Job 18 – Gaslighting with Bildad

“The lamp of a wicked man is snuffed out;
    the flame of his fire stops burning.
The light in his tent becomes dark;
    the lamp beside him goes out.
(Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Sometimes, wicked men do prosper

Bildad fully shows his willful ignorance here.  We all know that the “bad guy” doesn’t always get his comeuppance, that very often the wicked do prosper while the good and innocent do fail.  I don’t know why this is, but it is undeniably a part of life today, and I’m sure there were examples of this back in Job and Bildad’s time as well.

To wrestle with why God allows wicked men to prosper is going to take more than one blog post.  I have no clear answer and it is one of the biggest challenges I face in remaining faithful.  In my post on Destiny vs. Free Will, I shared my thoughts on God creating a framework within which we can make our own choices. It’s like children being contained on a playground or an artist painting wet-into-wet in watercolor:  there’s a basic structure within which all actions are contained, but what exactly is going to happen is spontaneous.  Perhaps, then, the wicked prospering is like the bully on the playground, or making a bold brush-stroke that bleeds into a more delicate element of the painting.  Neither of these are perfect examples because it implies God isn’t looking or God makes mistakes, and I, personally, don’t believe that can be true if God does exist.  Like I said, this is something that challenges me.

Don’t be a Bildad

What I do know, however, is that Bildad’s response is about as useless as can be.  He meets Job’s hurt with anger, then offers empty platitudes and turn a blind eye to the realities in the world. Basically, Bildad is gaslighting Job. (Gaslighting is when you pyschologically manipulate someone into questioning their own sanity.  There are some subtle and many appalling examples if you do an online search.)

Don’t be a Bildad.  It can be hard not to get defensive, but if you are in a situation where someone becomes angry about something you feel doesn’t apply to you (institutional racism or sexism, xenophobia, bullying…) please resist the urge to deny or to argue.  Just because you don’t do something doesn’t mean it never happens.  Recognizing someone’s hurt is the first step in healing.  It can be humbling, and even awkward, to listen to someone enumerate the ways in which they have been wronged and realize that maybe you were actually part of the problem.  But even if you truly weren’t, you may learn something you didn’t know before, and be able to spot – and stop – gaslighting the next time it happens near you (or to you!).

Bildad doesn’t know the big picture, and is speaking out of arrogance and ignorance.  If he did, I bet he would be a lot more consoling to Job.  And truly, isn’t it best to err on the side of love?  Even if Job was in the wrong, I don’t think God would have held it against Bildad for trying to offer him comfort. I know that’s something I could do a better job of remembering in my own daily interactions.  Sadly, I expect that as the election season (and vitriolic rhetoric) ramps up alongside the spread of the corona pandemic, we will see more examples of biases coming out: more discrimination against anyone who looks even vaguely Chinese, wariness of foreigners in general, and possible old racial stereotypes of non-whites being “dirty” and, in certain minds, more likely to spread infection.  BIPOC, or anyone that looks like they belong to those groups, are going to be facing a lot in the coming months.  If somebody comes to you with a story of discrimination, please believe them.  Do not turn a blind eye to the injustices of the world, as Bildad does.  To listen is to err on the side of love, and we’ll need a lot of that this year.

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Job 17 – Sarcasm, or Righteous Anger?

“God has made me a byword to everyone,
    a man in whose face people spit.
My eyes have grown dim with grief;
    my whole frame is but a shadow.
The upright are appalled at this;
    the innocent are aroused against the ungodly.
Nevertheless, the righteous will hold to their ways,
    and those with clean hands will grow stronger.
(Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Guess what – someone has made a play out of Job, accurately titled….The Book of Job.  This is probably only exciting to Bible and literature nerds like me.  But over and over again I have thought how much this play reminds me of early English morality plays. (Remember reading Everyman in high school?  That’s a morality play.  Like I said, total nerd over here.)  Perhaps it’s truly the other way around, with morality plays being modeled after stories like Job…which may have been influenced by (or have influenced) Greek choral plays…but I won’t go down that rabbit-hole.

