Trading Places is one of my favorite comedies. I was too young to see it in theaters, but I picked it up on VHS as a teen and loved it and I grow more fond of it with each viewing. It’s a classic comedy starring Dan Ackroyd and Eddie Murphy back in the days when both of them had more hits than misses on their resumes.
It’s about two wealthy commodities brokers, Randolph and Mortimer Duke who were amoral capitalist villains before it was cool. The two brothers have a disagreement on whether nature (genetics) or nurture (environment and training) shape a person’s character more. They decide to make a bet for $1 to see who is right, and devise an experiment to switch one of their own 1%ers with a street hustler.
Their experiment involves destroying the life of one of their best employees, Louis Winthorpe, by framing him for theft, dealing drugs, kicking him out of his company owned home, and wrecking his relationship with his fiancée by paying a prostitute (Jamie Lee Curtis) to say they were sleeping together in front of her. Meanwhile, the Dukes bail out Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy), a street hustler, and take him under their wing teaching him the business of commodities training and giving him Winthorpe’s old house to live in with a butler on staff to serve.
Both Winthorpe and Valentine are literal playthings to two beings that have immense power over their lives, and Winthorpe from the ruins of his life never really understands how things took such a turn for the worse, nor sees the powerful hands that pushed him off of the cliff until later in the movie when Valentine learns about it and realizes that they should team up to take down the powers that are toying with their lives.
Eventually, it all gets sorted out in the end, the heroes are victorious, the villains are defeated and ruined, and everyone watching has had a good laugh.
I’d like to present for Weird Wednesdays, the biblical version of Trading Places:
1 There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.
I will preface this by saying that I love the book of Job as an allegory. It is considered the earliest story in the bible by many, and it shows that people since the dawn of people have been wrestling with the question of evil in the world. And, spoiler alert, it never gives an answer really.
What’s weird is if you don’t take this story as an allegory of human suffering and our quest to know why we suffer and take the book literally.
We’re introduced to Job, our hero of this story. He’s described as being good. Really good. Moral. Upright. Peaceable. Pious. He’s also loaded. He’s one of the 1% of his time. He had wealth in the form of many flocks of different animals. He’s got money. He has houses and banquet halls where his kids gather periodically to party, and Job is so pious that he offers sacrifices for his kids the following morning on the off chance that one or more of them might have gotten a bit too drunk and done something that God didn’t like.
Job is, literally, a saint of a man.
6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.”
Now it gets weird if you take this literally.
First of all, God the omniscient and omnipresent has scheduled annual reviews with all of the angels, including the fallen ones. The whole team has to come before God and give an account of their activities since the last company meeting and Satan is included in the meeting.
Satan and God are on speaking terms and have meetings.
God, who is so holy, we’re told that He cannot abide sin or sinners in heaven meets with the devil to have an annual report from the original sinner.
So God says, “Hey, what have you been up to lately? Haven’t seen you since that whole leading an angelic rebellion against me? How’s the wife and kids?”
“They’re good. You know, I’ve just been hanging out, walking the Earth like Caine from Kung Fu.”
“Oh,” God said. “Okay, well, hey, have you run into my man Job down there? He’s pretty much a saint. Totally on my team.”
“Yeah, but that’s only because you’ve totally bought his loyalty. You’ve given him money, a nice house, food, a great family. I bet if you let me totally destroy everything, he’d curse you too.”
“Challenge accepted. But you can’t hurt him personally.”
“Oh, come on…”
“Alright, you can hurt him, but you can’t kill him.”
“Deal,” said the devil.
It’s a psychological experiment. Satan is the cynical misanthrope. Job is only into God and being a good man because of the rewards. God is on the side of nature. Job really is that good. And the two have a bet to see who is right. Much like our movie we mentioned earlier.
So Job loses his houses, his banquet hall, his wealth, and his ten children in the span of a single day. And then he loses his health and is covered with itching sores from head to foot.
God makes a bet with Satan to prove a point to Satan that Job is going to be a good man even if God lets Satan destroy his life completely and make him the most miserable man on Earth.
It gets weirder, again if you take it literally, because the rest of the book of Job goes like this:
Job: This sucks. I wish I had never been born.
Job’s friends: It’s really your own fault for sinning against God.
Job: This sucks. Shut up. I never sinned against God. I was a good man.
Job’s friends: If you were really good, God wouldn’t let this happen to you.
Job: I haven’t sinned, you jerks, and I’d really like a real answer from God as to why my life is crap now.
God: You are an insignificant spec living on a world that is an insignificant spec in a galaxy that is an insignificant spec in the universe that is an insignificant spec compared to me. You know nothing, really, and you have the gall to question me about anything at all?
Job: Okay, sounds good. Sorry about that. (Thinking, “Please don’t make my life worse…”)
God: Okay, I think I’ve proved my point to the devil and won our wager. So here’s all your stuff back with interest, and ten more kids.
It really is a weird and possibly horrific story if you take it literally, because then the message isn’t “Shit happens and we’ll never have a good answer as to why”, but “You are an insignificant plaything between two cosmic entities that might just destroy you for no reason other than to prove a point to each other.”
Sleep well tonight thinking about that message, kids.