Job: Pain is temporary, suffering is optional

“Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.”–Job 7:11

“Do your daily work, deal with everyone, move with everybody.  Be in the ocean, but learn to surf well.”–Sri Swami Satchidananda

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I had not read, or really, even thought much about the story of Job from the Bible in quite a while. Therefore, when I encountered it recently in a reading, I was reminded of my childhood days of flannel board Sunday School stories.  The large board covered with blue flannel cloth standing on a wooden tri-fold easel was used to temporarily, and seemingly, magically, attach characters, and other figures, from the Bible to help students visualize the lesson of the day.

My Aunt Janet was one of a handful of Sunday School teachers I had during my first 12 years of life, and I can still semi-remember our upstairs classroom in which she shared Bible stories with other children and me.  For some reason, as I reread parts of the story of Job, it was her flannel board lesson that filtered into my mind like the autumn fog slipping into the dark hours of morning only to fade with the light of sun.  That Sunday School memory slithered and slipped around the edges of my recollections, but no matter how hard I tried to fully summon it up, all that I could grasp was the memory of the flannel image of Job, covered with sores, on his knees, looking skyward in great anguish.  Still, that was more than I had had before reading this story.

Image is from my grandmother’s family Bible. She had a bookmark at this book and the book of Isaiah.

It was because of this memory that I began to read more from the book of Job.  Now, I do not want to lead anyone astray into thinking that I read the entire book of Job, I did not.  Nor do I want to imply that I am by any means a Bible expert, I am not. Nonetheless, as I started reading these passages, I began to see themes and parallels to present day life were held within this old book.  In fact, I found quite a few points of interest.  

Additionally, on the very same day, I encountered another story that I had previously read, but I had forgotten.  I was bowled over by the way in which it connected to the story of Job.  In this story, the writer suggests that while it is one thing to find peace by developing and fostering the habit of daily prayer and meditation, it is a completely different skill to maintain one’s inner peace when injured/sick, overwhelmed, or when feeling insulted by the actions or words of another. 

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Reflecting on the two stories, I realized both stories are of particular relevance in our current climate.  In fact, with each story, I was confronted by powerful truths.  One of the themes of Job, is that regardless of his suffering, he remained faithful to God. At the height of Job’s suffering and loss, he basically stated that if he was to accept the good things in life that God had given him, should he not accept the troubles from God as well?   Whereas, in the other story, the author essentially teaches the importance of living in the world, allowing for both the ups and downs of life, while maintaining a sense of equanimity.  Neither are easy truths. 

2020 though has certainly challenged me to learn to adjust, adapt, and accommodate all of the drastic waves of change it has brought.  From learning to stay at home for long periods of time, to teaching remotely from home; from adapting to a new normal of living and working at home, to returning to my work place in order to simultaneously teach students virtually and in-person; from thinking the discord and dissension would be temporary, to bearing witness to ever-increasing and supposedly acceptable levels of vitriol that seems to have to end in site; from viewing COVID as an illness that doesn’t affect me, to observing its lingering effects on my own mother; and from seeing others suffer with illnesses unrelated to the current pandemic, to observing and experiencing ever increasing levels of anxiety within myself and so many of my co-workers, family and friends; it all leaves me to ask, how much more injury and insult must we all accommodate, adjust, and adapt to?  

Image is from my grandmother’s family Bible.

As I read through the early chapters of Job, I did something I normally never do, I skipped over a large portion of the story, and went straight to the last chapter to see how the narrative concluded. Job’s story ended with the universal theme that good will ultimately triumph over evil, but it did not occur without some ranting and complaining by Job, it appears.  In fact, in the last chapter one can read Job admitting he was wrong and offering a humble apology to God. That is when it hit me.  The even bigger lesson of Job is that in life there will be pain, there will be suffering, there will be discord and illness, but it is our individual response that determines our level of personal suffering.  

 Job could not control events of his life any more than I can, or you can, for that matter.  Like Job, I am quick to grumble and protest things that I cannot understand.  It is easy to complain and demand answers.  It is far more challenging to choose to remain calm and ride the waves of uncertainty when life’s waters get choppy.  

I cannot pretend that I have lived a faultness life like Job any more than I can pretend to have his level of faith.  All I can humbly do is apply the lesson of his story by becoming more aware of my own petty, reactive complaints, learn to better surf the waves by adapting and accommodating to all of the changes, rather than resisting, and take heart from the words of Job towards the end of the story, “ . . . Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”  Job 42: 3  Lastly, I must put my faith that these current life-pains that we are all experiencing, like the waves of any storm, are only temporary.  Calmer waters are coming soon.

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Image is from my grandmother’s family Bible.