The Book of Job is possibly the oldest book in the Bible and bears the scars of passage from hoary antiquity. Its treasures are like the tops of icebergs drifting dimly among the fogs of some northern sea. We do know this: the ancients were seldom diverted from the real business of living, and in that sense were wiser than we. The heroes of their epics portrayed the human soul experiencing its immortal destiny — Arjuna, Nara, Job, Hercules, Orpheus, etc. The question we all must ask has not changed through the millennia: either our lives have real and lasting significance . . . or they do not! We cannot deny this significance as long as our existence is linked to that of the universal entity we call God. The archaic method of teaching by parable, allegory, symbol, or story is the essence of compassion and, like sunlight, offers illumination to everyone according to his ability to receive. The Book of Job has rightly been described as "a complete representation of ancient initiation, and the trials which generally precede this grandest of all ceremonies (H. P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, II, 494)." (The word initiation is from the Latin and means a "beginning" or "birthing.")
The ancient, unknown writer introduces Job, a dweller in the land of Uz, as a "perfect and upright" man, content in wealth, family, and friends. The next scene is in heaven where God presides over his sons to consider the affairs of men. He singles out Job for approval: "there is none like him in the earth, . . . one that feareth God, and escheweth evil" (1:8). Satan objects to God's praise of Job, declaring he is good only out of self-interest. "But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face" (1:11). God responds by giving Satan the assignment to test Job's faith but not to touch him. Satan strips Job of family, home, lands, and wealth. Reduced to nothing, Job yet continues to accept the will of God, blessing the name of the Lord.
Despite Job's steadfastness, Satan is not satisfied. "All that a man hath will he give for his life. But . . . touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face" (24-5). Satan is permitted to give a second test, but short of taking Job's life. God's servant still does not weaken when he is smitten with boils all over his body, declaring: "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" (2:10).
Three friends come to solace the lone figure: Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. For seven days and nights they sit with Job in silence, so great is his misery. At length Job denounces his fate, cursing the day he was born. Eliphaz, first to respond, is a religious dogmatist whose conviction rests upon a psychic experience; Bildad parrots traditional platitudes and pious phrases; and then Zophar assumes he knows God's mind and what He, will do in any given situation. All three fail to console Job, really convinced he is being punished for some grave transgression, but when Job asks them what he has done wrong, they cannot answer.
The agony of Job is reminiscent of the despondency of Arjuna, hero of the Bhagavad-Gita, who must face his tutors, relatives, and friends in battle. It is apparent that each human being is an Arjuna or Job who, in order to advance spiritually, must cast off old habits of thought and "war" with the forces and tendencies of his lower personal self to which he is much attached by long association. We believe that Job's three friends embodied the psychological and mental hurdles he had to surmount in his own nature. This proved to be an ordeal far worse than his physical suffering. Subba Row portrays the experience vividly:
There is a Dweller on the Threshold [Bulwer Lytton's name for the monster that appears to terrify the neophyte], whose influence on the mental plane is far more trying than any physical terror can be. [It] is formed of the despair and despondency of the neophyte, who is called upon to give up all his old affections for kindred, parents and children, as well as his aspirations for objects of worldly ambition, which have perhaps been his associates for many incarnations. When called upon to give up these things, the neophyte feels a kind of blank, before he realises his higher possibilities. . . . All before him seems darkness; and a sort of pressure comes upon the soul, under which it begins to droop, and in most cases he begins to fall back and gives up further progress. But in the case of a man who really struggles, he will battle against that despair, and be able to proceed on the Path." -- Notes on the Bhagavad Gita, pp. 2-3
Elihu, a young hierophant, comes at precisely the right moment. Unnoticed in the background, he does not speak until Job's friends have exhausted their opinions. Then he steps forward: "Behold, I am according to thy wish in God's stead: I also am formed out of the clay" (33:6). As the author explains, he was angry at Job because he justified himself rather than God; he was angry also at Job's three friends because they had found no answer, although they declared Job to be in the wrong. Elihu promises to teach Job wisdom and outlines the ways in which God guides man on the path of his immortal destiny: "There is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding" (32:8). Man becomes a true son of God when his soul attains atonement with the soul of God. Elihu, as an initiate, is able to explain sacred matters and prepare Job for the experience to come.
