Job was a man who was very blessed. God then allowed him to lose everything, including his children. But Job refused to curse God. Job was then afflicted with the most appalling body sores such that his friends on seeing him were speechless - for a week. And still he did not curse God.
For the majority of the book we have the conversations between Job and his three friends, before in the end Job is healed and restored. Throughout these conversations we are hit with a big theological problem; how can such a horrible thing happen to a good man? I don't intend to answer that question here, except to say that part of the message of Job is that bad things do happen to good people. And sometimes really bad things happen to really good people.
The problem for Job's friends is they cannot conceive this. They recoil at the implied injustice of it. Also, however, I think their problem is more deep-rooted than that. Firstly it confers on them a responsibility, if Job is not to blame for his inflictions - if the ups and downs of life are not determined by what we deserve then surely our responsibility to each other is so much greater. Secondly they fear for themselves - they sense they are secure in their wealth and health because they are good people and hence have control of that. Job's stubborn denial that his afflictions are his fault mean that this foundation of their self-belief and self-worth is eroding beneath them.
In the UK today, we have a significant problem of poverty. More worrying to me is the attitude to said poverty, like Job's friends we desperately need to believe that the poor deserve to be poor. I came across an excellent report today: The Lies We Tell Ourselves: Ending Comfortable Myths About Poverty. A report from the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the Church of Scotland and the United Reformed Church. I would encourage everyone to read the executive summary, if not the entire report - it's not very long.
The authors take six of the common myths about poverty in the UK:
- ‘They’ are lazy and just don’t want to work
- ‘They’ are addicted to drink and drugs
- ‘They’ are not really poor - they just don’t manage their money properly
- ‘They’ are on the fiddle
- ‘They’ have an easy life on benefits
- ‘They’ caused the deficit
Job's friends were wrong. And so are we. The poor are not to blame for their poverty, the factors are far more complex than that. Our responsibility to each other means seeking justice. Enacting policies that are both just and effective will only be possible when we face up to the reality and stop scape-goating the victims.The myths exposed in this report, reinforced by politicians and the media, are convenient because they allow the poor to be blamed for their poverty, and the rest of society to avoid taking any of the responsibility.
Job-lessness is the real problem for our society.