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A Savior with skin

Jesus came to save a people partnered with their bodies forever

Issue: "Too close to call," Oct. 28, 2006

"Skin for skin!" sneered Satan. "All the blows to Job's property and family only go to make a philosopher of him. But strike his body, and sooner or later a cursing animal will emerge from it."

Since Satan himself had no body, he probably despised the invention. The crowning achievement of the Sixth Day must have struck him as crude. Who would not be pure spirit, given the choice? Who would not prefer to go here and there, roaming the earth, instead of bound to a bone structure wrapped in skin? Pathetic hybrids, with minds of cloud and feet of clay-he knew how easily they were seduced by glamorous promises ("You shall be like God").

Perhaps Satan liked to think there was no difference, really, between Adam's doubt and Job's trust; both gave the creatures ideas above their station. Lofty submission, to Satan's mind, was no less a pipe dream than lofty rebellion, but of course it bothered him more. Made him furious, though he cloaked his rage in scorn. Skin for skin.

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He had a point. Job could bear appalling tragedy with undaunted faith, but the daily assault on his body (specifically his skin-perhaps the devil's idea of a joke) wore him down. The swift blows that struck his children and livestock could be absorbed and dealt with, but sitting on an ash heap day after day with a pottery shard to scrape the lesions finally wrung a cry of protest from him.

If the wise men of India were sitting among Job's comforters, they would have advised him to break his physical bonds and seek a realm of detachment: Matter was evil, or at the very least, irrelevant. Both Eastern mystics and Western stoics agreed that the goal of life was to overcome the body, a cruel jailer whose demands were too great and pleasures too fleeting. The body's death was the soul's liberation.

But to Job, the bond between flesh and spirit was not so tenuous. Though he longed for the blankness of death, otherworldly resignation was foreign to him; rather than escape from his body, he wanted justification within it. "For I know that my redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God" (19:25-26).

This ringing affirmation is often cited as a Christian text, yet it seems doubtful that Job anticipated the full gospel. He longed for a mediator to vindicate him, not die for his sins (16:19-21). But Job came amazingly close to the truth, even while missing the point. He refused to accept his sufferings as a cosmic prank or an illusion. No Nirvana for him: The problem is here, he insisted. On this earth, in this body. Fix this.

As it happened, he and God could agree on where the problem was, although Job had to be corrected on what it was. God's response out of the whirlwind established the principle of His sovereign right but left a host of questions unanswered: Could there be any mediation? Has man any recourse, beyond repentance in dust and ashes? Where is the redeemer, and when will He appear? God's reply, magnificent as it was, only emphasized the great gulf between Spirit and flesh.

Skin for skin, laughed the devil, unaware that his adversary intended to take that skin upon Himself. When the incarnation happened it may have looked to Satan like a fatal mistake. Didn't God know how vulnerable He was, submitting to hunger, exhaustion, grief, and every kind of temptation besides?

The devil is clever but not wise-else he might have seen that Job's mediator had finally appeared, bringing the justification Job had sought though not in the way he sought it. In our flesh we saw Him, standing upon the earth. His message was not that we escape or rise above our bodies, but that we entrust our flesh to His. We are partnered with our bodies forever; our destiny is not to become pure spirit, but to join in intimate union to a glorious bridegroom.

Perhaps Satan knows this now. If so, I doubt that he's laughing.

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.

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