A Hero For Hard Times
Miriam Hogan, O.C.D.
Recently, we seem to hear a lot about the notion of hero as it is used to describe various persons and their actions in different circumstances. Sometimes the term is well deserved and at other times it seems to be misapplied or convey the values of the moment.1 One principle that we can generally agree upon, is that a real hero is someone special that we can look up to. The Book of Job2 is written to tell the story of an adult hero from God’s perspective and it challenges us to think about the values that we hold dear in ourselves or in those we love and admire. In this paper, I will briefly consider some of the themes that seem especially relevant in the context of our present economic crisis.
Just to begin, the fascinating story of Job in the Old Testament invites us to think about our ways of dealing with loss and evil in our own life stories. Perhaps best of all it encourages us to live in the presence of God no matter what is happening to us individually or as a member of society.
The Lord Has Taken Away
To give a brief overview of the first chapter, we have the character of Job a God fearing, blameless and upright person being put to the test by Satan (Life). Through no fault of his own, he rapidly suffers the loss of his sons and daughters, his business, his workers and his various possessions. Yet, he responds, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1,21)
In the second chapter we have Job enduring the ultimate test of serious health problems and no health insurance. Or, as the devil puts it, “Skin for Skin!”(Job 2:4) Even Job’s wife chimes in, “Curse God and die.”(Job 2:9) Yet Job responds, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10)
Hemmed In By Darkness
When one would think that Job’s situation could not possibly get worse, his friends appear to comfort him. We have all experienced someone telling us that “it’s all your fault / if only you had done this / God must be doing this for a reason etc. etc." Such friends who are usually well off at the time manage to add insult to injury. Scripture sums it up: “In the thought of one who is at ease there is contempt for misfortune.” (Job 12:5)
The following 34 chapters are devoted to various theological and philosophical questions and arguments concerning the cause and value of human suffering. There are no clear answers and in contrast to the speculation that is put forth, Job clearly explains that he personally feels hemmed in by darkness and that he wishes that he had never been born. In a marvelous quote that could be included in a modern existentialist handbook, Job speaks to his false friends about God. “Behold, he will slay me; I have no hope; yet I will defend my ways to his face.”(Job 13:15)
We, Like Job, Can Ask Why
Jobs comments are finally too much for Elihu the youngest friend. He can no longer contain himself and in chapters 32-37 (like a long-winded lawyer) he argues that Job is suffering because he has rebelled against God. Because God is just, God must be punishing Job. It simply can’t be that Job is righteous and has done nothing wrong.
Returning to the present economic crisis, we like Job can ask Why? What is happening that so many good people are enduring such difficult circumstances and sometimes unjust suffering. When I was young, I pondered my grandmother’s saying that when one of the brothers who were farming had a bad year the others could work together and help him out, but in the really bad times everyone was having a bad year and there was no one to help. Yet, grandmother kept the faith and passed it on to her children and grandchildren. God was always in the picture. Now as I meditate on the story of Job, I am drawn to the same conclusion, God is always in the picture and at the heart of our lives.
A Personal Relationship With God
Prayer can take on different forms at various times. Job’s heroism is that he maintains a direct personal relationship with God no matter what the outside circumstances of his life or the accusatory comments of his friends. He does question whether God has abandoned him much like Christ who prays on the Cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46, Mk 15:34 – Ps 22:1)
Finally, God answers Job out of the whirlwind with a question, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?”3 (Job 42:4) Job’s response is for once simple and contemplative. “I have uttered what I did not understand (Job 42:3 …I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee;” (Job 42:5)
In the final chapter, God affirms Job’s integrity and what he has spoken, he restores and multiplies his wealth and even accepts his prayer for his friends.
Being A Hero In God's Eyes
As for being a hero in God’s eyes, I believe that there are good people among us today that we can and should look up to and respect. Their goodness is not tied to money, education, politics or social status. Perhaps in the end, the hard times are enabling us to develop a deeper understanding of both who God is and who we are, may our prayers be united with the prayers of these adult heros.
Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless his holy name! Ps 103:1
1To Give an example of the first kind of hero Capt. Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger the pilot who landed a plane on the Hudson river, comes to mind as a person who did his job extraordinary well and in so doing saved the lives of others. It may be more difficult and controversial to give concrete examples of where the term is being misused. Yet, to mention one example, just joining the military or the police does not make one a hero as is sometimes advertised.
2Here I would agree with the biblical scholars who believe that Job was probably not an historical person but that his story belongs to the tradition of sacred myth that helps us to grow in the knowledge of truth and God.
3What follows is of course not an answer in the usual sense but a beautiful poetic piece that reminds the reader of God’s power and majesty and of the limitations of human nature.
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