Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me. -Job 38:2
The book of Job is not for the faint hearted. Job, an upstanding and solid guy, is suddenly stricken with a full range of human tragedies through no fault of his own - loss, illness, bankruptcy, and being spurned, judged, criticized and abandoned by friends and loved ones. Though his 'friends' keep insisting that he needs to change his ways, telling him that something he's doing must be at the root of his own troubles, Job will not agree. He knows he is a reasonably faithful and righteous man and will not take that shame and blame. Though they tell him to curse God for doing this to him, he will not do that either. Job knows that he does not know God's motives for anything. But after a long period of suffering, Job does question God: Why on earth should all this happen to me? Why me, God?
And God's response is hardly kind and pastoral. He says, "Who is this who dares question me? Gird up your loins like a man and I will question YOU. And you will then have to answer to ME."
Then God lists all the cosmic miracles of creation and asks Job who made them:
"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? "Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb? — when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, 'Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped'?"
Basically, God is proclaiming that God is God and Job is not God. "Get in your place!" God seems to be saying to Job. This is why I say that Job is not for the faint hearted. It reminds us that life is often really hard, and often makes no sense and seems terribly unfair and there is no prayer that will cause God to say, "Oh, poor baby" and make it all turn our way. Instead God tells him to pull up his big boy pants and move forward. Life can be hard, Job! What makes you think you're so special?
Wow, God. That's what I call Tough Love.
Which, as I think we can all understand, is sometimes the kind of love that we most need, as unpleasant as it can be. It's the kind of love that puts us in our place and gives us a new perspective on ourselves and our place in the world. It's the kind of re-orienting love that reminds us that bad stuff will always happen to us in life and although we may not be responsible FOR it, we are nonetheless always responsible TO it. No matter what we're given to deal with in life, it is up to us how we will react and move forward, even if it can only be a fraction of an inch.
Tough love was certainly the kind of love Job needed, and it's the kind of love I wish we'd see more of among our leaders as I read the news these days. Because almost every major problem I see in the news has something to do, it seems, with emotional immaturity - people acting like two year olds yelling "Mine!" or adolescents manipulating others to get their own way. I see people acting out of fear, often because of childhood traumas that they have not yet maturely processed. I see people trying to grab all the marbles for themselves instead of sharing as if they were still on a playground. I see childish magical thinking, and people who still, like developing children, think the world revolves around them. Sometimes I just want to yell, "Grow Up!" to the newspaper. Gird up your loins!
Can you imagine a world in which people all knew and understood that life is hard - for themselves, for others, for everybody - in which we maturely embraced that as a fact? Perhaps then we would have far more acceptance and understanding of one another's pain and shortcomings. We would have far more compassion for the differences among us and would strive to support others who are suffering instead of blaming, criticizing or further degrading them in order to feel more secure in ourselves - like bully kids. Perhaps we'd all be able to pull together in our common humanity instead of trying to be gods who only want to out-succeed each other.
But, I know I can't fix the news, nor can I fix the world. I can hardly help myself (just like Paul's says in Romans 7:15-20.) Life is hard - for us all - and is full of all kinds of struggles. People with some maturity under their belts know and accept this, as Job did.
So that's why when I see someone selflessly going out of their way to help another or risking themselves for others, it is a real God sighting. It is mature faith in action. It is people of faith getting out of the center of their own universes and rolling up their sleeves and making the differences they can despite their own pain and limitations. And what a beautiful sight that is!
Our readings for this Sunday are HERE. Note that during ordinary time, we are using "Track 2"