The Spirituality of Comfort and the Nature of Suffering

An Irreligious view of the story of Job, written from the bottom of suffering.


In my last post, I ended up paraphrasing the entire book of Job. This was not my intention, but I was really enjoying myself. Really, I had wanted to breakdown the story in my own life, so I suppose we’ll do that now.

My suffering is really pouring on at the moment. This I must admit: Before we can recover from one broadside, another happens, and leaves us spinning. We ran out of options long ago, and we began asking for others to intercede on our behalf. Now, despite my wife’s Tibetan Buddhism and my Zen Buddhist Atheism, we were both raised in the Protestant Church. As we were asking others to pick up their hotline to the Almighty for the benefits of ourselves and others, we did not think that there would be an issue.

Yet, issues have arisen anyway. “I’ll pray. Is *so-and-so* a Christian?”

Really? Why should that matter? Will you pray less hard on their behalf? Does the effort to pray for a person not of your religion cause you to lose some clout with your God? Do they have to be Christian for it to work, or will it count that a lot of good Christian people will already be praying for the same? Am I being asked to look in their heart to identify the nature of their belief? What difference does it make, when someone is hurting?

The other is, “You just need to come back to Jesus,” implying, just like Yôb’s good friends, that all suffering is caused by us straying from a master plan, like an electric fence keeping in stay cattle. Really? So my disbelief has lead to God releasing the Old Adversary on us?

You, obviously, do not know how this works.

Yôb was a good and upright man. Well-respected and beloved, he cared for orphans and widows. Everyday, he worshiped his God, and told the polytheists around him about his Monotheistic Deity and how much better he was than everyone else’s God. This self-assurance drew Pride from his Creator, but also the jealous attention of The Devil. Perhaps it started out on the idea that God could have the Pride that Lucifer was destroyed for, or perhaps it was born of wanting to hurt God through his favorite toy. Either way, Satan makes a bet with God that, if they took everything from Yôb, the little guy would hate Him.

…. and the big Goof fell for it, so great was his pride. God shakes on it, and the Devil begins to destroy everything around Yôb… but, you see, it wasn’t just the Old Adversary doing the crushing. Job 1:16 tells of that God, himself, started raining death on Yôb. Yet, despite his grief, Yôb stayed true to his beliefs. Point to God!

“Of course he’s still on your side,” whines Satan, the sore loser. “He’s still healthy. Let’s up the stakes.” The prideful God, flush from his first win, agrees to the next bet. So, the Prince of the Power of the Air starts to lay the sickness down on Yôb. He is cursed with sores so severe, all he can do is scrape them open with a pottery shard and rub ashes into them. Still, Yôb stays true to his beliefs. It’s another win for God!

Then, Yôb’s well-meaning friends show up.

These are really good friends. They see how Yôb is suffering and sit with his leprous self, silently, for seven days, just being there for him. Somewhere, while watching their friend scrape his sores and moaning, they try to think of a way to help him, but this becomes based in a comparison study of themselves. In a convoluted form of pride, they begin to compare their own obviously more successful lives with Yôb’s, and they came up with some constructive criticisms.

After a particularly long lament at even being born, Eliphaz the Temanite sees his way to present his advice. “It’s all your fault. You should change your course.” He comes to this determination after sensing the Old Adversary in a dream and hearing him say, “Is mere man more just than God? More pure than his Creator?’” (Job 4:17)

Hold on a moment. From what I hear, the Devil sounds impressed. Keep in mind that Satan is supposed to be the Prince of the Power of the Air, and this was his demotion after pridefully challenging God. This is a Being who had lived in God’s presence and remained unimpressed, but he would know his comparisons well as he had spent a Millennium comparing himself to God and still finding himself an equal.

“Any ol’ Soul is worth saving, at least to a Priest, but not every Soul is worth buying. So you can take the offer as a compliment.” William S. Burroughs, ‘Words of Advice for Young People’

Being the actual words of Satan, though, they are blasphemy, and have the effect of sending Yôb’s wise and learned friends into a tizzy. They probably got together and discussed the meaning of Eliphaz’s dream, and they came to the determination that God had removed his protection from Yôb because of unconfessed sin. They rail at the dying man’s bitter words, and drive him, with Reason, to begin to question God’s unfairness.

