Sunday, March 03, 2013


One of my favourite books of the bible is Job. In part because I'm an awkward person and most people see it as challenging and I like to be different. That, however is not the only reason. It is indeed challenging but that is part of its richness.

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: 
  1. ‘They’ are lazy and just don’t want to work
  2. ‘They’ are addicted to drink and drugs
  3. ‘They’ are not really poor - they just don’t manage their money properly
  4. ‘They’ are on the fiddle
  5. ‘They’ have an easy life on benefits
  6. ‘They’ caused the deficit
If you don't believe these are 'common' then they give the survey results of what the British public think. All of these are pervasive received wisdom. And as the report shows; all of them are false. As they put it:
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'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.

Job-lessness is the real problem for our society.



dimwoo said...

Hi, good read, thank you. I had not seen that aspect of Job before - that it challenges the belief that suffering and ill-fortune are not a result of 'karma', and that this increases our responsibilities to each other.
Valuable insight!

Anonymous said...

As Spurgeon said :"God is too good to be unkind and he is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace his hand, we must trust his heart." - which I think nicely summaries the book of Job.

As for Jobs 'friends'- I was once taught there are four things to learn from their mistakes:
First, where Eliphas, Bildad & Zophar say their pieces before even listening to Job, we should always listen and gain understanding before we try to offer advice.
Secondly, we cannot always answer the big questions, but we can answer small ones practically.
Thirdly, Job's friends spend an awful lot of time talking about God, but not to him. Which leads to the finally lesson, we must go through life knowing only God grants real wisdom. And like his wisdom of the Gospel, it is capable of doing far more than we could ever conceive worldly wisdom doing.

If only we actively sought to live out those lessons, joblessness would be far less of a problem...