A blog for Catholic men that seeks to encourage virtue, the pursuit of holiness and the art of true masculinity.
Job’s Righteous Fatherhood: 3 Lessons from the Suffering Saint of the Old Testament
March 2, 2015
When we think of Job, we think of suffering. And it is true—Job suffered far more than any of us can imagine. Despite the fact that he was completely innocent, he endured intense physical pain, lack of sleep, hunger, the loss of his enormous wealth, the death of all of his children, and the insults and criticisms of his wife and his fair-weather friends.
This holy man can teach us many things, but today, I want to focus on another aspect of Job that is not talked about very often: his fatherhood. Job can teach us at least three characteristics of a righteous father.
Job had ten children, seven sons and three daughters. In the very beginning of the first chapter of Job, we catch a glimpse of how Job related to his children.
There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she-asses, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.
His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each on his day; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.
Children are a reward
The first thing we notice in this passage is that Job treasured his children. In detailing Job’s wealth, the author lists his children first and foremost to tell us that Job loved them more than anything else in his possession. Perhaps it is reading too much into things, but I see significance in the fact that Job had seven sons and three daughters. Both seven and three signify completion and perfection in Hebrew culture, so it seems Job had the perfect number of children. His joy was complete.
I think this point is important because the modern world tells us that less is more when it comes to children. Two is considered the perfect number, one boy and one girl. If you have more than two, prepare yourself for all manner of rude comments about your irresponsibility and lack of self-control. Children are considered a burdensome nuisance these days. Yet, in the ancient world, children were treasured as a reward and a blessing from God. A lot of children meant you were abundantly blessed.
As Catholics, I believe we need to recover the idea that children are a reward. We all know the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception, but if we aren’t careful, we can still be very easily influenced by the cultural thinking about children. We can value a big house and a new car more than we do the gift of new life. This is wrong. I can tell you from experience that where there are children, there is always joy. Let’s learn from Job to celebrate our children as the greatest treasure we can possesses.
The second thing that we can learn from this passage is Job’s spiritual concern for his children. Job’s children loved to party, and it no doubt brought joy to Job’s fatherly heart to see his children enjoying his wealth. Yet, while Job wanted his children to have a good time, he never forgot their spiritual wellbeing. Notice his concern:
And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.
It is unclear exactly what is meant by the phrase “Job would send and sanctify them.” Another Bible version translates this phrase, “and have them rid of all defilement.” This sounds to me almost like an early form of confession, in which the children confessed their sins to their father. But regardless, it is very clear that Job prayed constantly for his children’s spiritual well being, rising early in the morning to pray for them and offer sacrifices for their sins.
Do you pray for your children? Do you fast or offer other sacrifices on their behalf? Are you concerned for their souls? Do you instruct them in the faith? As Catholic fathers, we have a solemn responsibility to teach our children the Catholic faith, to pray for them, and to guard them, as much as in our power, from sinful influences. We will answer to God for how we raised our children, so like holy Job, we should take our duty to shepherd them seriously.
The third thing Job can teach us is that our children ultimately belong to God. Every parent is tempted to idolize their children, to love them a little too much. Some parents even live vicariously through their children, finding their self-worth in the success of their sons or daughters. This is obviously unhealthy. The only father and mother in history who could safely worship their child were our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph.
The antidote to idolatry of our children is to understand that they are entrusted to us by God and that, ultimately, they belong to him. Notice Job’s reaction when he hears the news of his children’s death: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” To be honest, this reaction is astonishing. I very much doubt mine would be so holy. Any parent can imagine the heartrending grief he was feeling at that moment—and yet, he acknowledged everything he possessed, including his children, had been given to him by God.
While we should pray that we never have to experience the lost of a child, we should also cultivate the attitude that our children are ultimately on loan from God. This will keep us from idolizing them and becoming unhealthily attached, and motivate us to train them in the path of righteousness as Job did.
To be a father
Righteous fatherhood is no easy calling, nor is it something that happens by accident. Holy Job models for us what a God-pleasing father looks like. Let us strive to imitate him by treasuring our children, praying for them, and entrusting them completely to God. That is truly successful parenting.
“Lo, sons are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them!” (Psalm 127:3-5)
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