Wherefore are we counted as beasts and reputed vile in your sight? – Job 18:3
Mmm… How do I put this? Maybe it’s because you viciously kicked somebody who was already badly bruised and bowed.
Ok, let’s put things into context. Someone has just been hit by a Tsunami and then some. In one day he lost his fortune, a sizeable chunk of real estate. All his servants were killed, same day. As they say, bad news come in threes, on the same day he was told that all his children were killed in some tragedy. Job 1
Very bad things happen to very good people.
He was in the dumps. Inconsolable. But misfortune was not through with him yet. He falls ill. All manner of skin infections cropped up from his every pore. His wife took one long look at him and told him he was better off dead. He took one long look at himself and wished he were indeed dead. Trouble is, death doesn’t readily come to those who most want it. He must wait a while, grind in his pain and, may be the world would learn a thing or two from the pulverising of the innocent.
Into this cloud entered a trio of evangelicals. They brought with them their version of divine wisdom. God is good all the time, they said. God couldn’t be tempted, therefore it goes without saying that he tempts no one, they maintained. The judge of the whole world is righteous in all his judgements, so if you find yourself where our protagonist found himself, you must have done something nasty. Job 4:7; Job 22:5-11
Check yourself, they counselled a broken man. Do you deviate from the perfect, divinely inspired biblical norm? Have you resisted the invitation to accept Jesus as your personal Lord and saviour? Do you duck the Lord’s tithe and feed fat on the first fruit of your sweat? Do your sons ‘know’ men in the same manner as they ought to ‘know’ women? Have you shunned the sacred bed of matrimony for ‘partnerships’ and unholy co-habitation? Are there single mothers in your family?
If the answer to all or any of this is yes, well… there you have it! You cannot sow corn and reap rice, they told him. A baboon cannot give birth to a goat, in case he had not figured that one out before. What you sow is what you reap. Your hide got its just desert.
Good things, as it turns out, happen to very bad people.
Leaving that scenario, let’s come down to the here and now. From the earthquake in Haiti to the tsunami in south Asia, the AIDS pandemics in southern Africa to the famine and drought in the eastern part of that continent, the finger of your God wags angrily at the victims of every calamity. His fiery indignation weighs tragically over every domain of sin and godlessness. You wave the good book and challenge us to read for ourselves. Worse, you warn, worse would happen if we did not mend our ways and seek reconciliation with divinity. Job 22:23
The good book says a lot, of course, but you pick and choose which to remember and apply depending on your particular prejudice. If we re-visit the scenario we started with, we are invited to contemplate the possibility that very bad things happen to very good people. The character that lost all was described by God as upright, perfect, God-fearing and avoids evil. Worse, we are told from the beginning that all of these evils befell him just because he was perfect, upright, God-fearing and avoids evil. Job 1:8-12
The good book tells us something all too familiar but unceasingly perplexing nonetheless. Good things, as it turns out, happen to very bad people. The pious and humble are devoured by the rapacious and the wicked. The charitable and selfless are killed in places of conflict while those who use same conflict to rape, pillage and self-advance are soon elevated to dictate terms of peace and the sharing of spoils of war.
The prophet Jeremiah once petitioned God on this:
“Righteous art thou, O Lord, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? Wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously? Thou hast planted them, yea, they have taken root: they grow, yea, they bring forth fruit: thou art near in their mouth, and far from their reins.” Jeremiah 12:1-2
In hindsight we know why Job suffered, even if we arrive at different conclusions as to the value and, or necessity of it. In most cases we don’t know why things happen as they do. We can’t always understand why God does not intervene when the tide of nature sweeps families, communities and sometimes nations to mass graves, why children are born with disabilities or die minutes after they are born, why the tabernacle of the wicked prosper and the treacherous are well established?
There are never ready answers to these questions. Great minds have contemplated these issues to no avail. Those possessed of the pre-incarnate Word have, as did Jeremiah above, pondered it without a resolution. Habakkuk was so miffed he defiantly challenged God to respond. Habakkuk 1:13-2:1 When Job himself requested justification of his clobbering, all he got in response were a barrage of questions that did not address his questions. What great minds, the prophetic spirit and the perfect and upright of old did not do, however, is to justify God by all means. They resigned themselves to the fact that there are things we will never understand.
But those of you who presume to speak for God and put ‘sinful’ man in his place in the event of a tragedy miss the mark woefully. God’s disapproval of Bildad, Eliphaz and Zophar, our trio of evangelicals in the book of Job, should teach you discretion and humility. They spoke for God and justified him against Job. In the end they only drew God’s wrath for their trouble. Job 42:7
In the event of calamity, suffering or loss, rather than ask ‘where is God,’ we should ask ‘where is humanity’.
We could conclude then that the wise thing in these circumstances is not to speak for God, but that too would be off the mark. Often we ask ‘where is God’ in the event of calamities, injustice suffering and loss. Lord Jonathan Sacks, Rabbi and Philosopher, brought a different dimension to this debate in Conversations on Religion. He said rather than ask ‘where is God,’ we should ask ‘where is humanity’. He challenged us to consider the possibility that evil could and should be a trigger for empathy and the coming together of our collective humanity. What is challenged in the face of evil is not the presence of divine providence or lack thereof but the humanity of perpetrators and all in the position to make a difference, but choose differently.
When Hitler decided to decimate a whole race, where was humanity? When the Hutus went about acts of pogrom in Rwanda, where was humanity? When ethnic cleansing consumed the former Yugoslavia, where was humanity? When some leaders sacrificed hundreds of thousands of limbs and lives in a war for oil, where was humanity? In a world where 20% consume 76% of world resources and 80% get by on 1.5%, where the GDP of the poorest 41 countries of the world is less than the wealth of the richest seven individuals, where 21000 children die daily of hunger, poverty and preventable diseases, globalissues.org where is humanity?
And when wild nature rages and oceans go berserk, when forces that are greater than man explode on our world and leave in their wake sorrow, tears and blood, Mr Preacher-Man who only sees the anger of God against the sinful, where is your humanity? In places and circumstances that challenge our collective sensitivity, men and women, both of faith and outside of faith rise to the challenge while you’re stuck on the pulpit sticking daggers into sores.
Jesus would heal not torment.
C S Lewis said:
“The Church exists to draw men unto Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the Cathedrals, clergies, missions, sermons, even the bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became man for no other purpose”
So what would Jesus do? Jesus said the hand of God was upon him to bind up the broken-hearted not to justify the breaking of their hearts. He said we are called “to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;” Isaiah 61:1-3 not to tell them their mourning and heaviness of hearts is just what they deserve.
Let’s learn to do what Jesus would do. Jesus would heal not torment.