Eliphaz was an Edomite, renowned in the Babylonian Empire as great scholars, so he takes the lead, informing Yôb what the scriptures say about his suffering, colored by a dream of the Devil. He has a convincing argument, couched in the reputations of the premier Elders, that this is Yôb’s fault.

This becomes their sin… one of the presumption to know the Mind of God. Their argument steers this man, tested by God, from God’s intended course. Until this point, Yôb had stayed true to his beliefs, which is all God had intended with his bet with the Devil. With the insistence of his scholarly friends  and their knowledge of the Holy Books, they lead Yôb into questioning the ‘why’ of it all, and to demand a chance to hold God to account for this affliction.

This is why the Church, or most any religious institution, dislike when someone asks, “Why?” For, you see, when God shows up, right on the heals of Elihu, son of Barachel, the Buzite, of the clan of Ram, (which may imply that he becomes a forerunner of King David) taking the Scholars to task for their presumption (“God is so great that we cannot begin to know him. No one can begin to understand eternity.” -Job 36: 26), he places Yôb in charge of their redemption. God apparently did not mind ‘Why?’ as much as presuming to tell people what God doesn’t like.

This has been a personal issue I have had with the religious people I still have dealings with: they will use times of grief and misery to promote their personal agendas. Everyone reviled the late Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, but he was hardly doing any different than nearly every other minister on the planet, he just did it in a more tawdry manner.

Every funeral and every Christian counselor I have had the opportunity to listen to does the same thing, telling people that, when things go wrong, they need to ‘get right with God’ as if we don’t have the example of Yôb to show that God will visit ruin on even his favorite, and for no reason you can fathom (or that he’d care to admit in public. It was, after all, a game he was playing with Satan.)

God isn’t an Instant Karma machine. “If you sin, does that shake the heavens and knock God from his throne? Even if you sin again and again, what effect will it have upon him? Or if you are good, is this some great gift to him? Your sins may hurt another man, or your good deeds may profit him. The oppressed may shriek beneath their wrongs and groan beneath the power of the rich; yet none of them cry to God, asking, ‘Where is God my Maker who gives songs in the night and makes us a little wiser than the animals and birds?’ (Job 35: 6-11, Living Bible)

Elihu, then, highlights the division between Religion and Science as he outlines reason that the Domain of Heavenly Power and Reason will always be at odds. Everything he claims as proof of God can now be explained at your local news room, in front of a green screen. There, apparently, is a fine line between ‘how’ and ‘why.’

God, realizing that his champion in the room was being lead down the same path to ‘Why?,’ shows up in a whirlwind. This Entity seems almost juvenile in form and nature. He starts off by shrugging and saying, “I kill a lot of people. So what?” He then points out the agricultural benefits of living near a volcanic zone and takes credit for teaching Domestication. He also points out that he made this place, and that running it is a big job.

Yôb had leveled some pretty harsh accusations against the Almighty. He had initially stayed the course of his beliefs until his religious friends came over to “comfort” him by trying to drive him to repent. Instead, it drove a Righteous Man to admit that, per the rules of God, he was being punished and asking God to tell him why.

God didn’t want to say, because we see that, for him, it was all a game, and he is ticked that the game had been revealed. He cows Yôb with a challenge of explaining Biology and Meteorology. “Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? Or will you yield? Do you—God’s critic—have the answers?” (Job 40: 1-2) He reminds Yôb that he is a very powerful War God as well.

He then viciously turns on the religious scholars who had forced him to call his bluff. The Lord threatens them with Yôb’s affliction in the punishment for presuming to know why God does things, making him look bad in the process, and places Yôb as the judge of a Holy BBQ competition in his honor. It would be up to Yôb, and Yôb alone, who would escape destruction.

Yôb had warned them that they would face the punishment of their false comfort. “How long are you going to trouble me, and try to break me with your words? Ten times now you have declared I am a sinner. Why aren’t you ashamed to deal with me so harshly? And if indeed I was wrong, you have yet to prove it. You think yourselves so great? Then prove my guilt!“How dare you go on persecuting me, as though I were proven guilty? I warn you, you yourselves are in danger of punishment for your attitude.” (Job 19: 1-5 … 28-29) He even tried to give them the benefit of the doubt, that it could look like the constant calamity he had faced had been some sort of punishment for sin, that he, himself, might have judged it the same if it wasn’t happening to him, but that the nature of his soul was not the concern. The place for those around us in our greatest trials is one of comfort, not judgement.

