What was bugging the devil?


I recently visited the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and ran into this intriguing sculpture of Satan. He was sitting on a rock eating his nails; was it a sign of anxiety? What could be bugging the devil? I thought of Job, especially the way God enticed the devil towards him. Why would anyone want to entice the devil? Worse: why would anyone tempt the devil against someone trying his best to walk blamelessly and in piety before God? It sounds like a bad thing to do to anyone, let alone a friend.

Well, it seems that what God did to Job was pretty much along these lines, wasn’t it? Consider the following. We read in the book of Job that one day when the children of God came to present themselves before Him, along came Satan, apparently invited to be there for the same reason. Why they had to present themselves before God or what they were supposed to present on such an occasion, I have no idea. It was on this occasion that God drew Satan’s attention to Job’s life in a way that sounded like an enticement. He said: “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (Job 1:8) If you don’t see why you should understand this question as an enticement, allow me to rephrase it: “So, Satan (lit. the accuser), what do we have today? Who are you accusing this time? [silence] I know what’s bugging you. You can’t get over the fact that my servant Job has learned how to anticipate, intercept, and avoid all the traps you prepared for him. It’s killing you, isn’t it? And there is nothing you can do about it!” You see, there seems to be no reason for why God has to tell Satan that Job is blameless and upright and has learned to turn away from evil. He is rubbing it in. Why is God doing this?

Here’s what I see in this situation. Enticing the devil brings to light the central concern of the narrative – motivation. By enticing the devil, God has created a learning experience for all generations to come to think about our motives. For Satan, Job’s piety is a bargain, but since he cannot frame it quite this way before God, he says: “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge 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 and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face” (Job 1:9-11). Satan is not convinced of Job’s motives; he still believes he’s faking it. So, he “offers God” the opportunity to see for himself that Job is using Him. Under different circumstances Job would react differently, Satan argues.

I don’t know how you feel about all this, but I think this is all wrong. The very idea that Job might be using God is such a horrible thing to accuse someone. And, on the other hand, it’s a mockery of God’s ability to see what was going on! Now, I’m not surprised at Satan’s audacity; in fact, I wouldn’t expect less. I have to ask: Does Satan need to know or want to know Job’s motivation? No. Did God need this “opportunity” to be sure that Job was not using him? No. Was there something in Job’s life that justified the need for testing his motivation? No. It was said from the outset that his integrity was beyond question. In fact, God told Satan afterwards that there was no reason for putting Job on trial (Job 2:3).

Why, then, did God agree to this? Why did he allow Satan to destroy all of Job’s possessions and afflict him with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head? Perhaps the most important lesson I found in the story was this: God wants us to know our motivations. What bugged Satan was not Job’s integrity, but the possibility of doing it solely out of love for God. The devil does not need to destroy our integrity or keep us from fearing God; all he needs to do is to convince us to pursue these things with the wrong motivations.

Daniel Santos

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Professor, pesquisador e pastor. Amo ouvir, refletir e divulgar boas ideias. Creio, sigo e sirvo o Deus que se revelou nas Escrituras do Antigo e Novo Testamentos.

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