Posted in theology

Job vs. Naomi: How do we respond when circumstances take a downturn?

By Elizabeth Prata

Even if you don’t read the Old Testament much, most believers know the story of Job and his friends. God initiated a conversation with satan, where God called Job “a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” (Job 1:8). God asked satan if he had noticed that. Of course satan had, and pouted that of course Job loved God because he lived on easy street, but if satan could just get his hands on him, he’d prove that Job only loved God for what he could get out of Him. God said, OK, go, do it.

We know that the rest of chapter 1 and chapter 2 records horrific events, all against Job. Job never sinned with his lips, though. He maintained his devotion to God. Job’s faith was separate from his circumstances. He never blamed God. (Job 2:10).

Job’s friends heard about the utterly disastrous state to which Job had been reduced, and came to commiserate with him. The theology of the time, then and right up until the time of Jesus’ incarnation, was a literal you reap what you sow. If you were rich, prosperous in all things, and healthy, you were righteous. If you were sick, poor, crippled, enduring tragedy of some sort, you were being punished for sin. (Luke 13:1-5, John 9:2). They thought that outward circumstances were a reflection of inward spirituality and standing with God.

Job’s friends, after a good start of showing empathy and giving comfort in silence, then began to hammer Job with their theology, charging Job with secret sin. They kept on, and on, and on. Job got sick of it and said they were miserable comforters! (Job 16:2). But the point was, Job’s circumstances didn’t alter his faith. He loved God for who He is, not for what his life was like moment to moment.

We are also probably familiar with the story of Naomi and Ruth. Naomi was from Bethlehem in Judah. She married and had two sons. However, there was a famine in the land, so when they heard there was food in Moab, they moved there. Her husband died. The sons married Moabite women. The sons died. Naomi was left without husband or sons, and saddled with two other widows to boot. These were dire circumstances for a woman of that time. With no way to gain income or to work hard enough in the fields to support herself and her two daughters-in-law, Naomi became disconsolate.

She heard that the LORD was moving in Judah and now there was food. Naomi resolved to go back to her homeland and re-settle in Bethlehem, and urged her two daughters-in-law to go back to their parents’ home in Moab. Naomi was bitter. She was pouting because she had no husband or sons, was too old to get more sons, and actually said her lot was worse than her daughters-in-law, (who had lost their own husbands and were grieving too!) Naomi actually said “The hand of the LORD is against me.”

Ruth resolved to stay with her mother-in-law, to help and comfort the woman. When they got back to Bethlehem and people said ‘Naomi’s back!’ Naomi actually replied,

And when they had come to Bethlehem, all the city was stirred because of them, and the women said, “Is this Naomi?” But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?” (Ruth 1:19-21).

Naomi felt she had lost everything. She’d been hungry, widowed, and her children died. She blamed God numerous times. Her faith was bound up in her circumstances. She was the opposite of Job.

Is your faith bound up in how prosperous you are or what you’re feeling at the time? Do you praise God when things are going well but blame satan when things take a downturn? Or worse, blame God? Or is your faith steady no matter what is going on around you? That’s harder, especially if, like Job, you have friends who insinuate that your circumstances are due to judgment or sin or punishment.

Strive to be a Job when things turn “bad.” Or if you’re in a prospering season, strive to be a Ruth and encourage someone else who is having a hard time. Ruth’s constant loyalty and kindness to Naomi was a standout feature of the book of Ruth, while Job’s friends’ spiritual harangues and moral indictments were a standout feature of the book of Job.

One of the hardest things to do is praise God in joy when trouble comes. (Philippians 4:11-13). It was something Paul had to learn. But we can learn it too.


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.

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