Scripture: Job 6
Job is a folktale – an old folktale – older than nation of Israel.
Folktale is as follows…. <told from memory, but here are some highlights:>
God wants to know more about human beings.
“The Satan” (part of God’s Council) offers to investigate.
God agrees. Gives him the perfect test subject.
“The Satan” encourages God to test Job. Job passes.
God restores everything to Job.
Generations after it was written, the Israelites added 40 chapters of poetry into the middle of the folktale, part of which is today’s text, in which the author envisions Job’s experience of this ordeal.
The emotional and poetic words we get from Job today come in response to a friend, who tells Job that obviously, there must be a raitonal explanation for Job’s suffering.
And the rational explanation is that Job has somehow offended God and God is correcting Job. And Job should be thanksful, because this is an opportunity for learning!
We may roll our eyes at this, and yet how many of us, in modern times, have heard this type of response when facing hardship?
How many of us, when victimized, have been blamed for our own suffering?
And the ugliest part – the victim-blaming is disguised as “help.”
At a previous job, I remember going to my supervisor to report harassment by a church member.
And the response was – I’ve never experienced that kind of behavior from him. Are you sure you weren’t just having a bad day? Or that he wasn’t just having a bad day? I mean, I’ve just never known him to be like that. He’s a friendly person. You must be mistaken.
I don’t tell you this story to create pity for me – that situation was ultimately resolved, in large part due to the humility and openness of that individual, who, when I confronted him privately, took my words seriously, and took it as an opportunity for self-reflection and growth. The story had a happy ending.
But many stories of injustice do not.
Many people end up feeling isolate, alone, and even blamed for their own suffering.
And we’re not just the victims in this scenario. It’s not just other people who struggle to take OUR pain seriously.
We are just as guilty as Job’s friends when it comes to our need to seek a rational explanation for suffering and injustice.
For example, when a child comes to us and tells us that a teacher is treating him differently than the other students, don’t some of us begin by asking questions like, are you sure? Are you paying attention in class and turning your assignments in on time? Is something getting in the way of your judgement? Some prejudice against the teacher’s gender or race or politics maybe? What’s your part in this?
What about when someone comes to us and tells us that someone they love has just been diagnosed with lung cancer. Don’t’ some of us ask, “Is your friend a smoker?”
Because there must be a REASON for their illness, right?
What about when a friend who has darker skin than we do tells us stories about being followed in a department store or stopped more often in the airport or at those checkpoints between El Paso and Albuquerque along I-25. Don’t we doubt, sometimes, perhaps just in our own heads, whether they might be exaggerating a bit? Or assigning undue meaning to coincidences?
What about when someone is homeless despite all of the services and opportunities available to them in Albuquerque. As embarrassing as it might feel to admit this, haven’t we thought, at some point, “Well, I’ve had tough times, and I pulled myself up by MY botstaps. Something must be deficient them them that they cannot.”
We do this, because for many of us, our experiences of teachers and police and the employment market and even the human body, in the case of health issues, that they they operate fairly and rationally. Smoking leads to cancer. Inappropriate behavior leads to problems in the classroom, and when it comes to the police, well, MY experience is that they are fair and just. And when I’VE faced the possibility of homelessness, I dug in and I survived.
So something MUST be wrong with them. With those other people With Job.
In Job’s case, it’s not health or teachers or police that are on trial, though – it’s God. And God, his friends argue, is rational and just. So something MUST be wrong with Job.
But it’s not. Just as nothing may be wrong or deficient with the other people I mentioned.
Life is not rational nor just. And perhaps God doesn’t operate that way either.
And certainly in this world that includes so much injustice, having friends that blame us for our struggles is no help at all.
“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, Job,” they say.
And Job cries out, “But I don’t even have any boots!”
“I not only did nothing wrong, but I don’t have the rources I need to survived this.”
“God has given me more than I can bear.”
People love to say God will never give you more than you can bear.
Have you heard that?
God will never give you more than you can bear.
It’s simply not the case. There are plenty of times when life is more than we can bear by ourselves.
And that phrase itself is a gross mistranslation of 1 Corinthians 10:13. The phrase is actually, “There will never be a test in your life that someone else has not also faced at some point in history.”
In other words, you will never be ALONE in your suffering.
And yet sometimes, as Job so clearly points out, it feels like we are.
And that solitude, that hopelessness of isolation is one of the reasons why it is IMPERATIVE that as Christians, and as friends, and as a community, that we LISTEN and take one another seriously.
We MUST give people who are speaking their truth the benefit of the doubt.
Our experience in the world may point to them being 100% wrong, but our responsibility as care-givers is to listen WITHOUT judgment as if they are 100% right.
That man who harassed me at my former job? No one else experienced him as anything but appropriate.
And yet he WASN’T.
Thank God HE was able to hear that from me.
Others don’t have such success.
How many people in our lives are suffering and feel like they are alone, because no one will take them seriously?
I’m not suggesting we abandon critical thought. And of course, there will be people who will exaggerate their pain.
But in my experience, people are much more likely to UNDERSTATE injustice.
And when they come to us saying –
My teacher told a joke that felt kind of homophobic to me.
Or I’m kind of uncomfortable with this person’s treatment of me.
Or I don’t think college is for me…
Or I’m kind of struggling to make ends meet…but I’ll be okay…
When people come to us with these types of statements, one of the best things we can do is to go deeper, not into judgement or prosecutorial mode, but deeper into listening.
Because I can guarantee that behind those statements is a story that needs to be held in love.
So my challenge to us this week is to go deeper into our listening. To reach out, reach in, recognize Job in others, recognize Christ in others, and let people know that they are not alone.