The issue has been raised that perhaps our personal time of calamity is born of our disbelief in the Christian Jehovah. I suppose it could appear as hubris to say that, if Jehovah appeared right now, I am pretty certain I can name the basic life cycles of the animals he asks about, and, as a farmer, I have a pretty good grasp of the weather, especially wind and rain. These are the questions God has presented to be able to question him, the knowledge of how the world works is all that is necessary to get God to answer for his fairness.

When it happens, when Science reveals how our reality works, we can ask God why he made our lives so brutish and short, and holds everyone to a moral code that he’ll probably punish you for following anyway.

Why should my irreligiousness have any impact on God to draw his wrath? Nothing I can do will matter to him in the slightest. (Job 35: 6-11) As Yôb lists off, the rules for God are pretty much: “Don’t be a pervert and don’t be a rich bastard that uses their money to lord over people. Help people out and be a good person.” (Job 31, paraphrased)

These were the accusations that Yôb’s friends we leveling against a friend that just needed a friend. The man had lost everything and been left grovelling in the dust, and his friends we’re screaming at him that he was a closet pervert while everyone laughed.

Since Yôb was blameless, the Lord rewarded him with the fate of the friends who had mocked him and told him that he was stupid. A final test, focusing on the pinnacle of Generosity, being able to destroy those that hurt you and whether or not you’d go through with it.

Yôb shows that he’s the better man, and spares his friends, which removes the curse and his success becomes all the greater, and, having survived utter and complete destruction, everyone had to agree that, sometimes, God does horrible things to good people, too.

I get a little tired of it being pointed out that my ‘backsliding’ has brought these calamities on our heads. I challenge that with the words of Paul, Romans 9:14-20:

Was God being unfair? Of course not. For God had said to Moses, “If I want to be kind to someone, I will. And I will take pity on anyone I want to.” And so God’s blessings are not given just because someone decides to have them or works hard to get them. They are given because God takes pity on those he wants to.”

“Pharaoh, king of Egypt, was an example of this fact. For God told him he had given him the kingdom of Egypt for the very purpose of displaying the awesome power of God against him, so that all the world would hear about God’s glorious name. So you see, God is kind to some just because he wants to be, and he makes some refuse to listen. Well then, why does God blame them for not listening? Haven’t they done what he made them do?”

No, don’t say that. Who are you to criticize God? Should the thing made say to the one who made it, “Why have you made me like this?”” (End quotation)

I don’t have to answer for my ‘Why?’ anymore than Yôb did. Should I rail at God, “Oh God, why do you prove your divinity with easily forcastable weather phenomenon while good people pray to you for help and get no answer? Why did you harden my soft heart to the idea that the religions could give me the official list of who God hates? Why would I get angry with someone when, at my time of darkest need, they just angrily told me what I did wrong? Why did I have to realize that it was all so much bigger than this?”

According to Paul, I am doing God’s will with my questioning and my denial of random old Dogmas. Apparently, Atheists were created just to see if Christians know their sh**.

“Consider the impasse of a one God universe. He is all-knowing and all-powerful. He can’t go anywhere since He is already everywhere. He can’t do anything since the act of doing presupposes opposition. His universe is irrevocably thermodynamic having no friction by definition. So, He has to create friction: War, Fear, Sickness, Death…. To keep his dying show on the road.” – William S. Burroughs, ‘One God Universe’

According to the Bible, there is a place in God’s plan for the Mockers and the Sinners. We’re here to keep your reality lively… but be careful how you treat us. If one of us needed help, and you decided to judge us instead, God will hand your Judgement off to us.

“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ And I will answer, ‘When you refused to help the least of these my brothers, you were refusing help to me.’ And they shall go away into eternal punishment; but the righteous into everlasting life.” (Matthew 25: 44-45)

These are things I wish some people would consider, printed in black and white, in the Book they hit people over the head with.

Again, big thanks to and the indomitable William S. Burroughs.


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