2020. It sounded so beautifully round, didn’t it? The 2020 sunglasses on New Year’s Eve fashioned from the two 0’s were flawless, not some 2017 with the contorted 7 wrapped around the second circle. No, this was 2020, baby. Whole. Repetitive. Catchy. We came in hot, zip-lining into the Roaring 20’s with zero indication that a Prickly Pear awaited to break our fall.
This year has held melt-downs on so many fronts; the CV-19 word has slain over 150,000 Americans and taken down Neiman Marcus. The molten underground flow of racial unrest erupted over the horrific death of George Floyd, a tipping point for a country plagued with systemic mistreatment of black and brown people. Moreover, our economy continues to struggle:
The economy contracted at a record rate last quarter and July setbacks for the jobs market added to signs of a slowing recovery as the country faces a summer surge in coronavirus infections.” Harriet Torry wrote in The Wall Street Journal on July 30, 2020.
Because we have story- shaped minds, I gain strength from a good, sturdy overcomer; souls like Harriet Tubman, Hamilton, and Job. Not Steve Jobs but rather Job. Old Testament Job. You may recall that he’s the one known for sitting catatonically atop the literal ash heap of his life. His grief brought questions and so might yours.
The book of Job is a brief one in the Old Testament right before Psalms. The title character is killing it in Chapter one: rich yet humble, blessed with 10 children, a wife, a huge livestock operation and a reputation as “the greatest in the East.” -Job 1:3. Basically Chip Gaines with 5 extra kids. He makes sacrifices to God on behalf of his kids just in case they accidentally sin. I like this guy, he holds on loosely and doesn’t assume his kids are perfect.
As the story goes, one day when heavenly beings & Satan come to present themselves before the Lord (quite a bizarre squad…so many questions about this receiving line) God asks Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it” Which comes as a challenge to God about how generally crappy humanity has turned out.
As the scene unfolds, God then throws this question out to the enemy, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him in all the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil?” Satan laughs at the confidence placed in a mortal, cynically explaining that Job is good only because Job’s life is good. Remove the blessings and Job will curse. The Almighty disagrees.
So, shockingly undeservedly the devastation is unleashed. In a calamitous one-after-another set of announcements, servants enter to proclaim successive tragedies which take all of his flocks, culminating in the news that all of his ten children are dead. All. Ten. Children. Dead. He arose, tore his robe, shaved his head and extraordinarily enough, honored God:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.”
Though utterly laid low, Job’s knee- jerk reaction is praise. He admirably takes this complete reversal in stride. After humbly proving his fidelity, he then suffers a round of attacks on his body. In Job Chapter 2, he is covered with loathesome sores from head to toe. Praising God from his ash heap only proves to trigger his wife. She suggests he do the only sensible thing and “Curse God and DIE.”
But Job is hell-bent on keeping his heavenly perspective. Eschewing her suggestion, he calls her foolish for the mere idea, reasoning, “Should we receive good at the hand of God and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. His perspective powered his perception. His gratitude granted him grace. Grace to accept the unthinkable reality that his life is completely ruined.
In an effort to encourage Job in his grief, his friends come from afar. They do not recognize him at first but when the coin drops, they gasp and tear their clothes. Nothing like your gasping friends ripping their clothes at your appearance communicates “sucks to be you,” quite as colorfully. Scripture says they sat quietly with Job for seven days lending support. When Job begins verbally processing his grief, his tribe begins finding just cause for his ruination. They shoulda kept quiet.
Job’s friends are at their most helpful when they simply love and listen. It is fruitless to proffer explanations as to why afflictions happen because as we see, Job is never granted one. Job’s friends sought to find an explanation for his suffering as a prescription for avoiding it themselves. The human mind seeks to explain tragedy to restore the false sense of control. Herein lies the the baseline of blame: control. That is why every parent who has ever lost a child replays every scenario for a missed cue as to how they allowed this to occur to prevent it from repeating itself, which is a foolish exercise.
Eventually after heated debates with his support staff and God, Job circles back to acceptance. He puts God on trial for allowing his many trials. God does not shrink back but rather reminds Job of his place in creation. Citing Behemoth and Leviathan created, God reminds our protagonist of the microscopic vision which he has. This is a reminder of the perspective to which we humans can only aspire. Not an answer to our burning questions of why? but a way to open our minds. Once still and yielding, the spirit can blow in acceptance of the truth that there are some questions for we will never have answers.
God eventually restores double what our friend has lost. His sores eventually heal but it is likely his scalp always looked wonky and his hair patchy. I imagine he bore the scars of living as you may as well. I still have a scar on my left eye from where my ridiculously uncoordinated daughter smacked me with a tennis racket and one on my chin from Jack armed with a hockey stick. They are beautiful to me because they represent a full life well lived. That is the bargain I reckon.
What handles on truth can be learned from the story of Job’s devastation? What possible takeaway can bring peace to our terrified minds? How can we wisely face the uncertainty of life? Probably none of us will lose as much as Job did but we may lose a business, our loved-ones, our dignity or our mental health during this unprecedented crisis. What shred of hope can we grasp from this ancient tale?
Change and loss are normal. As completely abnormal as Job’s loss was, life for all of us means change. As audaciously as we assume the blessings of the food on and family around our table, all could be gone in just a moment. Any fortune, friendship or family we assume will be there at days’ end may not be. This is life. To take for granted that the good life will go on forever is a foolish assumption. This is a lesson driven home as we have been thrown into quarantine, unable to procure basic staples and unable to be physically present with loved ones. As deeply as it chainsaws against our death-grip on control, the truth is that we will experience change and grieve those we love.
As lame a consolation as it may appear at first blush, I do think one gets points for survival and bonus points for love. This is my take-away from Job. He survived loss of wealth and children, financial ruin and even well-intentioned friends. I only wish Job’s friends could have shared a modicum of the empathy and love I have received from mine. Despite being conditioned to always grope for more and better, may we bear in mind that we are not promised tomorrow, good health or even those we hold so dear. So let us see through eyes of fierce gratitude which seeks to appreciate what we have this day.
So here’s to Job who shunned the suggestion that he curse God and die. He debated God and lived. And I am richer for his example. May our preoccupation with ourselves drop away like chaff and with it take our expectations of what we are owed by life or by God. If the breath in our lungs is all we have, may we breathe out beautiful hope for others with every exhalation.
#wrestling with God