The reason I bring it up is because I think that so much more could be gained from Job if it was spoken.  It’s whole meaning might change based on how the actor chose to portray a certain section – such as this section here.  The general consensus is that Job is getting more and more sarcastic: he asks God for a pledge, knowing that it will not be forthcoming.  Then Job blatantly mocks his friends, telling them their minds are closed to understanding” and quoting a retorting parable back at them, in answer to all of theirs from earlier.  This section, vv. 6-9, is supposedly uttered with dripping sarcasm, and then Job goes on to get all morbid and talk about how the grave is his only hope.

I think this is a very accurate understanding of it, but part of me can’t help but wonder – again because Job is such a self-conscious piece of writing – if Job is actually getting more emboldened. From a dramatic standpoint, this could make sense.  We, the reader/audience, know Job is righteous, thus he is reacting in a way we would want him to.  Perhaps his friends false comfort and piety has had an unintended “reverse psychology” effect on Job, rousing in him a sense of purpose he didn’t have before.  Maybe, if his friends hadn’t come along, he would have cursed God and died, as his wife suggested he do way back in chapter two.  Instead of wallowing in agony and self-pity, Job feels driven to proclaim his innocence.  In that light, perhaps he isn’t asking God for a pledge with a tone of sarcasm, but truly asking (maybe even demanding) that pledge.  Demanding something of God seems impudent, to say the least, but it has been made clear the Job is, in God’s own words (twice!), “blameless and upright.”  So if anyone could demand something of God, it would be Job.  And then perhaps vv. 6-9 are not spoken in sarcasm, but yelled out in defiance at his friends, because they are actually true.  He gets worked up even further, challenging them in v. 10, “But come on, all of you, try again! I will not find a wise man among you!”  Perhaps the only sarcastic part of this speech is the last part, where Job talks about his only hope being the grave.  His is a righteous anger now, and he knows that God will bring him justice.

Perhaps. Or perhaps not.  It would be interesting to see the two versions – a sarcastic vs. a righteously angry Job – and see how the play, or indeed the whole story, of Job would change.  Just a thought.

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Job 16 – Do Not Cover My Blood

“Earth, do not cover my blood;
    may my cry never be laid to rest!
19 Even now my witness is in heaven;
    my advocate is on high.
(Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Just like Job’s friends, collectively we have made miserable comforters.  Job says “God has turned me over to evil men and thrown me to the clutches of the wicked.”  He points out the visceral signs of his unjust punishment: “my face is red with weeping, deep shadows ring my eyes, yet my hands have been free of violence, and my prayer pure.”  Even so, his friends stand idly by, offering false piety and thinly veiled scorn instead of truly loving help.  Couldn’t Job’s words be used to condemn us, in the broadest sense of the word, in our apathy towards our fellow man?

I’ve been paying more attention to the news as the corona virus continues to spread, and as I learn to use Twitter better (it’s not my favorite social media but I feel it necessary for the blog…Instagram is my natural habitat).  This renewed awareness reminded me of all the unanswered cries that are still being called out, and I’m ashamed of how little I’ve cared to know.

The rapid spread of the corona virus is a big deal, I’m not trying to make light of it.  But please, do not panic, and do not put your compassion on hold.  A few stats from Johns Hopkins to put things in perspective: As of February 26, 2020, there have been 81,322 cases reported world-wide, with 2,770 deaths (none of which have yet occurred in the US).  The flu, on the other hand, a virus mutation we see pop up every year that hasn’t caused global panic since World War I, has an estimated one billion cases worldwide per year, with up to 646,000 deaths annually, worldwide.  They are sobering statistics, and I truly debated sharing them because it may do more to fan the flames of fear than to calm them.  My hope is that it will remind you, my reader, that we function in a world full of contractible, deadly viruses already.  It is a fact of life that demands more compassion from us, not less-just make sure to wash your hands.

