Last week I read my way through a strange old story when suddenly, I got slapped across the face with wisdom and insight I never expected.
The 2500 year book of Job old book is a spicy tale. Job was both stonking rich and a standup guy, apparently doing all the right things, “He was blameless and upright”. Satan though doesn’t buy this righteous rich guy argument, and claims that Job is really only a good guy because of his comfortable, bougie life. Satan asks God if he can test Job by taking everything good in his life away from him, stripping him bare and seeing what his heart is really like.
Will he stay a good guy, or will he become bitter?
And Satan does his worst – far more than just taking away Job’s wealth. His children are killed, his wife leaves him and he’s afflicted with weeping sores over his whole body. He’s left a broken and confused man, scratching his wounds with broken pottery as he sits among ashes.
And he complains about his predicament a LOT, which seems fair given his horrendous and unfair predicament.
“Why did I not perish at birth and die as I came from the womb”
“I have no peace, no quietness, no rest – only turmoil”
“As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice. The almighty who has made my life bitter…”
But near the end of the book Job protests his innocence, laying out bunch of bad stuff he hasn’t done, sins he never committed. Why should Job suffer so badly when he hadn’t done anything wrong?
Three of these “sins” leapt off the page as they described deep seated problems in our hearts and society. When many people think of “sin”, they often think of bad things we might do in the everyday like lying or stealing, or perhaps even the 7 deadly sins. But 2500 years later Job’s wisdom speaks as vividly as ever to the best ways we can relate to each other and the planet.
Job, by Sir William Orpen
No. 1 – Loving our Enemies
“If I have rejoiced over my enemy’s misfortune, or gloated over the trouble that came to him”
At the end of 2022, Champion Kickboxer and male rights activist Andrew Tate trolled Greta Thurnburg with the obnoxious tweet “Please provide your email address so I can send a complete list of my car collection and their respective enormous (greenhouse gas) emissions,”
But Greta Thunberg went viral with her clever reply “yes, please do enlighten me. Email me at email@example.com.” On seeing this oh so witty, savage response my dopamine receptors fired off like crazy as I revelled in that same glee I get when first lick an Ice Cream.
YES – she got him good, take that you mysoginist!
But my response was wrong, sure it felt good but it was not the road to a better world. I fell into the trap that a wiser man than me 2500 years ago never did, as I rejoiced over my enemy’s misfortune and gloated over his public relations nightmare.
But the best humans have the maturity and wisdom to love and honor their enemies. Enemy love is perhaps the hardest and most powerful kind. Martin Luther King showed us the way. As he fought with his whole being for justice, he continued to love those who despised him and eventually killed him. These are some of his words from one of his many great sermons.
“That’s it. There is a power in love that our world has not discovered yet. Jesus discovered it centuries ago. Mahatma Gandhi of India discovered it a few years ago, but most men and most women never discover it. For they believe in hitting for hitting; they believe in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth; they believe in hating for hating; but Jesus comes to us and says, “This isn’t the way”.
But these kind of people have become an endangered species. Much of our discourse about our personal and political enemies is more bitter than ever. Humanity’s technology and hearts have progressed. To be both a “progressive” or a “conservative” in today’s politcal culture means accepting the toxic norm of rejoicing at our oppositions’ failures and gloating over their problems. In a 2018 American poll, over half of the democrats would describe republicans as “ignorant”, while 23% of republicans described democrats as “evil”. One of our greatest recent technologies (social media) has made this even worse, as it fuels our anger and enemy hate.
Filmmaker Deeyah Kahn made the brave and unusual decision to engage and understand her enemies, making the documentary “White Right: Meeting the Enemy and Jihad: A Story of the Others”. Her words build on Job’s wisdom.
“These movements are deeply rooted in a sense of victimhood, real or imagined. So if we exclude them, if we shout at them, if we condemn them, that completely feeds into that. And then the monster gets bigger, not smaller… So we have to become active citizens and active human beings, and no matter what happens, we cannot afford to give up on each other. That means even people that we disagree with and people that we dislike. In fact, it matters more.”
Deeyah Kahn interviews Ken Parker, a neo-nazi
No. 2 – Dignity for those who struggle
“If I have denied the desires of the poor or let the eyes of the widow grow weary, If I have kept my bread to myself, not sharing it with the fatherless”
Job speaks to much more than simple generosity. He doesn’t just give bread to those less fortunate, he wants to be part of fulfilling their desires and uplifting their souls. He wants the eyes of the widows, the most disadvantaged people in the ancient world to not grow weary but be lifted up. To be part of this transformation, Job must have had relationships with struggling people, to have felt their pain and understood what was dragging them down.
Here in Gulu, our struggling friends desire many things including education for their kids, affordable healthcare and healthy relationships. Understanding the complexity of the human experience of our friends and their deep desires is a crucial part of their journey to strengthen or even reclaim their dignity.
And in case that wasn’t enough, he describes the sin that I am forever guilty of – “If I have kept my bread to myself”. We keep for ourselves that which should be shared. We keep two when our neighbour has none at all. Two houses, two cars, two bicycles, two computers, two loaves of bread…. We may never resolves the complex practicalities of moving away from hoarding and towards sharing our excess, but let Job’s wisdom constantly remind us of this better way.
No 3. Loving our good earth
“If my land cries out against me, and all its furrows are wet with tears,”
Job might have been clean, but we are all guilty on this one. Our land cries out against us. Perhaps Job had a simpler task – implementing crop rotation and minimising erosion may have been easier than the rot of overconsumption, pollution and climate crisis we find ourselves in. We drive our land to the limit, pouring too much fertiliser and wrecking our rivers, consuming 3 times the resources our planet can handle and fuelling our lush lifestyles through burning our planet to a crisp.
People of faith are only now beginning to repent of our sins against the land as a regular practise – only now catching up to 2500 year old Job. In 20 years in church I can only remember a handful of prayers repenting of the too-many-ways we have hurt our land.
I have been inspired with many of my friends’ efforts to help the land smile again. One gave up flying, instead taking buses and ferrying everywhere. She hasn’t been able to visit us in Uganda for years – a huge sacrifice, but the land smiles. Another eschews a car and instead carries thier two kids around on an electric bike. My sisters’ wedding considered the planet at every turn and my mum now has an electric car.
Through loving our enemies, meeting the desires of those who struggle and loving our good earth we can follow in Job’s footsteps and overcome some of our own and humanity’s deepest problems.