keep their distance; they do not hesitate to spit in my face (Job 29:21-30:10).
Prior to his calamities Job commanded a large workforce, eager to do his bidding, but now: “I summon my servant, but he does not answer, though I beg him with my own mouth” (Job 19:16). Yet Job the sufferer never turns his back on God, and it is this Job who is held up as a leader.
If leadership is defined only in terms of presently demonstrated power to marshal people and wealth, then Job the sufferer does not fit. Better qualified are people like John Maxwell’s Enron candidates, Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling:
That is what’s happening at Enron. In the last several years, the global energy company has really blossomed, and it has received incredible recognition for its efforts . . .
Ken Lay . . . was soon given the task of leading the company . . . To do the job right, he wanted greater authority to make changes and unify the team . . .
As Jeff Skilling, President, COO, and CEO of Enron, says, “You should always value the ability to move and change, because that creates options, and options are valuable . . .”
Having a vision for innovation and placing value on people have paid off for Enron . . . (John Maxwell, The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork: Embrace Them and Empower Your Team, pp. 98-100.).
In light of the scandals that brought down Enron almost immediately after he wrote those words in 2001, John Maxwell removed them from subsequent editions of his book. But its earlier presence and later removal profoundly illustrate why Maxwell’s models for leadership are flawed.
John Maxwell generally begins the chapters of his books with brief biographical sketches that highlight the success of individuals or companies whom he identifies as practicing one of his leadership principles. His sketches include a whole range of successful people, from military generals to captains of industry, to scientists and venture capitalists, to politicians and athletes: celebrated people whom others admire. But like most of the material in his books, Maxwell’s biographical sketches are too brief to engage the soul. There is no story. One never engages Maxwell’s heroes as real people with real flaws. The sketches are almost obituaries, too limited for plot or character development. Maxwell’s characters are machine-like, following effective programming. They face problems, apply correct leadership principles and overcome. Success is inevitable. But life is not so predictable, nor are the protagonists in life’s dramas so mechanical.
Job is a real person, and he reacts to his bewildering deluge of tragedies with true anguish of soul. When he loses all his wealth and buries all his children, at first Job’s agony is too numbing, too deep for words: he shaves his head and rips open his robe. But in spite of his overwhelming pain, Job chooses to worship God: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21). When Job’s body is racked with pain and putrefaction, he removes himself to the ash heap so he can scrape his sores in isolated misery. As he sits in a broken body with a broken soul, his wife encourages him to put an end his misery: “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9)
Job is a real person with real temptation to sin, but he does not let go of his integrity. This is not the action of a proud man clinging to the tattered robes of his own self-righteousness; indeed, this is God’s own judgment about Job:
Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason” (Job 2:3, emphasis mine.).
Job freely admits that he has committed sins in his past; he only denies that he is living in some secret sin: “How many wrongs and sins have I committed? Show me my offense and my sin . . . you . . . make me inherit the sins of my youth” (Job 13:23, 26). Again and again, Job pleads to be shown his sins. When Job is attacked by his three “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2), he never attacks them in kind; he merely rebuts their accusations and affirms that he is not a hypocrite. For Job to admit to sins that he has not actually committed would itself be sin, and Job refuses to lie: “I will never admit you are in the right; till I die, I will not deny my integrity” (Job 27:5). Job’s litany of innocence in chapter 31 is his protest that he has not been singled out for tragedy because he has been guilty of some particularly egregious, secret sin. To say that Job will not let go of his integrity is to say that Job chooses to obey God.
Job is a real person with a real temptation to deny God, but Job will not do that. Though Job grows in his bewilderment at God’s silence in the face of these terrible afflictions, Job never gives up being loyal to God. He will not renounce him, though his growing anger leads Job profoundly to question God’s ways. Never having had the curtain pulled back, as the reader has in chapters one and two, Job knows nothing of his satanic adversary. He sees only the painful natural world, and knows only the sovereign God. Thus Job attributes his suffering entirely to God, assuming that God, not Satan, has become his enemy: “Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy?” (Job 13:24)
It is in his choosing to remain loyal to God no matter what has befallen him that Job is lifted up as a truly great leader. Godly leadership is not a matter of using power to control others; it is in following in the footsteps of Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep. The godly leader aims fundamentally to lead by example:
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:1-3, emphasis mine.).
