Book review: Michael’s Reward

by Mario Bernheim


Michael’s Reward is an imaginative, modern day retelling of the book of Job in the Bible. You know, that rich dude who lost everything but who stayed true to God, so he got it all back with interest.

Parts of the story must have been difficult for Bernheim to write. Michael’s pain, when he loses his children, his wife, his wealth, his health, is just too vivid. Thankfully, I couldn’t really relate, or the painful half of the story might have been overwhelming. It’s a riches-to-rags-to-riches story in the extreme, with little common ground for us regular guys. I associated with Michael briefly on the way down, and briefly again on the way back up.

This is a good retelling, faithful to the spirit of Job and the conundrum he faces. It’ll bring the biblical story alive for you, I guarantee it. And that, for me, was the problem. I don’t like the book of Job, and I like it even less now. The idea of God playing games with human lives is distasteful. The idea of wealth as a measure of God’s approval is equally distasteful. Didn’t Jesus tell us not to lay up treasure on earth, but in heaven?

Which brings up a point. There is one major difference between the old Job and the new Job, and it’s this: Today’s Job knew his children were in heaven, and knew he would someday be up there with them, and that makes the second half of the story–the rise to riches–seem beside the point. We have since found more realistic ways to imagine a reward for a life faithfully lived. We don’t have to pretend God will swoop in and provide a fairy tale ending on earth, which is a good thing, since real life doesn’t happen that way. It just doesn’t. We haven’t thought that way since the age of the Maccabees, when the harshness of real life forced us to abandon the idea of justice on earth, and we instead became believers that we would be rewarded for faithfulness in the afterlife. For me, the story of Job is obsolete, a product of antiquated religion.

Nevertheless, while Michael/Job left a sour taste in my mouth, and while I can’t rate the story highly for its inspirational value (no problem: I’m positive many other readers will), it deserves a high rating from me because it made me think. It made me talk about it. It took me out of my comfort zone and held me captive until the final page, and I’m still trying to break free.

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