Don’t let the corona virus blind you to the ongoing injustices in the world. A quick run-down of the stories I’ve been following.  And again, there are a lot more that we could get into, but this is what I’ve been able to read about in between the hustle and bustle of daily life with two kids and a farm:

  1. The latest humanitarian crisis in Syria – there is a lot of biased information out there.  Just a simple search on the subject returns not only articles from the BBC, which I generally trust, but also front-page hits from Russian outfits like Sputnik and RT, which I don’t trust as much.  Given our own president’s lukewarm (at best) interest in Syria, it’s not a topic that gets the attention appropriate to the magnitude of the crisis.  As best as I can gather, almost one million people have been recently displaced by fighting in the northern province of Idlib.  It is winter, and people are having to spend nights in below-freezing temperatures without food or shelter.  Children are dying from cold, others are so traumatized they’ve stopped speaking.  Pregnant mothers are under enough stress to cause premature births and miscarriages.
  2. The ongoing border crisis, especially as it pertains to children – Technically, the Trump administration ended its policy of separating families at the border in June 2018.  But over 1,000 families have still been separated since that time, including the heartbreaking case of the parents who were deported, after being promised as part of their deportation deal to be reunited with their four-month-old son, without him.
  3. Wet’suwet’en blockades in Canada – In short, the Wet’suwet’en have been protesting Canada and oil companies seizing unceded lands for pipeline projects.  Part of this protest has taken the form of rail blockades, which are seriously impacting the economic realities of Canada.  It is hard to get truly impartial news on this issue, as well.  It’s receiving very little main-stream media coverage from outside Canada and most Canadian news sources are skewed to favor the Canadian government and Canadian business interests.  I support the Wet’suwet’en people’s right to defend their territory because it is the sovereign right of any country or people to do so when threatened with invasion.  I further support it because they are doing important ecological work in protecting fragile ecosystems from the damages that come with pipelines, including leaks and spills, groundwater contamination, and habitat disturbance.  The IG account of @smogelgem provides a real-time account of what is actually happening, with opportunities to support the protesters whether you live near or far.

We all get compassion fatigue.  We all need to take care of ourselves – you can’t pour from an empty cup, etc etc.  But we can also all try better.  Do a little more.  Especially at a time when the world is facing a global pandemic.  You see, I’m worried that this corona outbreak is going to make people become insular, less willing to reach out and help those in need and more likely to protect their own interests.  This is not the time to be callous.

I try very hard not to ask you to do more than I do, so let me list for you the mini-activisms I did while writing this blogpost.  Actually, before I do, I want to remind you that I do not list this stuff to brag.  I just want to show that you really can do it, too, even if I have to guilt you into it.  I currently have a cold, as does my oldest.  I’m trying to stay on top of laundry and make dinner every night and get insurance for our new commercial kitchen and deal with the leak in my freezer trailer, but I still made time to make a little effort.  If I can do this, then so can you:

I made a small donation to the White Helmets, a boots-on-the-ground organization in Syria dedicated to helping innocent civilians.  I also called my representatives, saying that I think more needs to be done to support Syrian civilians and the work of the White Helmets.  I did my research, and read the stories coming not only out of Syria but from the border, and from Canada. More than anything, I’m talking about it.  Again, I say this not to brag, but to show you what a hassled mom with limited bandwidth can manage.  I may not be able to be out there marching in protests, pulling people from bombed rubble, or providing pro-bono legal council, but I can support those who are.  So now I ask you, can you make a small donation to the White Helmets (the IRC is another good one)? Can you share a #wetsuwetenstrong post on Instagram? Can you call your representatives and tell them that children being held in detention centers at the border is unacceptable?  Together, we can do our part to make sure the cries of the downtrodden are never laid to rest, but answered.

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