Staying Amidst Prolonged Suffering
The biblical book of the same name, Job, portrays a man of integrity who experienced great suffering by losing 10 children, immense wealth, and his health. While suffering, Job refused to condemn himself to death by cursing God. Surprisingly, Job's wife is not included in the family holocaust. Biblical commentaries disagree and speculate about why she survived.
This wife has no name in the Bible. Augustine described her as the “devil's accomplice,” and Calvin referred to her as a “diabolical fury” (Darling, 2011). She may be considered an agent of Satan, who goads her husband to curse God and take his own life. However, Pardes (2009) described Job's wife as unable to blindly accept their tragedies and that her crying out was an act of exemplary strength, not cowardice. Crying out moved Job to challenge the God who afflicted him, and so, deepened his understanding.
Was she “foolish,” as Job himself said? Did she, in despair, blurt out unwise advice? A modern-day conversation might be: “Sweetheart, that's not you talking. This doesn't sound like the woman of God I know and married. Let's remember God's promises. Let's remember his goodness” (Darling, 2011). Job knew his wife spiraled from being a mother of a full household to emptiness beside multiple graves. She became his caregiver, bound by acute suffering.
Goldberg (2010) acknowledges the version many commentaries have of Job's wife comes from a male point of view. Her words to Job, “‘Baruch Elokhim, ve mo’ are usually translated ‘Curse God and die,’ but the literal translation is ‘Bless God and die.’ This fits with the Jewish notion that we should bless God as we die.”
Darling (2011) says she exemplifies endurance. “Day after day, she witnessed her husband live out his days in utter agony, no relief in sight. Maybe she was seeking the most compassionate way out for Job.” Hospice nurses appropriately give patients permission to die at the right time. “Perhaps her greatest testimony is her simple presence during her husband's lowest moments,” Darling concludes.
She did not turn away when his body became unbearably ugly, bloody with sores, and he had lost so much weight, his friends couldn't recognize him. She was with him when he cried and bemoaned his birth. She watched him do everything but die, and she must have wondered daily, How long, O Lord, how long? Those who experience the prolonged suffering of others can develop compassion fatigue (Mathieu, 2007). Compassion fatigue can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion, lack of empathy, and increased cynicism. Mathieu says that almost everyone who cares about patients will eventually develop a certain amount of it. Job's wife may have experienced compassion fatigue; yet, she never left. Perhaps she was a nurse at heart, whose faithfulness kept her at her husband's side.
Although Job was a man of integrity, his good deeds could not save him. God later restores family and fortune to him, but eventually he died. The Bible says that all have sinned: “No one is righteous, no, not one. . .but we are made right with God by faith. . .[by] Christ's one act of righteousness [that] brings a right relationship with God and a new life for everyone.