For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not. / In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; / Then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction, / That he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man. / He keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword. — 33:14-18
Only when man is quiet and receptive can the divinity within speak. Truth is within and awakening comes as we remove one by one the veils we have placed before our souls. With freedom to choose our destiny, it is mind that is the pivot for our decisions.
"He is chastened also with pain upon his bed, and the multitude of his bones with strong pain" (33:19). Elihu explains that pain and suffering do not come from God; they come from man. The universal organism we call God will certainly maintain its unity, harmony, and its integrity. We, as bone-of-its-bone, flesh-of-its-flesh, mind-of-its-mind, and spirit-of-its-spirit, partake of its immortality only as we act in harmony with the laws of divine being. Nothing is inflicted upon man by God or Satan. Satan — the word means "adversary" — is called a shadow of the light of God. In the role of Lucifer he is the "lightbringer"; the self-generated illusions of material existence are the darkness which must be overcome before the human soul can become part of the light of God.
The teacher is the law of harmony to which universes, gods, and men must yield. When a creature acts upon the lives around him, they respond. That response is karma. "Chastened" is a good word, for it denotes not a vengeful or punishing purpose in nature, but one that strives to soften hard qualities and make us more sensitive and kindly.
He looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not;
He will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light. — 33:27-8
. . . far be it from God that he should do wickedness; and from the Almighty, that he should commit iniquity.
For the work of a man shall he render unto him, and cause every man to find according to his ways. — 34:10-11
Krishna says it quite clearly in the Bhagavad-Gita: "Whatever pathway a man takes, that path is mine." Furthermore, while the universe exists for the soul's experience, equally does it exist for every center of life of whatever grade.
"Who hath given him a charge over the earth? or who hath disposed the whole world?" (34:13). The question of "Who?" is well taken and leads the student in the direction of the ancient wisdom where limits on divinity are never set. "Remember that thou magnify his work, which men behold" (36:2 4). When a man strives to live according to his noblest ideals, he becomes godlike. So being, he becomes a fit companion to gods and is accepted by them, even while on earth.
"Hearken unto this, O Job: stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God" (37:14). The Greeks had a word for the initiation of Job: theophany, meaning the "appearance of a god" — when the candidate meets his own god-self face to face, and for an interval becomes one with it.
Thus far all the dialogues and arguments have been about God. But the moment has come for Job's faith to be justified: When Job accepts Elihu's rebuke for having charged the Lord with the evils of humanity, the last barrier to the "heavenly kingdom" is removed. The Lord, a witness to all of Job's suffering, now makes his appearance in a whirlwind: "Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?" (38:2). Hereupon God becomes the Teacher where Elihu left off and shows his faithful Job the wonders of his creation:
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare if thou hast understanding./
Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? — 38:4, 31
Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him, he that reproveth God, let him answer it. — 40:2
At last Job gives answer:
[I have] uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. / I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. — 42:2-5
Unshaken in faith, Job is finally accepted by the Lord, who allows him to be reunited with his family restored to health, and given "twice as much" as he had before.
What is the great message of Job that gives the book meaning? Under whatever name we consider the mainspring of our universe God or Divine Power — we instinctively recognize Deity as our fount and origin and, hopefully, as our ultimate goal. That is one meaning of the word "religion" — to bind back, to guide back to one's source. As we extend the boundaries of understanding of our micro- and macro-universes, we begin to see how undefinable and illimitable the concept of God really is. A spark of It is in us, and the entire purpose of evolution is to raise the soul, to unfold the god-spark, so that in the natural process of time and experience it will affect and transmute our whole being.
(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 1982. Copyright © 1982 by Theosophical University Press)