(#208 Write about a storm.)
THE GIFT OF JOB
Lightning streaked from the dark clouds to the angry ocean, its flash briefly illuminating the scene as another wave crashed over the side of the ship and swept across the wooden deck. Everything leaned dangerously to port and water poured over the gunwale as the lower yardarm dipped into the water. The men clung desperately to anything they could find as the wind and the water chilled them to the bone, and waited for the ship to slowly right itself.
The mate screamed over the howling wind "Now. Move the arm." and the crewmen rushed to the fallen upper yardarm to lift it and pull the victim clear. The boy was already dead. "Tie 'er fast, less it do more damage" the mate shouted and the crew obeyed. A seamen from the Ivory Coast silently carried the body of the cabin boy below. The rain hid the large man's silent tears. Too dangerous to be on deck, the mate ordered all but the helmsman and himself below. The captain would need to deal with the crew himself. This storm was no longer the greatest danger the ship faced.
"A bad omen" said one crewman.
"Women on a ship mean trouble." said another and several sailors glanced at the lower deck crammed full of settler families, most vomiting, and then back at the body of the cabin boy, the ship's good luck charm for the last three voyages. A foot left or right, another few minutes and it would have fallen and missed him.
"Nonsense." said the captain "it was just bad luck."
"Beggin yer pardon, sir, but the whole voyage been bad luck. Supplies delayed so we get a late start. Winter storms come early. Navigation problems. Now death of the boy, and maybe the rest of us as well. Thinking maybe we should turn back. Maybe the whole voyage is cursed."
A match struck and flared as an old man in a black hat and coat carefully lit a pipe that he held clenched in his teeth with his hands cradled to control the flow of air and protect the fire in the bowl. Several quick puffs and it was lit. The smoke circled his head like a halo and the rich scent of his tobacco slowly wafted across the room. "The gift of Job." he said.
All eyes, crew and passenger alike, were on him. "What was that Reverend?"
"Who killed Job's children?" the old man took a draw on his pipe and slowly exhaled. "Chapter 1 verse 19 says 'And, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead' just like this poor boy. So did the wind kill them? In verse 11, Satan says to God 'But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he', that's Job, 'will curse thee to thy face.' So it is Satan who desired to harm Job by harming his children. God responds 'Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.' So to whose account should we charge their death? The wind that killed them? Satan who sent the wind? God who granted Satan permission to send the wind?" The old man drew another long, slow draft on the pipe. "Less you judge too quickly, I would not have you miss that it was God who started all of this when he says to Satan 'Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?'. The death of Job's children was part of the plan of God. So, how did Job respond? Job responded by mourning and worshiping God and saying 'Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.' God grants evil permission to kill his children and Job blesses God in response! Why? The answer is The gift of Job."
At this point the captain and crew were confused. The boat rolled and heaved in the heavy seas, and they clung to posts and beams to keep from being tossed about inside the ship. They looked down at the pale corpse of a little boy, none saw anything to give thanks or praise for. This was a day of sadness and fear, yet there was no fear in the Reverend. He seemed to have found something that allowed him to to offer genuine blessings and worship even in the middle of tragedy and danger. Each terrified man on that ship desperately wanted to know the secret of the Gift of Job if it would give them even a little of that. "Tell us, sir, 'bout this Gift of Job" said one of the crew from the back.
The Reverend smiled "Old Satan said to God 'Hast not thou made an hedge about him,' meaning Job, 'and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land.' and like most good lies, there is more than a little truth in that. Even the Lord Himself said in Matthew 'For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even publicans the same?'. You see, when we offer blessings and praise to God, it's never really anything more than what God deserves. Any honest man should be honest enough with himself to see that he has done nothing special. Nothing praiseworthy. We have given God nothing more than his due."
"So if most of the people most of the time are just saying 'thank you' to God for all of the good that he has done for them, and that is nothing more than any sinner would do for some imaginary luck, what about when things are not going so good? What do you do when all of the evidence asks you to question whether or not God is even good? Here you have a choice. Do you blame God for all of the bad that happens? Do you withhold your worship and praise until God brings you through, until you can see his goodness again? Do you give God worship and praise in spite of the evidence in front of you?" He puffed calmly on his pipe and at peace with the moment "This is the Gift of Job."
A rogue wave struck the ship and it heaved violently, people lost footing and slid, along with the supplies, to one side and crashed into the hull. Boards creaked and groaned under the violent forces and water briefly leaked in between some of the planks. "Man the pumps" the captain cried out and several crewmen rushed to operate a hand pump that would remove the water from the bilge deep in the ship. Fear was written on the faces of all of the men, seamen and passengers alike. Even the captain looked nervous. All, that is, except the Reverend. He seemed but moderately annoyed that the water had doused his pipe.
"Things just kept getting worse and worse for Job until it looked like he was going to die. When he hit rock bottom, that's when Job said 'Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him'." He pointed the stem of his pipe at different men with each word for emphasis "God has provided us with a rare opportunity." The Reverend placed the pipe in his coat pocket "We may live and we may die. We may someday learn why one boy died and another man lived, or we may never know. However, right this minute, as all of our senses tell us that we have nothing to be thankful for, as we have no reason to hope or trust or expect, we have been given the rare and valuable Gift of Job. A chance to give something to God that he has not already earned, to give God praise and worship in spite of the evidence and trust that God will prove worthy of the trust we have in him. How often does any man really have a chance to give something to God."
"So what are you going to do with this special gift that you have been given? With this Gift of Job."
The Reverend removed his hat and began to pray with all of the passengers and crew joining in "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters ..."
In the morning, the storm had passed and the ship had survived. The passengers would go on to new lives in a New World and the crew would continue to sail on to distant ports. The ship even took on another cabin boy. However, no one who survived that storm was ever quite the same. Not because they had survived a storm, life is full of storms. They had all learned about the Gift of Job, and could never view trouble or God quite the same ever again.