3 But I have a mind as well as you;
I am not inferior to you.
Who does not know all these things?
4 “I have become a laughingstock to my friends,
though I called on God and he answered—
a mere laughingstock, though righteous and blameless!
5 Those who are at ease have contempt for misfortune
as the fate of those whose feet are slipping.
(Read the rest of the chapter, here.)
A warning to those in power
The Bible is full of warnings for the “big guy” to get their act right. One of my favorites is in Isaiah chapter 32, his warning to “complacent women.” Basically all of the prophets warn for those in power to stop being so corrupt and turn back to God. And it’s a warning that still needs to be heard today.
In this warning, Job once again gives voice to the downtrodden the world over. “I am not inferior to you,” Job tells his friends in v. 3 (and again at the beginning of the next chapter). And I think v. 5 might be my favorite line of this whole book so far, where Job calls them out on their sanctimonious bullshit: “Those at ease have contempt for misfortune as the fate of those whose feet are slipping.” Basically, “you don’t know what it’s like, I’m over here drowning and you’re trying to offer me swim lessons. Throw me a freaking life saver!”
The whole second half of this chapter can be read as a warning to Job’s friends, who are a stand-in for people in power just as Job is a stand-in for the downtrodden. “To God belongs wisdom and power,” (v. 13) Job declares – something his friends have been quoting at him the whole time. But the difference is they were using it to try and suppress Job while upholding their own righteousness, while Job is reminding them – and us – that even our own righteousness is not enough to stand up to God. “He leads priests away stripped and overthrows men long established, He silences the lips of trusted advisers and takes away discernment of elders [v. 19-20]….He makes nations great, and destroys them [v. 23].” This is one big reminder that even those who have the appearance of power and security, like Job’s friends, are not immune to correction from God.
Blessed be the thorn in my side
I feel I am blessed, because I stand between two worlds: a world of privilege and a world of need. I am white, cis-gender, able-bodied, and middle class. I am also female, the mother of a special-needs child with crap insurance (goodbye, $700 every time we go to the developmental pediatrician), and a farmer whose livelihood is directly tied to the vagaries of climate change, predators, and agricultural policy. So while I have certain comforts–certain privileges, if you will, I never feel fully secure. Why is this a blessing? Because it helps me to remember others in need, just as Paul’s affliction kept him grounded in reality. (You can read about Paul’s thorn in his side, as he calls it, in 2 Corinthians chapter 12.) It is easy for me to identify with people who are suffering. Are you struggling to pay your medical bills? I feel you – reference my developmental pediatrician statement above. Are you struggling with a condition some people don’t even recognize – such as an “invisible” disease like MS or fibromyalgia or a little-heard of (and therefore dismissed) disorder like Executive Dysfunction? Again, I feel you – even nowadays not everyone recognizes that Autism is a real thing. I found a hateful blog post recently where someone claimed individuals with ASD are “retards” who are “possessed by the devil” because their parents are sinners. I just pray that man never has any grandchildren who get diagnosed and have to suffer though his vitriol. And certainly being in a interracial, interfaith marriage demands a high level of empathy from both of us.
As an example of how this standing between two worlds extends into promoting the rights of others: I’m not gay, but I do know what it’s like to have society disapprove of your marriage. Not that long ago – I’m talking 1967, when my dad was a teenager and Chris’ dad was already in his mid-twenties, interracial marriage was illegal in our home-state of Virginia. (They even made a movie about it.) If two people care for each other, want to build a life and a family together, want to spread love in this world that so desperately needs it, why would we stop it? To borrow Job’s words, they are not inferior to me, and I will not have contempt for their misfortune. So I support gay marriage.
Doing (just a little) more
I’ve talked about examining your privilege before, but I’m going to mention it again, because Lent is a great time to do it, and it’s actually a great practice in gratitude, too. Think about all the things you’re grateful for. Some examples could be good health, your family, or a new job. And then, just think about those who lack that particular blessing. Counterpoint examples could be those suffering poor health or mental illness, children of all ages in the foster care system, and those struggling with unemployment. None of these seem particularly controversial on the surface, but dig a little deeper and our society often has contempt for these groups: I can’t afford insurance that would cover mental health services for my (otherwise healthy!!!) daughter with ASD. Funding is being cut for Health and Human Services, the government agency responsible for the Administration of Children and Families, Head Start programs, and TANF (all which benefit foster children and children in at-risk situations). The stigma against unemployed people has been documented in a controlled study by UCLA. None of these are actions of love, but actions of contempt.
I get it, not everyone is going to be a social justice warrior. Some just don’t have the time or inclination, but that doesn’t make them bad people. There are lots of legitimate reasons a person may not be active in implementing change: raising a family, starting a business, caring for a sick loved one, struggling to make ends meet themselves. But even little actions make a difference. What if everyone made just one (more) phone call to their representatives about an issue that they heard on the news? What if everyone donated just $10 (more) to a charity of their choice? What if everyone bought one less thing made of plastic, or one more thing from a female entrepreneur? I don’t know what would happen, but I bet it would be good. So today I’m challenging you to do a little more to make a difference. I know it’s hard, with everyone and everything asking “more” of us, but like I said, the steps can be little to start. I’d love to hear what little steps you’re taking to make the world a better place, perhaps you might inspire someone else to do the same thing. Above all else today, let us not have contempt for other’s misfortune, for they are not inferior to us. Let us not be too at ease, for then we ourselves are at risk of the greater misfortune of God’s displeasure. We have the chance to be agents of God’s love for all mankind – let’s take it.