Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Rerun: Job and Me

It's been a very busy week for me, and next week will only get busier. So time for some reruns. This week, we're keeping to a spiritual theme. This particular blast from the past represents the third or fourth piece I wrote, a month or two after finally coming to terms with my illness in 1999. 

Perhaps now is a good time for a little Norse mythology. I'm a bit rusty on my gods, so if I mistake Thor for Odin or accidentally stick in a Greek deity I hope you'll bear with me.

It seems that Thor and two of his god buddies ventured into the land of the Frost Giants, and were challenged to place wagers. I forget what one of the wagers was, but Thor, I think, bet he could drain a beer mug, and Odin that he could pin an old hag in a wrestling match. All three wagers, in fact, turned out to be sucker's bets.

The beer mug was attached to the ocean, and the veins on Thor's forehead bulged purple trying to make headway. (Remember, they were in the land of the Frost Giants. It is just possible that their ocean could be confused with a Canadian ice house brew, though you would think a Norse god would be able to tell the difference.) At last, Thor was obliged to put down his mug in defeat, but he could take some small measure of satisfaction in surveying his handiwork on the way home (those fiords in Norway, I believe).

Odin, too, could take comfort in losing his wrestling match, for it wasn't an old hag he had been fighting, but a shadowy form that represented age itself. He had fought hard against something no one, not even a mighty god amongst gods, could defeat, and he had fought well.

Now we turn to another wrestling match from the annals of mythology, this time Jewish mythology, or Jewish fact, depending on belief. We are talking of Jacob wrestling with an angel, only the Bible doesn't mention angel. Jacob assumes he is wrestling in the dark with a man, but when morning dawns, none other than the Lord of Hosts makes his appearance and changes Jacob's name to Israel.

There, in one name, is the piece to the puzzle, for Israel means "wrestles with God." Jacob - Israel - had wrestled with God. No one, of course, wins against God, but, apparently there is no shame in trying. No, this isn't about God, but the Lord of Hosts does turn up in another book of the Bible, this time the Book of Job, and here God does something far more typical of the gods of Norse mythology: He makes a wager. A wager with Satan, no less.

But Satan is not your standard devil figure. Not in this version. No, Satan is more like a trickster god, a member of the heavenly court who stirs up discord and shakes up the status quo. In short, another Norse god - Loki.

So Loki - er, Satan - lures God into making a wager. God places his bet on a righteous man called Job. He bets Satan that Job will not curse him, no matter what ill-fortune Satan - with God's permission - may throw his way. And God, with no more regard for Job's welfare than a gambler would have for a fighting cock, gives Satan the go-ahead.

And so Satan takes from Job everything he has - wealth, property, health - until he is reduced to a mere shell of his former self. Still Job does not curse God. Four Doctor Laura types happen by and accuse him of being responsible for his own misfortune, but still Job does not curse God.

And that's how it eventually ends, with the righteous Job restored to his good fortune, Satan the apparent loser, and God registering his clear disapproval of Doctor Laura.

Nevertheless, I maintain that had Job known about the wager God had made - how an apparently thoughtless Lord of Hosts had treated poor Job as nothing more than the object of a bet - God's ears would still be ringing today.

And this brings me to the point I am about to make: You see, when I was in the throes of my most recent depression, I was convinced that God had abandoned me - had left me to the mercies of Satan and his devilish whims - but, unlike the righteous Job, I cursed my fool head off. I had been wrestling in earnest with this depression since God knows when, and the thing had finally gotten to me. My brain had gone crash. Big time. The event was larger than myself. I finally decided to throw in the towel.

In other words, I finally sought help.

There was no loss of honor, I finally decided, in not winning. Just the opposite, in fact. I had been reduced to nothing by a force I could barely comprehend, let alone grapple with. I felt I had wrestled God. There is no shame in losing to God.

Someday, perhaps, I will come to terms with this God I had unknowingly fought against, but who refused to make himself known, even as he brain-slammed me to the mat and took away all but one inch of life in me. Yes, I cursed the hell out of God, and said all the things to God that Job by rights had been entitled to say to God.

Still, I know God will not hold this against me. Quite the contrary, deep in my heart I know that God expects a good fight from us, just like the one Jacob-Israel gave him, just like the trials Job endured, and that the cursing and all the rest is part of what goes into giving God everything you've got.

Yes, God, I gave you one hell of a good fight, and for that I can salvage some small measure of pride. But I would have been a whole lot smarter had I cried uncle much much sooner.

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