Joan Acocella at The New Yorker:
This test is the subject of the Book of Job. Is there such a thing as disinterested faith? Will people go on believing in God if they are not rewarded—indeed, if they are unjustly punished? And why should they be faithful to a God who allows the wicked to triumph and the innocent to suffer? Mark Larrimore, the director of the religious-studies program at the New School, has published “The Book of Job: A Biography” (Princeton University Press), which is a “reception history,” chronicling the answers given to that riddle by commentators from the midrash—the rabbinical meditations that were first compiled in the third century—down to Elie Wiesel.
When God first unleashes Satan on Job, he tells him that he must not damage the man physically. So Satan just kills Job’s children, servants, and livestock. In response, Job tears his robe, shaves his head, falls to the ground—and worships God! “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away,” he says. “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Satan returns to God and complains that as long as Job remains physically unharmed the test isn’t valid: “But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face.”