Job is a great leader because he is a godly leader; he is a godly leader because he sets an example of holding fast to his godly character in spite of the overwhelming temptation to cast off restraint. That is patience. In spite of his frustrations with God and his plaintive demand that God answer him, Job remains a worshipper of the true God and fully loyal to him, even in the darkness. That, too, is patience. Job’s patience is no quiet acquiescence; it is full of debate; it is the voice of the plaintiff come to court: “I will surely defend my ways to his face” (Job 13:15). Yet Job’s complaint at God’s silence in the darkness remains trusting. It is the wounded trust of the sufferer, but it is real trust, nonetheless: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). Job leads sufferers by showing them how to suffer, trusting God in the darkness. Job is a leader that everyone sooner or later must learn to follow, for sooner or later everyone will suffer, and like Job, often suffer in the darkness.
Reflections on Leadership in the Darkness
Christian leadership is marked by humility, the humility of putting others first, not lording it over them, as Peter reminds his readers above, echoing Jesus’ words:
But you are not to be called “Rabbi,” for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth “father,” for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called “teacher,” for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Matthew 23:8-12).
The Christian leader is a model to be emulated, not a boss to be obeyed or else. Satanic leadership sets the leader up as a superior entitled to a place of privilege; it manipulates human desires in order to further the leader’s agenda. The authors of some books on leadership appear to see no substantial difference in the management of an aggressive, multinational corporation and the oversight of a Christian congregation. This is not the case with Henri J. M. Nouwen’s brief book, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. Nouwen’s story brings tears to the eyes and moves the heart to cry out for the grace Nouwen exhibited in leaving a position at Harvard for L’Arche:
In the person of Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche communities for mentally handicapped people, God said, “Go and live among the poor in spirit, and they will heal you.” The call was so clear and distinct that I had no choice but to follow.
So I moved from Harvard to L’Arche, from the best and the brightest, wanting to rule the world, to men and women who had few or no words and were considered, at best, marginal to the needs of our society. It was a very hard and painful move, and I am still in the process of making it. After twenty years of being free to go where I wanted and to discuss what I chose, the small, hidden life with people whose broken minds and bodies demand a strict daily routine in which words are the least requirement does not immediately appear as the solution for spiritual burnout. And yet, my new life at L’Arche is offering me new words to use in speaking about Christian leadership in the future . . . (Henri J. M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus, p. 22)
Christian leadership is also marked by the humility that knows that it cannot fathom the mysteries of life or effectively change the future for good apart from God’s grace in Jesus Christ. The heart of Job’s suffering is that it is suffering in the darkness, in the unknown, the revelation given only to the reader but never to Job, not even after God answers him from the whirlwind. The world is a natural place where material actions produce material results. But the natural world is not all there is; there is a supernatural world, a world that is not detached in isolation from the natural world. Furthermore, as the apocalyptic prologue of Job makes clear, not all that is in that supernatural world is good. There are powerful and sinister forces at work, and human beings are impotent before their malevolent onslaught. Awareness of this truth underscores not only that the universe is ultimately unfathomable to humankind, it also serves as a warning that the pride of independence from God goes before destruction. One lesson of history is that human leaders have often set in motion the most diabolical things while intending only good and human beings are still as easily manipulated to serve the demonic as they were in Job’s day.
For all the advances of Post-Enlightenment science, human beings are as helplessly vulnerable to tragedy and chaos as were those who lived millennia ago. If anything, modern life has presented humankind with satanic possibilities undreamed of by the ancients. One is reminded of the dreadful nuclear hell released on the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945. Just as World War I was billed as the war to end all wars, so the atomic bomb was developed under the delusion that it would be a tool for peace. However, once the nuclear genie was released from the bottle, some of its discoverers began to see things differently. J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the principal scientists involved in the Manhattan Project, commented on the reaction of people to the first nuclear explosion near Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945:
We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all thought that one way or another (http://www.atomicarchive.com/Movies/Movie8.shtml).
