The Three Sisters
I grew up in the arid deserts of Arizona. We lived in East Phoenix, and in, fact, most of my seven older brothers and sisters still live in the area. My elementary school was called “Papago School” which was named after a tribe of indigenous peoples (those are Indians to those of you older than 30). Well, in order to survive in this dry climate, the ancient inhabitants of that area used a method of planting crops called the “Three Sisters.”
What they would do is prepare a flat mound of dirt, about a foot tall and nearly two feet wide, with each mound being about four feet from another mound. They’d poke some holes in the center of the mound with a stick and then drop a few kernels of maize into the holes. Once the corn had sprouted and grown about six inches tall, they would poke some more holes around the corn and plant about three or four squash seeds and three or four bean seeds on around the corn. The reason they would plant crops like this is because the plants would benefit each other. The corn provided a pole for the beans to climb. The beans provided nitrogen that the other plants needed. And the squash spread out blocking the sunlight from heating up the ground too much and evaporating the little water, and kept weeds from growing. Furthermore, when you eat corn and beans and squash, you have a balanced diet, providing most of the protein and nutrients you need to survive. Sometimes they also plant a fourth sister, one that attracts bees so that the plants can be pollinated.
Now the reason I’m talking about this is that I want to talk about the bean. You see, they usually plant a variety of bean that we call the tepary bean. Now the tepary bean is quite remarkable. After it germinates, its roots sink deep into the ground. In fact, they can grow as deep as six feet. Then, when the 115 degree temperatures come around, they can still flower and produce crops even if it only rains once per year.
Now what does this have to do with the Old Testament? Well, we shall see. Hopefully you can identify the metaphor and its application in your life and we progress and talk about the life of a remarkable character: Job.
History or His Story?
The book of Job is a fascinating book. In fact, it is the only book in the Old Testament that has consistently made the top 100 books of all-time list. This book has been referenced for 1000s of years by some of the world’s greatest thinkers: Augustine, Kierkegaard, Kant, Jung, Pascal, Melville, Dostoyevsky, Goethe, and Bacon. Mmm. Bacon.
This book is found in the canon of all three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Books and movies are still being created that tell a Job-like story. In fact, two of my favorite musicals of all time feature Job-like characters: Fiddler on the Roof and Les Miserables.
What makes it so remarkable? Some literature folks would point to its structure. You see, it has a prose frame which surrounds a poetic feature. In other words, it starts off with a prologue, written like a good story, then has a middle part that is written in emotion-filled poetry, and then it is all followed-up by an epilogue that wraps up the story and describes how the main character lived happily ever after.
This is a unique structure among literature. And is the reason some people aren’t exactly sure whether or not Job was a real person or a carefully contrived character. Of course Ezekiel talks about Job, and so does James, the half-brother of Jesus. In fact, if you remember, Jesus talked about Job to the Prophet Joseph in the Liberty Jail. So whether this was history or simply “his story,” I’m not sure it really matters, because the lessons we can learn from this book are far more valuable than its structure.
In my opinion, the story of Job is our story. It is the story of children of God who lived in a premortal sphere where we communicated and talked with God and, yes, Lucifer; where we learned about a plan, and desired to engage in it, even though we knew we were going to be given all sorts of challenges and struggles, and where Satan would be free to “try men’s souls.” That is the prologue. And it parallels the first couple of chapters of Job.
In case you haven’t read this lately, here’s the main idea in these chapters. God tells Satan that Job is a good man. Satan says Job is good only because he has been blessed by God. Satan suggests that if the blessings were to stop, Job wouldn’t be so good and obedient. So God withdraws his blessings and allows Job to be tested and tried. Which takes us to the middle part of Job’s story.
Now we are also in the poetic middle part of our existence. Poetry is simply words, carefully arranged, that reflect and elicit emotion, that tell of the human experience, and that, in the case of great poetry and great music, has the power to change our attitudes and drive our behaviors. Here we experience joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, the yin and the yang, virtue and vice.
Then, after life is over, when the trials have finally ended, when the epilogue begins, we experience an understanding of why this all happened, on why it was important that we experienced what we experienced, and we find out that we will live happily ever after with more blessings than we could possible imagine.
So Job’s story is our story. And we better pay attention or we just might miss the insights that will help us endure the challenges and conditions that plague each of us, and instead, learn and grow from them so we can eventually live happily ever after.
The Character of Job
If Job was an actual person, which I believe he was, it appears that he may have been a contemporary of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If doesn’t appear that he was one of their Semitic descendants, but was perhaps a distant cousin that lived in the area of Jordan. So, here we have the story of a man who lived 4,000 years ago, who was a good and faithful man. How good? Let’s look.
Okay, let’s look at Job’s character. What kind of man what he?
1:1 There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.
