The story of Job is not literal; it's meant to inspire humanity not to give up when the hits keep on coming. Living in a virtual shit-storm? Keep smiling! But, uh, you might want to keep your mouth closed. God helps those who help themselves, right???
I never bought into the idea of an anthropomorphic God-figure who meddles in the puny lives of men. But I have to admit, I'm starting to wonder...and it's not because I'm witnessing miracles. No. I'm witnessing hell.
I'm a scientist at heart; I believe in the insights gleaned from physics more than theology. And it's because of that belief in definitive patterns in the natural world, and so, no coincidences--that I'm looking at things like the story of Job with fresh eyes. Sure, one of mine is now disfigured...and my 20/15 vision has been artificially diminished, but these are minor details in the face of my new discovery.
God. His gender is pretty much agreed upon by all of the world's major religions. In Christianity, the guy sends his only son to Earth to learn the human condition...which entails being hated for your differences, punished for your good deeds and ultimately, nailed to a freakin' cross you've been forced to carry to your own death site. Thanks, Dad.
In Judaism, you have Abraham--the first Jew--who believes in a single God despite the fact that no one else on the planet does, but that's not a big enough gesture of faith...not for God. So God asks Abraham to literally sacrifice the only son he had with his wife, Sarah. Can you imagine being Isaac's therapist? "My Dad tried to sacrifice me for his own goals...no literally, Doc. He tied me up like a lamb, brought me to a mountain top and held a knife to my throat. Mom totally went along with it, too. Thank goodness that Angel finally showed up...." No wonder why Isaac's kids, Jacob and Esau, were so dysfunctional...the gift that keeps on giving, right?
And let's not forget poor Moses. Moses is a Prince. I mean, the guy was royalty. But was he allowed to enjoy it? No. God comes to him in the form of a burning bush and tells him that he's not really a Prince of Egypt, but a slave. And hey, now that you know the truth, Moses, you get to bring pain and suffering to the people who raised you and loved you your whole life in the form of 13 torturous plagues. When you're done there, you get to wander the desert for 40 years with a bunch of ingrates...and just before you find the land of milk and honey, you're going to die. Because despite all the sacrifices that are being forced upon you, you slipped up--once--so I'm not letting you enjoy ANY of your success. Uh huh.
Mohammed had his share of trials, too. And Buddha. We all have. If you haven't had pain and suffering in your life, you're not human. Take a look at the world. We blow each other up. Torture each other. Imprison the innocent. Murder. Rape. Capital punishment is one of my favorites: "Killing is wrong. But we're going to kill you any way." Hypocritical much??? I guess we humans learned from the best.
My hell's pretty much like admission to a community college--on a rolling basis. I don't need to have any pre-requisites. No particular scores. I can just jump right in any time! Weeee.
Like any good rhetorician, I'm happy to anticipate the reader's refutations: My negative early life experiences aside, I was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor at age 20. At 26, I began having seizures that no medication could prevent. I lived with a minimum of 10 seizures a day, every day, for no less than five years...during which time, the seizures were in such excess as to negatively and irreparably affect my mobility--the part of my motor-cortext that controlled my left side was being electrocuted--every day, over and over again, for years. To make matters worse, the REASON why this was happening was finally revealed: A new malignant tumor had developed. This time, the treatment for the tumor permanently disabled the left side of my body. I cannot cross a street without use of major equipment...and just for perspective, I used to run cross-country in high school. My toe shoes from my days in ballet still hang in my closet. I could not only walk well, I could run--and for long distances. And I danced. On my toes, no less! But the treatment for the second tumor didn't stop there; it caused a domino-health effect, resulting in diabetes, Graves disease...and more cancer. By this point, I was only 30 years old.
Are you picking up what I'm putting down?
And that's only half of the story. There's more. Lots more. But I'm not a whiner. And you don't need to be beaten over the head with a my-life-sucks stick. What I've briefly mentioned here is sufficient enough.