Christian leaders are not immune to short-sighted hubris. People can become enamored with their own success and write as if to say that anyone who will put their principles into practice will be equally successful. Bill Hybels’ book, Courageous Leadership, has many useful ideas on church growth and leadership, but given the structure of Job’s universe, there are factors in Hybels’ success that he knows nothing about. What works in a wealthy suburb of a major American city like Chicago will not always translate into effective ministry in smaller, less wealthy communities or in the inner-city. Job’s universe serves as a warning that what appears to be good may not prove to be so in the long run, and what appears to be fruitless in the beginning may prove to be powerfully effective. Effective leadership must be evaluated not so much by the erection of a massive temple of wood, hay and straw, but by the gold, silver and precious stones that survive the long term test of fire (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).
One cannot deny the effectiveness of Bill Hybels’ leadership, and the system of rewards built into his approach is a key element:
The night after Willow’s twentieth-anniversary celebration, I found a way to show these people just how much I treasure them. Through the generosity of a friend, I was able to whisk four of the church’s founding couples to a Caribbean island for seven days. After swimming, sailing, and beach walking everyday, we spent the evenings gathered around a large table, sharing dinner and reminiscing about our lives together.
No one will ever forget those evenings. We laughed. We cried. Every meal stretched late into the night while we told stories and shared memories. On the last evening someone said, “I just want you all to know that I want to grow old with you! So don’t anybody keel over or quit. Someday I want us to all be on a porch together, rocking and drinking and drooling until God takes us home. I want to die with this team.”
As I drifted off to sleep that night I thought, “This is as good as it gets!” (Bill Hybels, Courageous Leadership, p. 76)
Such rewards fit in a context of a wealthy suburb of a major American city, but one wonders how such would play in much of the world. Indeed, in the grinding poverty of other places, where many Christians know only too well by personal experience, Job’s leadership in the darkness, such a system of earthly rewards could more easily be more identified with a system that masquerades as the light. If “This is as good as it gets,” then how do Jesus’ words apply?
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep (Luke 6:20, 21, 24, 25).
Contemporary Leadership Models and the Pastor
Serving as a pastor of Christ’s sheep has always been a calling to lead by example, following in the footsteps of Jesus. People are tempted to see their own times as uniquely difficult and more trying than what others have had to face, but the leadership models popular in twenty-first century America, do place burdens on pastors that those who served the Church in other times would have difficulty understanding. Following the American pragmatic tradition that was honed by nineteenth century philosopher William James, American leadership models have ridden an economic crest that began at the end of World War II and that has continued on in the global economy of the twenty-first century. As American leadership models have been adapted to the Church, there has been significant impact. What was once highly valued in a pastor, the caring friend who is directly involved with the people of a congregation, actually listening, praying and applying the Scriptures to their daily lives, seems, less and less, to be what is needed to succeed in the ministry. The modern, successful minister must know how to exert pressure to get people to do what is necessary to grow a church.
After quoting from “Jack Welch, the crusty, hard-nosed former CEO of General Electric,” Bill Hybels said to his staff:
If any of you feel disinclined to get on board with this plan, feel free to find another church ministry that you can fully support. No hard feelings, but it’s a new day here.
I’m not asking for your begrudging participation in this alignment. I’m asking for your one hundred percent commitment to pray and work and serve toward the realization of this plan. It’s one-hundred-percent time. If you can’t give it, or won’t give it, it’s time for you to go. We need everybody’s participation to reach our full potential as a church (Hybels, op. cit., pp. 64, 65).
While there is an expectation of loyalty from people who receive a salary, Bill Hybels also commends using pressure to get people who might be a hindrance to the leader’s vision to leave a church:
If some people don’t resonate with the vision, we can talk to them one-on-one and give them time to process the potential changes. If after that they decide not to join us, we will trust that there are other churches where they will feel more at home. But let’s come to the leadership consensus so we can present the clearest, strongest vision possible (Hybels, op. cit., p. 42).