Remember, when the word “perfect” is used in our King James scriptures, it doesn’t necessarily mean “without flaw or imperfection”; it typically means “whole” or “complete.” Let’s skip down to verse 3:
1:3 His substance also was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she asses, and a very great household; so that this man was the greatest of all the men of the east.
And let’s jump down to verse 21:
1:21 And said, 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.
So Job was wealthy but he was obviously not caught up in wealth. So far so good.
According to chapter 2, verse 3, the Lord says:
Job still holdeth fast his integrity.
So Job has integrity.
In chapter 4, verses 3-4,
4:3 Behold, thou hast instructed many, and thou hast strengthened the weak hands.
4:4 Thy words have upholden him that was falling, and thou hast strengthened the feeble knees.
So he has spent some of his time teaching and strengthening the weak.
Let’s skip over to Job 23:10-12.
23:10 But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.
23:11 My foot hath held his steps, his way have I kept, and not declined.
23:12 Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food.
So Job also walked in the Lord’s paths and esteemed the Lord’s words.
Now let’s go to Job 29:12-16:
12 Because I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him.
13 The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me: and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.
14 I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgment was as a robe and a diadem.
15 I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame.
16 I was a father to the poor: and the cause which I knew not I searched out.
So he was compassionate to the widow, the poor, the lame, and the blind.
And finally, let’s go to Job 31:29-30.
29 If I rejoiced at the destruction of him that hated me, or lifted up myself when evil found him:
30 Neither have I suffered my mouth to sin by wishing a curse to his soul.
So Job was concerned for his enemies and forgave them.
Does this remind you of anyone?
Perhaps Job is another type and shadow of Jesus Christ. Remember, “All things testify of Christ.” But, it is more than that. Remember, I think the book of Job is our story. And, if you compare our standard of living with the 107 billion people who have lived on this earth during the past 6,018 years, plus or minus 3%—we are extremely wealthy and extremely blessed.
But, can we also say we have the good character of Job? If we can’t, then let’s get busy fixing that since the outcome in the epilogue has everything thing to do with our character and our behaviors and how we weather our storms.
Job is Sorely Tested
Speaking of storms, that’s the inciting event of this story. Jobs life was hunky-dory until bad things started to happen to this good person—until he started to experience some trials and tribulations that he couldn’t understand.
The first storm is found in verses 13-17.
13 ¶And there was a day when his sons and his daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house:
14 And there came a messenger unto Job, and said, The oxen were plowing, and the asses feeding beside them:
15 And the Sabeans fell upon them, and took them away; yea, they have slain the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.
16 While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The fire of God is fallen from heaven, and hath burned up the sheep, and the servants, and consumed them; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.
17 While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The Chaldeans made out three bands, and fell upon the camels, and have carried them away, yea, and slain the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.
So he lost all of his servants, all of his sheep, and all of his camels. So he had no income. But, the second storm was about to land.
18 While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, Thy sons and thy daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house:
19 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; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.
Now he lost all of his children: seven sons and presumably his three daughters as well. So now he had no posterity—no one to take care of him and his wife in their retirement. At least he still had his health. He could still go out and find a job. Or could he?
Nope. Because that was only the second storm. Storm three was on its way.
Job was then afflicted with boils and a disfiguring disease that sound like elephantitis. It is so oppressive that all he can do is sit in a pile of ashes, take a piece of broken pottery, and spend day after day lancing the boils.
But that’s still not it. The storms, they kept on coming to Job.
Just as they do in our own lives. As soon as we think we have weathered one storm, another one pokes up over the horizon. And these days, in the year 2014, I don’t know about you, but these storms seem more frequent and more intense than they have ever been before. They come at us from all sides, from politics, from finances, from health, from emotions, from every single aspect of our life.
Hmm. It almost seems like Satan is throwing us every possible challenge he can think of. And don’t forget that he, as Lucifer, the son of the morning, whose name meant “the shining one” or “light bearer” was one of the most intelligent, handsome, and persuasive guys we ever met in the pre-mortal realm. Therefore, he knew, with the help of his followers, exactly what storms each of us were desperately afraid of. He knew exactly where to find the chinks in our amour.
But let’s go back to Job for a moment and his storms. Here is a short list of his trials:
- Loss of servants, property, and income (Job 1:13–17).
- Loss of children (Job 1:18–19).
- Physical illness and pain (Job 2:7; 7:5; 16:16).
- Restless sleep filled with nightmares (Job 7:4, 13–14).
- Cruel accusations and loss of support from friends and family (Job 2:9; 4:1, 7–8; 11:1–6; 19:13–22).
- Confusion about why he was asked to go through these trials (Job 10:15).
- Mockery by those who delighted in his downfall (Job 16:10–11; 30:1, 8–10).
