I grew up in a very traditional, fundamentalist church – Bible thumpers, if you will. For some reason, I still have my Bible, given to me on February 12, 1976 by parents, in my night stand next to my bed, even though I don’t read it and I am not affiliated with any religion whatsoever. Actually, my spirituality is much more metaphysical in nature.
The other day, I just randomly opened my Bible to any page, as I often do with my dictionary in a moment of dictionary divination (randomly opening the dictionary and pointing to a word on a random page with my eyes closed to see what I need to know – it is almost always amazingly revealing and pertinent – even opening to the word “bread” can have so many different connotations). Interestingly, I opened up to the first page of the Book of Job in the Old Testament.
The story of the Job is the quintessential story of why bad things happen to good people. Job is a pious, family man. He is, by all accounts, a good man to his family and his neighbors. Job is also a financially wealthy/prosperous man who has ten children and an enormous amount of oxen, donkeys, sheep and camels.
Yet he suffers greatly, and is allowed to suffer by God himself.
The story goes like this: one day, when Satan appears before God, God asks him what he thinks of Job – it’s just a usual, casual conversation between God and Satan. Satan chides that he feels Job is only righteous because he has been given so much and is so protected by God with his blessings. Satan further ponders that if God took away all of his good fortune, Job would curse and turn his back on God. In essence, Satan challenges God by using Job as a test. God accepts the challenge and allows Satan to test Job through hardship and peril – essentially, Satin can do anything to Job except kill him.
Indeed, Job is tested. He loses all of his children and his animals (the sign of wealth) to uncontrollable circumstances. In response, Job states:
“Naked I came out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return: Lord has given, and Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of Lord.”
Then Job is faced with physical ailments, such as “boils” and endures great physical pain. Even his wife encourages him to curse God for all his maladies (because in the Bible, women like to tempt and corrupt), and yet Job responds:
“…shall we receive good from God and shall not receive evil?”
Perhaps the most profound interaction in the Book of Job comes when Job’s friends visit him during his time of suffering. They truly believe that Job is suffering because he must have been bad somehow, like he’s got some negative karma or mojo to work off:
“Job’s friends do not waver from their belief that Job must have sinned to incite God’s punishment. As the speeches progress, Job’s friends increasingly berate him for refusing to confess his sins, although they themselves are at a loss as to which sin he has committed. They also assume, in their view of theology, that God always rewards good and punishes evil, with no apparent exceptions allowed. There seems to be no room in their understanding of God for divine discretion and mystery in allowing and arranging suffering for purposes other than retribution.” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Job
I’m sure you know these types of people who misconstrue the concept of “karma” to only mean some kind of negative, unholy, perpetual punishment or divine wrath for those who are bad, as if God is some strict disciplinarian daddy without a sense of humor.
To Job’s credit, and God’s victory in the chess game with Satan, Job never curses God’s name, but he does break down and state in the midst of his suffering that he wishes he had never been born. He is, after all, just human.
In the end, Job endures. His physical ailments disappear, he has a new family and he has over twice as much wealth as before he is tested. It’s a nice tidy ending, the kind we often see in romantic comedies where everyone ends up with the person they are supposed to be with, and we can all leave the theater comforted and happy.
What may have been a more interesting plotline to me would be if Job never recovered his health or his family or his wealth – how would he respond then? Perhaps this is just my post-modern sensibilities speaking.
To me, the story of Job is a parable meant to emphasize that we all suffer as the result of being on this planet, and that there is a mystery to the suffering that perhaps can best be explained in believing, as many metaphysicians do, that we are all on this planet to learn lessons and endure them. Have you seen the bumper sticker, “Life is the School; Love is the Lesson”? Pure Course in Miracles stuff. And suffering and loss appear to be an integral part of the curriculum.
The story of Job inferentially poses this question: will you curse your maker as the result of your sufferings? Or will you endure with the introspective knowledge that there is an ebb and flow to life, and that all is in spiritual alignment or divine providence? Or, as Wayne Dyer put it in a slightly different context:
“How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.”
Today, many feel that they are being tested extraordinarily. They have lost their jobs, their homes, their credit, their health, their marriages and their families. They don’t see an end in sight.
Perhaps, in truth, we won’t all be restored to equal or better in material possessions, as was Job. But according to many of those more spiritually inclined, we (all 6+ billion of us) are amidst a great transformation. All that is going on is somehow in divine alignment. Apparently, we are moving away from our gluttonous consumption of, and personal identity based upon, material objects and ego gratification toward some new kind of “vibration” or “energy” or “group dynamic”.
The new future possibilities remain to be seen. Remember, it is merely a transition and not a destination . . . yet. In the meantime, I’m sure that the Donald Trumps of the planet will not stop erecting large buildings to their egos or pontificating about their personal wealth and power.
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