You’re reading the English translation of the winner of Christianity Today’s second annual essay contest for Christians who write in French. Learn more about the competition and CT’s multilingual work and check out the winning essays written originally in Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, and Indonesian.
After seeing her husband lose his fortune, his family, and his health, Job’s wife is at her wit’s end. “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity?” she asks her husband in Job 2:9 (NLT). “Curse God and die!”
This is the only time Job’s wife’s voice appears in this 42-chapter book. We learn scant details about her. Even her name is unknown.
We know, however, that she is the wife of the book’s “hero.” A man described as “blameless and upright,” who “feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). A man who is wealthy, blessed with many children, and “the greatest man among all the people of the East” (v. 3).
As the story begins, the narrator presents Job to us as a man who is both upright and respected. We can therefore deduce that his wife is a woman of the upper class, probably as influential as her husband. As mother of a large family, manager of the household, she is used to a certain lifestyle. We do not know her degree of faith, but nothing suggests that she does not respect the God of her husband or follow his religious practices.
Suddenly, in just a few verses, her husband loses his herds and wealth (and with that his social status and power), his children, his servants, and finally his health:
“So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes” (Job 2:7–8).
Job’s suffering is total: physical, moral, and spiritual.
And his wife is by his side. Like her husband, she has her share of loss to manage and a long process of mourning to go through. She also has lost her children! For that reason, it’s not surprising that she is outraged and angry with God, as Job is also shown to be a few chapters later.
Over the years, Bible commentators and preachers have not been kind to Job’s wife, labeling her as a weak, embittered woman who pushes her husband to blaspheme. Some even go so far as John Calvin, who called her an “instrument of Satan” in one of his sermons on the Book of Job.
However, because of my profession as a nurse, her cry reminds me of another very real suffering, even if it, too, sometimes struggles to be heard: the deep suffering of a patient’s family members.
While these loved ones may be spared the physical suffering of their sick relative, they have now adopted new multifaceted roles as the patient’s nurses, social workers, caretakers, or companions.
Such hardship is universal, and we find this culture of family support in the Bible. In the New Testament, for example, Peter's mother-in-law finds the care she needs with her daughter and son-in-law (Luke 4:38–39). Faced with serious afflictions, caretaking in this kind of situation can turn into a full-time job, without rest, 24 hours a day.
As if the tsunami that has just hit her life and her marriage is not enough, Job’s wife has to deal with seeing her husband suffer like a martyr—and being unable to offer him any relief. The gut-wrenching powerlessness one feels while watching a loved one suffer from a long, painful, disabling disease is terrible. It can enrage you, even against the whole world.
“Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die!” What despair, what anger hides behind these two sentences.
I am revolted by the cynicism of some who think, as Matthew Henry’s Bible commentary contends, that if Satan took everything from Job except his wife, it was to leave him with the additional torment of an embittered wife. Others might also suspect a financial interest on the part of someone asking too openly for a loved one’s death. Yet this is obviously impossible in the case of Job’s wife. Her husband has lost everything. She has no economic interest in his dying. She would have nothing left.
In her terrible words, perhaps she’s just a helpless wife who can’t stand to see her husband suffering so much. And this is love. Clumsy, misplaced, without recoil—but love. Or at least sympathy. She would rather push him to end his life quickly than have him suffer this agony indefinitely.
Even if it is difficult to hear, Job’s wife’s reaction pushes us to consider the issues faced by patients’ relatives—who also suffer, albeit in a different way. For instance, when one expresses a desire to end another’s suffering, we easily recognize that this comes from a place of not wanting to watch someone continue to be in relentless pain; it is not a callous desire to kill the person. Loved ones, especially caregivers, wrestle with complex and often conflicting emotions. Part of supporting them well, especially when they are caretakers, is hearing their inner turmoil, even when it’s ugly. Whether or not their words are as radical as those of Job’s wife, they too need support.
The idea of putting an end to someone’s suffering also reminds me of the contemporary issue of euthanasia. My point here is not to justify any kind of action or to draw from this text a possible legislation. (Euthanasia is prohibited in France, where I live.) Rather, I urge us to hear and understand the emotion that hides behind this issue.
Job’s wife is deeply human. Are we ready to hear her human emotions?
Job reacts strongly to his wife’s words, saying, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10) While the narrator notes that Job does not sin in all that he says, he also offers no documentation that God condemns Job’s wife for her statements. This is despite the fact that he later severely rebukes Job's friends for their remarks (42:7–9).
I believe it is possible to discern in this silence and nonjudgment from God that he hears and respects the pain of caregivers. God welcomes their emotions, their humanity, and their limits. Perhaps the story simply offers a space for reflection and shines another light on this sensitive issue of suffering and the end of life.
There are many ethical questions that arouse strong reactions or even immediate condemnations within us. Whatever the subject may be, before stepping up to the plate and fiercely brandishing prohibitions and judgments, are we willing to take a step back and try to understand the emotions inhabiting those we judge so easily?
God’s silence in response to Job’s wife’s harsh words can serve as a reminder: When we are the targets of people’s strong emotions, it is often prudent to at first remain silent and take the time to discern what lies behind their positions, rather than to immediately inflame conversations and relationships.
Learning to love caretakers will also better serve us in loving the sick. In my work, I realize that when people raise the possibility of euthanasia for themselves, the conversations are rarely initiated because my patients want to die or because their loved ones want to see them go.
Instead, patients are often afraid of aging or physically suffering, or they are already suffering and want it to stop; death appears to be the only solution. If patients can verbalize what they feel, it makes room for them to make decisions about care with family and medical staff without worrying that every option will just be reductively labeled as “bad” or “good.”
Many biblical texts, whether in the Psalms or the Prophets, let us see that God is ready to hear many things, even when they are unpleasant to our ears and disturb us. Suffering is sometimes expressed violently or in terms that shock us. Whether it is the sick or those that surround them, how are we offering to listen to those who suffer? Deeply listening and seeking to understand do not commit us to endorse the choices they might make.
This brief interjection by Job’s wife and the revolt she expresses offer us something very human that would be harmful for us to reject out of hand. Whatever we end up doing with her words, we need to hear her to better understand our own stories—and those of the people around us. The Book of Job tells us not only about crisis, loss, bereavement, illness, and the ensuing reactions but also about the companionship of loved ones, spouses, and friends in the lowest points of our lives.
And God? Despite his long silence, he is there and listening to us even in our sadness, anger, helplessness, and pain.
Mélodie Kauffmann is a nurse in intensive cardiology care in the city of Strasbourg, France. She is also attending courses at the Faculté libre de théologie évangélique in Vaux-sur-Seine (FLTE).
Translation from French by Sarah Buki