- The feeling that God had forgotten him or was not listening (Job 19:6–8; 23:3–4; note that the word him in Job 23:3–4 refers to God).
How do Job’s trials compare with the trials people experience in our day?
If I were to go around this room, and ask each of you how Job’s trials compare with the trial you have experienced, I bet we could, collectively, out suffer Job. There are some among us right now who have lost property, lost their children, lost the love and companionship of their friends and family, and lost their health.
For instance, I have seven chronic diseases: diabetes, asthma, lumbago, vitiligo, hypertension, hypothyroidism, and bursitis. And I think I’ve got some skin cancer starting up—which I need to go see a doctor about.
But there are some among us who have many more issues and many that are much more severe. Many of which can’t be seen by the eye. In our neighborhood alone we’ve got at least a hundred people who suffer from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, OCD, ADHD, autism, and a vast array of personality disorders—a vast array. And I could go on and on and on with physical, emotional, mental, and financial, challenges that affect each individual.
But there are some that are even more problematic because they affect groups of people. Like the relationship problems that tear families apart, or the cultural problems that are tearing our society apart, or the spiritual problems which slowly destroy our souls.
Yes, the devil knows exactly how to affect us. But so does God. And in spite of what the devil thinks, God is far more intelligent than any of his children. And Heavenly Father is far more concerned about our survival and our thrival than any other being, except, perhaps, our Heavenly Mother. In the end, Satan only cares about making other people as miserable as he is. He doesn’t care about you and me one iota. But God does.
And so does our Savior. In fact, because of Him, billions of our brother and sisters, who have lived or will yet live on this earth, have chosen and will yet choose to follow his example and embrace the light and eschew darkness—no matter what storms they experience in life. And if we stumble, and if we fail, which we all do from time-to-time, and some of us, namely me, do so more often than not—if this happens and we feel like the storm is about to destroy everything we love and everything we hold precious—if we keep our faith and take a step or two in the darkness, we will be rescued. We will be saved.
That is what the prophets and the scriptures teach us over and over and over again. We will be tested to our limits—but we will not be overcome unless we want to be. The choice is always ours. If we want to be rescued, all we have to do is act in faith, and the Preserver—Jesus—will save us.
Affirming the Consequent
Job’s trust in the Lord was a great source of spiritual strength for him as he was going through his trials. The middle part of this book basically consists of a poetic dialog between Job and his friends who were trying to “comfort” him and diagnose his problems. Basically they telling him to stop trying to cover up his sins and admit that he and his family deserved everything that happening to them. This was probably the origin of the saying, “With friends like these who needs enemies.” Besides, these friends, despite their good intentions, weren’t “out-of-the-box” thinkers. In fact, their whole argument was based on a fallacy.
Next month will mark the 30th anniversary of when I took my first started college class. Boy, am I getting old. Of course, I’m not as old as many of you. So there. One of my classes was Logic, where you learned all about how to analyze arguments and identify fallacies. Well, Job’s friends had obviously never taken this class because they were using the classic fallacy called, “Affirming the Consequent.”
What that means is they were trying to reason backwards and prove how Job’s present condition was a punishment for previous sins. It is an If-Then sequence. But If-Then sequences are not reversible. If A then B does not permit the reverse conclusion, B therefore A. If a man is a millionaire then he may buy a Jaguar; but if he buys a Jaguar, he is not necessarily a millionaire. He just might be in debt up to his ears.
Sinfulness may result in suffering, but suffering does not necessarily imply sinfulness. The same is true for its corollary. Virtue may result in prosperity, but prosperity does not necessarily imply virtue.
So don’t ever fall into the logical trap, as did Job’s friends, that righteous people don’t ever suffer.
Can you name some righteous people who have suffered?
I can think of many. For instance, one of the first thoughts I had was of the martyred women and children Alma and Amulek witnessed burn to death, or of the wives and children forced to feed upon the flesh of their husbands and fathers just before the final destruction of the Nephites (see Alma 14:7–11; Moroni 9:7–8).
Why People Suffer
One of the great questions of all time, if not one of the most popular, except for perhaps, “Are we there yet,” is the question: “Why does suffering take place?”
Complicating an oversimplified view of history is the knowledge that “the Lord suffereth the righteous to be slain that his justice and judgment may come upon the wicked” (Alma 60:13; compare Alma 14:11).
No one said life should be completely fair and everyone should have exactly the same experiences and outcomes—except maybe for Satan. I’m pretty sure he thought those things and still thinks those things.