Maybe you think I'm evil in some way, that I deserve it all. But I'm not. And I don't. I'm an award-winning teacher who has helped more than 3,000 students over the last 17-years. In my spare time, I started a nonprofit to benefit regional cancer patients pay for clinically-based costs not covered by health insurance. I volunteered to help advocate for victims of domestic violence. I trained to supervise parent-visits for abused children. I've helped raise money for children who are orphaned and waiting for adoption. Last weekend, I held an event for an organization that helps support disaster relief efforts around the world, providing shoes for people who lost their homes. I recycle. I'm a moral vegetarian--which means I don't eat meat because I don't believe it's right to sustain my life on the death of others...even if most humans consider the lives of animals, birds and fish unimportant. And I've been a moral-vegetarian for close to 18 years. Steak was a favorite food. And I hate vegetables. I help neighbors in need. I spoil my nephews. I'm a loyal friend. A loving wife. An active mother. I pay my taxes. But the hits just keep on coming. A lot like Job.
One after the other. Hell isn't a fiery pit with a prehensile-tailed red devil standing over you, prodding-pitch fork at the ready. It's here. Now. You feel the flames lick at your face as you get a taste of joy here and there...a loving husband, a healthy child. But like Moses, I get to wander the desert for 40 years knowing I'll never see the land of milk and honey. I'm asked to sacrifice my only son. My father sent me to the wolves so that I might bear that heavy burden to my own death-site. I was crucfied for being too good...at my job. And not only is my left leg disfigured from atrophy post-malignant brain tumor--something easily hidden by wearing pants--my face is now disfigured, too. Unless I plan on wearing a paper-bag over my head for the rest of my life, it's not exactly something one hides.
I sit here wondering what's coming next. Even my friends look at me with pity..."only the good die young," on the tips of their collective tongues. My life would be better today if I'd had the chance to acheive my initial professional goal: becoming a lawyer. I'd be soul-less, heart-less, and life-sucking. I would have justified it as "business," because legally stealing isn't possibly personal. After all, everyone has to earn money somehow or other. But on the inside, I would have enjoyed the fight. Enjoyed taking people down. Enjoyed winning, knowing that on the other side, the losers were suffering...and badly.
Wasn't that the lesson God was ultimately teaching Job? We who think we are good are still human, still capable of unspeakable evil. And when we behave unnaturally--as if we are better than our humanity--we are punished for it.
I have been punished for it.
Today, more punishment arrives. And there's no amount of couture that can make that go away. Every morsel of gourmet, every sip of $60 wine...no collection of flatscreened electronics, big or small, can change it.
It is beyond comprehension...and perhaps that is why I stay. Because there is so much I don't yet know. Although I have learned a few things during my tenure in hell...I'm no victim. I look my tormentors in the eye; I do not shrink from torture, or disease, or disability, or disfigurement. When told I'd have two-to-four years, I flat-out refused. Twenty years later, I'm still here. And it's not to lament my losses to anonymous readers. It's to tell you that if I can do it, so can you. Your life might be hell, too--maybe yours looks different than mine--but it's still hell. And hell is never a good time.
I want you to stand up tall on that toothpick of a leg. I want you to look your hell over with your disfigured eye and artificially blurred vision and tell it, under no uncertain terms, to fuck off. I want you to get up every day, even if you're carrying a cross on your back, and put one foot in front of the other. Even if you know that you're only walking to your own death-site. I want you to be courageous. Because in the end, Jesus went to heaven. Buddha received enlightment. Abraham's sacrifice fathered whole nations. And Job, well...everything lost was regained.
Winston Churchill once said, "If you're going through hell, keep going." It's a great quote...because it's true. Don't stop. There are no roses to smell. No matter what is happening, or how distracted you are (or want to be), you have only one job: To keep moving forward.
I can't tell you why. But I can tell you that in my wealth of sad experience, "why" is never as important as it seems.