The way that the world works means that most of us don’t get anything for free. We go to work and we receive payment. We have to go to the gym to get fitter. We study for an exam and pass the test.
There is an effort required for each of those things. Work hard and you get your rewards.
This is the American dream.
Except that this isn’t the way things always work. Some people are born into incredible wealth and have no need to ever work. Some people are just so smart that they absorb information and they are ready to smash the test without even trying. Some can eat as much cake as they like and never put on a pound.
We hate these people. And rightly so. (I joke of course….kind of).
If we’re honest with ourselves we have to admit that actually we don’t always get what we deserve. At least not by our own standards of what is right and wrong. What happens then when we work hard and someone else gets the credit? Or alternatively, we follow all the rules to a tee and yet we end up losing out to the person who took short cuts?
We get angry and we feel that justice has not been served or we decide that enough is enough and we try and cheat ourselves.
We can do that of course, or we can keep pursuing the right things in the right way.
Easier said than done.
This is the dilemma that Job came up against. Job was a faithful servant to God who did everything right. He followed the law, was obedient to God and yet lost everything. Like I mean everything. Not only was his family taken from him in horrible circumstances, God seemingly let satan have control over what happened to him.
At least he had his buddies to support him.
And by support I mean pile on the pressure and condemning Job by constantly telling him he must have done something to deserve all this pain.
Because after all we only get what we deserve, right?
The story of Job really bugs us because if you do everything like you are supposed to then everything works out. Except, we all know this is not the case. We all have experienced unfairness and injustice. We all know that good guys don’t always finish last but quite often don’t finish first neither. We know that there are corporations who exploit the poorest so they can become the richest.
Follow the rules and it seems that more likely than not you lose out.
The thing about Job was that he didn’t give up. Even though he didn’t understand what was going on or why all these horrible things continued to happen, he kept his eyes firmly on God whom he trusted. This is what made Job stand out from his friends and others like them. To his friends, the answer to why God was letting these things happen was clear; it was punishment for something Job had done. Which is an understandable belief to have considering other gods were believed to hand out rewards or punishments depending on how people behaved.
Don’t sacrifice enough and the gods may not be so forthcoming when it comes to the harvest. Appease the gods are they will make your life a misery. That is if you can figure out what it is they all want and when.
This idea of God is exhausting because it leaves us in a perpetual state of anxiety. We don’t know where we stand or if we’re doing enough to do enough to end up in HIs good books. We screw up and are left wondering whether the things that happen to us are a consequence of our sin. This is a conditional state of love. Obey and everything will be alright. Disobey and well, you better hold on tightly.
There is of course another type of love that doesn’t leave us hanging. An unconditional state where we are free to live without looking over our shoulders, where how well we behave doesn’t matter in terms of our eligibility to receive love.
It comes down to an issue of trust. A god that demands stipulations to make sure you behave is hard to trust. You never know where you stand and if he is so easily swayed then how can we be sure that even if you do follow orders, he won’t punish you anyway.
On the other hand, a God that freely offers his love regardless of what you do or don’t do, can be trusted. You know that His love won’t change regardless of what you do, so you are free to openly pursue Him. Then, when horrible things happen to us that seem unfair or undeserving we can be sure that the reason is not because of something we did.
Sure, there are also consequences to our actions. If you kill someone, don’t expect that if you get caught you won’t go to prison. If you cheat on your wife, don’t expect that it won’t damage trust and cause all sorts of hurt that may takes years to heal. We’re called to live in a new identity; one that doesn’t define us by our past. We’re called to live in a new way that creates peace, ends violence, feeds the hungry and offers life to the poor.
When we choose to compare ourselves to others we are pushing ourselves further and further from God’s kingdom way of operating. We are choosing to not trust that which God declares true about us. And we will feel the results of that, but its not the end.
Now at this point you may be saying, “yeah that’s lovely, but it doesn’t make me feel any better when I don’t know where the rent for this month is going to come from, or how I’m going to feed my family or why despite all my prayers my mum’s cancer is only getting worse”.
But what if it’s not the point? What is at the core here is a need to be in control. A need to know why things turn out like they do. Our need to control the situation rather than giving it over to God. Job suffered so much but what got him through was a trust that although he didn’t understand why everything happened, he trusted God that it wasn’t the end.
That even the death of his family and the loss of all his possessions wasn’t the end.
Relationships demand that both parties give. That you don’t withhold your love just because there may be some tension. That’s not love, that’s control. Job’s friends believed in a conditionally loving God so they didn’t understand this idea. That’s why they couldn’t help Job. They couldn’t let go of their tight grip on their god so they couldn’t trust like Job did.
When the people we love suffer our job is not to try and reason it out but sit by them.
When we are forced to watch a parent or child die from illness our job is not to figure out why it is happening but to sit with them and offer the comfort that they are not alone.
When we mess up everyday or when things happen for no obvious reason we remember that Jesus death and resurrection was not about getting us to snap out of it but His way of reminding us that He knows.
We look around and see so much pain in the world and blame God for it. What we fail to see in the process are all the little ways we fail to trust Him and all the ways that we cause pain for ourselves and others.
When that happens we look to who we can blame. Who we can shift the focus on. Usually it is God.
Imagine what it would be like if each of us acted like Job’s friends. Life would be a nightmare.
Imagine then what it would be like if instead of judging each other we and trying to fix our friend’s pain we just sat with them in it. Instead of offering reasoning we just put our arm around them. Instead of shaking our heads at the mistakes they made we came close and offered a shoulder.
We might find that little by little there would be less pain in the world because we aren’t the source anymore.
We offer our love unconditionally because that is what Jesus does and we say “me too” because that is what He said to us on the cross.
Or maybe if we don’t have anything nice to say, we just don’t say anything at all.