May I suggest one more reason why we suffer and why we experience so many pains and injustices and inequities? In Obadiah 1:21 we learn about becoming saviors on mount Zion. In fact, we are invited to become saviors on Mount Zion. The Prophet Joseph taught that we do that on earth by performing ordinances on behalf of our kindred dead, and by proclaiming the gospel throughout the world. But I’d like to point out one thing that jumped out to me the other morning in the shower. And it is this:
When we die, we will be spending the rest of our eternal lives engaged in the work of the Father, which is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of his children. Most of that work will be done by persuading people and teaching people how to become more like God. Let’s pretend you were called to go to Ethiopian mission in the spirit world, where millions of people have died of starvation. Do you know what it is like to starve? You can say, “Well I fasted for two meals once a month, and then gorged myself on roast, mashed potatoes, and gravy.” Will that get you very far? Probably not. You don’t seem to have that shared experience.
Or you could go to the European mission in the spirit world where hundreds of thousands of people died of the black plague. And you can say, I lived in 21st Century America and we had to keep up with the Kardashians. I’m not sure if we could build very strong bonds of empathy.
But if we had experienced the death of a child, the heartbreak of a unfaithful spouse, the severe darkness that comes with depression, or any of the other multitude of events that have occurred and will yet occur in our lives, perhaps then we’ll be able to find a little more common ground. Perhaps then we’ll have a little more street cred.
There is only one person who every experience all the negative that life can throw at it, and even though he was half human and half God, even He trembled and bled from the pain and the pressure and anguish and the heartbreak. We won’t ever to be able to have the same compassion that he has, because he experienced it all, but the more we experience, the more we can reach out to those who have experienced similar problems.
So in a very real way, suffering is not a punishment. It is a blessing. Because after have experienced it, we can use that experience to bless the lives of others. Of course, if we don’t connect with others, then we won’t of much help, and would have wasted the experience.
So brothers and sisters, while I don’t recommend praying for and seeking out challenges, when they come, don’t be afraid of them. Don’t think of them as punishments; think of them as opportunities to become more like the Savior.
Elder Orson F. Whitney said:
“No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God … and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven” (quoted in Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, 98).
While Job was trying to convince his friends to stop “comforting” him with their words of condemnation, he spoke these marvelous words that have since inspired all of us for eons. Let us turn to Job 19:23-27.
23 Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book!
24 That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever!
25 For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:
27 Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.
Furthermore over in chapter 23:10-12, we read:
10 But he, God, knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.
11 My foot hath held his steps, his way have I kept, and not declined.
12 Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food.
Job’s story began with a whirlwind that killed his children. And it ends in a whirlwind. This time, it is God who speaks out of the whirlwind, and he brings to Job exactly what Job needed: a revelation. And what was the revelation?
I’m not going to tell you. You need to go home and read it yourself. In starts in chapter 38 and ends in 42. And then re-read it and apply it to you and your circumstances.
Let’s just say that complaining about our problems isn’t very helpful and just shows that we have chronic myopia. God has a bigger picture in mind, and we aren’t necessarily privy to it. All He asks is that we take a step in the darkness from time-to-time and trust him He is our father, after all, and will always be there for us.
President Spencer W. Kimball said:
“If we looked at mortality as the whole of existence, then pain, sorrow, failure, and short life would be calamity. But if we look upon life as an eternal thing stretching far into the premortal past and on into the eternal post-death future, then all happenings may be put in proper perspective.
“… Are we not exposed to temptations to test our strength, sickness that we might learn patience, death that we might be immortalized and glorified?
“If all the sick for whom we pray were healed, if all the righteous were protected and the wicked destroyed, the whole program of the Father would be annulled and the basic principle of the gospel, free agency, would be ended. No man would have to live by faith” (Faith Precedes the Miracle , 97).
So now that we’re about out of time, let’s turn to the epilogue of Job’s story. Which, again, is our story. It foretells what will happen to us after we experience the challenges of mortality. In this case, after Job has faithfully endured his trials, the Lord blesses him:
10 And the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.
11 Then came there unto him all his brethren, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him: every man also gave him a piece of money, and every one an earring of gold.
12 So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning: for he had fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she asses.
13 He had also seven sons and three daughters.
14 And he called the name of the first, Jemima; and the name of the second, Kezia; and the name of the third, Keren-happuch.
15 And in all the land were no women found so fair as the daughters of Job: and their father gave them inheritance among their brethren.
16 After this lived Job an hundred and forty years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, even four generations.
17 So Job died, being old and full of days.
Although the Lord blessed Job with “twice as much as he had before,” the spiritual blessings the Lord gives us as we faithfully endure are even greater than the temporal blessings.
3 Nephi 15:9
9 Behold, I am the law, and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life.
Just like the little bean plant sinks its roots deep into the soil to withstand the heat it experiences, we can develop the faith and the integrity we need to withstand the storms of life. And to do that, all we need to do is:
- Recognize that Gold lives
- That He is all powerful and all wise and in control
- That He loves us constantly, intensely, and without reservations
- And that we take confidence in knowing that we are living, or are trying desperately hard to live, a life that is pleasing to Him.