Live or Tell

Thinking about Life’s Challenges

The primitive subconscious of human nature is evident in the story of Job, in the life of the Apostle Paul and his recounting of his trials and tribulations, and the fear displayed by the Jesus’ disciples in the stories about their boat being swamped in the storm. In our primitive being, we want to survive more than anything; that is, we want to live and be free of danger or disease. When faced with danger and disease fear becomes the human way of protecting our being. Humans deal with fear often in anger, in cautiousness, in pleading, in ignoring danger, and even in boasting.

            Some believe that fear and rejection is self-created. As one of the French existentialists of the twentieth century,Jean-Paul Sartre, believed, nothing exists but self. The existentialist philosopher wrote in one of his novels, “He was free, free in every way, free to behave like a fool or a machine, free to accept, free to refuse, free to equivocate; to marry, to give up the game, to drag this death weight about with him for years to come. He could do what he liked, no one had the right to advise him, there would be for him no Good or Evil unless he thought them into being.”

Is there no good or evil unless we think them into being? That notion seems to fly in the face of the story told in the Book of Job. Clearly good exists in the character of Job; nevertheless, there is no evil counterpart in the story;Satan is not evil.Satan’s character may be sly, devious, and cunning, but not evil.Satanis the heavenly accuser and prosecutor of humanity. This is only the second time in the Hebrew Bible God faces a challenger and when the challenger appears in bodily or even spiritual substance. The first time the challenger appears as a serpent. In the story of Job’s trials and tribulations, the challenger has a name and a character that speaks to God and is among the heavenly throng.

Did Job simply make up good and evil in his mind? Is good a reality or a self-delusion? Then can we ask the same question about evil or does he experience both? The story of Job brings to life the reality of human life. Therefore, If Satan is not evil in this story, who is good? God does not seem to be so good in the story but God is also not evil.

The story in the Book of Job (one of the Scriptural wisdom texts) is a baffling tale of utter distress and hopelessness. The main character, Job, subjected to terrible disasters, has lost family, fortune, and status; everything of importance and value in his life. All of this disaster is the result of a wager between a capricious God andSatan.Satanhas challenged God that this righteous man would not remain righteous in the face of the terrifying and humiliating life events. In other words, the story of Job not a story of good against evil but is a story of a three-way contest between God, Satan, and Job; it is a story of who holds the power of outcomes in human history. Ultimately, the outcome of the story is in Job’s reactions.

When Job is at the depths of depression, sitting on ashes covered in boils, his friends make everything worse by accusing Job of being the one responsible for the random circumstances that have changed his life. Job responds in anger, not at his so-called friends but instead he is angry with God for letting these things happen to him. Job, who is a good man, cannot understand why his goodness did protect him. He now lives in fear his friends are abandoning him and that God has abandoned him. In his anguish, he sees his loss now so complete there is no hope. Job rages at God and God reminds Job that he is in fact insignificant in the vastness of the universe. God wants to know how it is Job believes he alone can avoid the stresses of living. Should Job be the only one who does not suffer, who should not be patient, and should live without pain? God wants to know how he obtained this special status, what makes him special? Being a righteous man does not prevent the wrath of nature to change his life dramatically. God tells Job that he must to set his ego aside and just “get over it.” This is a hard lesson. Nevertheless, it is a lesson all must learn.

Anger is Job’s method of dealing with fear.

The Apostle Paul, on the other hand, seems to look for trouble. In fact, he seems to relish his problems.Paul often writes as if he is boasting about his travails, his punishments, and his incarcerations.Paulis fanatically committed to his mission and he is willing to do anything and everything to assure he completes it. While Job grumbles and rages at God,Paul glories in the dangers and the fearful events, he believes God has placed before him. Is Paul delusional in that he rejects the idea that these things can overpower him? Physically, yes, the challenges he confronts do end his life. However, he uses all those challenges as a pathway to holiness. In other words,Paul has chosen to live rather than dwelling in sorrow and despair.

The Gospel stories about the storm at sea are not about good and evil; they are about trust. The stories are about a storm on Lake Tiberias, called the Sea of Galilee in the Scriptures. The geography of the region makes Lake Tiberias unusually stormy. Winds from the west coming from the Mediterranean Sea roll down the Galilean Hills and then bump up against the escarpment on the east side of the lake known as the Golan Heights. As the winds buffet this massive escarpment, they become even more turbulent and storms arise suddenly over this body of water. Anyone who has been on a lake such as this one, when a storm arises, can relate to the disciples’ fears.

In Mark’s story,Jesus is in the boat with the disciples. In theMatthew’s story,Jesus reportedly walks on the stormy lake. In both tellings of the event,Jesus asks his friends “Why are you afraid?” Thus, the stories of the storms on the lake are about confronting unwarranted fear. My preference is forMark’s rendition. I like the image of Jesus being in our boats with us. We may believe thatJesus’ presence is of little importance until the storms of life arise; and, they will and do arise. If Jesus can be relaxed in times of peril, those who claim to be his followers can do and be likewise.

Here we are then. Philosophers think human beings simply exist and are free to accept or reject their environments and events of life. Subjected toSatan’s challenges, Job thinks his problem and fears are that he will lose his connection to the Divine.Paul believes fervently that nothing can separate him from Divine love; therefore, he is fearless. The disciples fear drowning at sea even though the power to overcome fear is in the boat with them. Of all those I have cited, philosophers, Job,Paul, and the disciples, the only one who is not a wimp is Paul.

Paul speaks openly, his heart is open, and he declares a Gospel of love based in the words, the life, and victory of Jesus. In that faith,Paul will not succumb to fear, isolation, incarceration, physical harm or degradation.

Paul believes in the strength of the community of believers. That is the basic difference between him and the others. In communal strength, the individual has the power to contend with the terrors of nature, the unfairness, and randomness of life. Job seems to think he is the center of the universe as human beings mostly do. Living in fear, the disciples are blind to the blessings right before them. When they as a group come to know that Jesus is their source of courage and need not to fear, the ministry they have been given flourishes.

Through the life of Jesus and the challenge of Paul’s words, humanity’s goal is to live, to live in the present, with the assurance there is nothing to fear, becomes paramount. However, humanity prefers to think that life is a play and, as Shakespeare proclaimed, “The world is a stage.” If we are only players in a drama and those who are alive are the drama, then God will treat us as he responded to Job. As he does with Job, God asks, “Who do you think you are? Quit your bellyaching.”

Who are you or what are you; are you a creature with the fearless joy of living, or are you one who moans, “Woe is me”? The Existentialists point of view is that life itself is the thing of value and as Jean-Paul Sartre writes, “This is what fools people: a man is always a teller of tales, he sees everything that happens to him through them; and he tries to live his own life as if he were telling a story. But you have to choose: live or tell.”

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