Not ever pastor is comfortable putting the kind of pressure on people that it may take in order to turn a congregation into prosperous, growing institution. Too often, such pastors know the private suffering and difficulties with which many of their members have to deal, including the personal problems members of their staffs face. They cannot bring themselves to add more pressure to these people’s already overwhelming lives. They see their task more in terms of being a coach, as they attempt to encourage other believers to hang on to Christ through a rocky marriage, or not give up on a rebellious teen. They see part of their calling as taking the time really to listen to a man who has been ideating suicide because months have passed since he was laid off from his work, and he has not been able to find another job. While they do not shrink from the task of recruiting others to help in the ministry of the church, the idea of pressuring someone to get on board or find another church is not only foreign; it is repulsive, especially when they know the private suffering of certain people.
While there are many valuable lessons that can be obtained from reading Bill Hybels or even John Maxwell, what of the pastors who uncritically accept their basic leadership models? Podunk Hollow is not South Barrington, Illinois, nor are Podunk’s Baptist, Methodist or Presbyterian congregations ever going to look like Willow Creek Community Church, even if some members are willing to spend several hundred thousand dollars for first-class sound and light equipment. Naïve ministers who believe that all they need to do is to follow seventeen steps or twenty-one principles and be courageous in their leadership in order to turn a relatively moribund congregation into a well-oiled evangelistic engine, are soon likely to find themselves somewhere else. Either they will leave the ministry altogether, usually with much bitterness, or they will finagle a call to a congregation that professes to be more open to do what is necessary for significant, measurable church growth. But rarely will they come to love the people whom they have been called to serve for Jesus’ sake. And they will tend to ignore the warning of the book of Job that more than natural things stand in the way of the Church’s rising up to win the world for Christ. Satan is still real, and his methods still include discouragement and frustration borne of unrealistic and naïve assumptions about people and institutions. When people ignore that, they can sometimes join Job’s “miserable comforters,” doing Satan’s work themselves.
A major lesson of Job is that human plans are uncertain and that terrible trials will come to most people sooner or later, even to those who follow God most closely. Job’s leadership is a standard to persevere even in the darkest times, when circumstances are the most bewildering and the silence of God is deafening. The suffering of Job is a reminder that the most effective comforters are those who have sat where Job has sat and found true comfort in worshipping the:
Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).
The leadership of Job is a model for effective pastoral leadership, leadership that understands that:
Scripture is not a lecture from God, pointing the finger at unfortunate sufferers and saying, “I told you so: here and here and here is where you went wrong; now you are paying for it.” Nor is it a program from God providing, step by step, for the gradual elimination of suffering in a series of five-year plans (or, on a grander scale, dispensations). There is no progress from more to less suffering from Egyptian bondage to wilderness wandering, to kingless anarchy, to Assyrian siege, to Babylonian captivity, to Roman crucifixion, to Neronian/Domitian holocaust. The suffering is there, and where the suffer is, God is (Eugene H. Peterson, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, p. 114).
________. The New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978. (Unless otherwise noted, all biblical quotations are from the NIV. The King James Version is referred to in the notes as KJV)
Hybels, Bill. Courageous Leadership. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.
Koehler, Ludwig and Walter Baumgartner. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill Academic Publishers, 2000.
Maxwell, John C. The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork: Embrace Them and Empower Your Team. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001.
Maxwell, John C. The 21 Irrefutable Laws Of Leadership, Follow Them And People Will Follow You. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998.
Maxwell, John C. The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader. . Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999.
Nouwen, Henri J. M. In The Name of Jesus, Reflections on Christian Leadership. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1989.
Peterson, Eugene H. Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.
Peterson, Eugene H. Under the Unpredictable Plant. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.
Peterson, Eugene H. The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993.
Peterson, Eugene H. Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980.
Webster, Douglas D. The Discipline of Surrender: Biblical Images of Discipleship. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001.
Webster, Douglas D. Under the Radar: A Conversation on Spiritual Leadership. Vancouver, British Columbia: Regent College Publishing, 2007.