If you stumbled upon this post, you’ve come to join me as I write ‘The 9th City’.
I would like you to be my accomplice in this. Subscribe to ‘sevencitys’, by clicking on ‘sign me up!’ & over the next few months leave comments on each new chapter. If I use your input, I will credit you as conspirator when ‘The 9th City’ is published.
So let’s get started on chapter 2.
J is for Job: a man who suffered immense adverCITY not despite the fact that he lived in relationship with God, but because he loved God desperately.
Job never got his ‘why’-question answered.
I don’t even know if he asked it.
Perhaps he did.
In the story which have been recorded for us, some answers are offered, but most are rejected.
We do not have a complete picture of the man whom we know as Job.
When he is introduced to us in the Jewish text, he is already a flourishing business man, happily married with a string of pretty much grown-up children. Ten of them. Seven sons. Three daughters. I imagine some of them were married. The storyteller doesn’t say. Maybe they were young-adults. They were living on their own, owning their own homes, doing their own stuff.
We don’t know who Job’s parents were. We don’t know if they were loving & kind. We don’t know if Job had siblings. If he knew wealth or poverty as a child? If he enjoyed an exceptional education or had to make his way to adulthood through learning on the street?
In Africa many children miss out on education. Many children become the head of their household at the age of ten or twelve. Responsible before they’ve even come to maturity. Responsible for the livelihood of other children who are younger than them.
If I look at the adversity which I chew with so much difficulty and look at the lives of these children, I realize that my ‘suffering’ is no suffering at all.
We look upward, to people who have more than us & become jealous, but it is when we look down, to the lives of people who have less than us, that we are filled with gratitude for what we have & what has been bestowed upon us.
If you’re reading this, chances are that you have more, in a material sense, than 90% of the world population.
Adversity is seldom, however, the worst when it is physical. It is not the loss of ‘things’ that make it so hard to bear. It is the loss of something else.
Job’s story does not tell us how he and his wife met.
It does not tell us if there were miscarriages or still-born babies before or in-between the string of children they raised.
There are no clues to unravel as to how Job came to be wealthy. Did he inherit? Did he strike it lucky by being in the right place at exactly the right time? Is he a ‘rags-to-riches’-story or a ‘silver spoon’-story?
We’re introduced to a family man who is independently wealthy.
They say, if Job’s wealth would be calculated in our day, he would probably compete favorably with the likes of Bill Gates & Richard Branson.
The story calls him ‘the greatest man among all the people of the East.’
He owns seven thousand sheep.
Three thousand camels.
Five hundred oxen.
Five hundred donkeys.
He employs a large number of servants.
This is wealth an ordinary person like me cannot comprehend.
Seven thousand sheep – that is quite the agricultural venture.
Five hundred oxen – they can plow more land than most of us ever dream of owning.
Three thousand camels – they are the backbone of a transport business and five hundred donkeys, they produce milk and cheese, enough to feed a city.
When I sat down to take a look at this story of the man we know as Job, I was thirty-four.
I’d known adversity only as something vague.
I’d grown-up in the Pienaar-house. Which was interesting. The conditional love-thing wasn’t something that bothered me. Not too much. It had affected me, but it was all I knew & somehow I had overcome most of the difficulty related to it. I had awesome friends who came into my life & filled the gap. Older men who showed me who I was and embraced me for it, filling the place of a father in many ways. If you’ve read seven CITIES you’ve met them and you would also know of the healing which came as I started sharing life with my Zuko & our children.
If I have to be honest, in everything else, I knew everything but adversity.
Life was easy. I breezed through school without studying too hard. I learnt to play the Tuba & passed my Royal Schools of Music exams without practicing too much. I wanted to be one of 6% of conscripts drafted into the SA Navy and I was. With less than A-grades I applied for bursaries and got them & studied for seven years. I declared my love to Zuko & she loved me back more than I could ever dream to be loved. No marital issues. No strain. No infidelity. No hard time struggling to adapt to new circumstances. In my entire life I’ve applied only for three jobs and got all three. I’ve had more than three jobs. The others just ‘came’ to me.
Our children were born without any misfortune. No fertility treatments. No complications. And they’ve been healthy. Most people go house hunting. Our house hunted us. Offered itself to us for less than 20% of its actual value. We wanted horses & found the perfect pair. Since we started hacking we’ve had six horses of which we’ve only bought three. We’ve never been in a terrible car accident. We’ve never been attacked by gunmen. Our house has never been broken in too. It has never burnt to the ground. No terrible illness has overcome me or Zuko or any of our children. We’ve never wondered where tomorrow’s food will come from. We’ve never had any reason to sleep cold.
We’ve always had enough.
Enough warm clothes.
Even enough to enjoy a little bit of fun – experiences many other people aren’t bold enough to dream of.
We’ve not traveled the world, but I’ve had the opportunity to spend time in England & Ireland. And we did live in the Kalahari, frequently traveling through Botswana as if it was an everyday affair.
Our children do not suffer learning disabilities. They’ve not been prescribed Ritalin or sent for remedial classes. They’ve never been attacked by a dog or run over by a car or even fell off one of their horses.
Fairy tale stuff.
As if a fence was put up around us.
A hedge protecting us.
When I sat down to read the story of Job, for the first time with actual attention, I didn’t know what adversity was.
I had no idea.
I was reading this story because I frequently met people who suffered adversity & could not make sense of it & desperately desired answers.
I was Pastor of a ‘successful’ Church.
Whatever my hands took up was blessed.
In the story everything is well with Job.
And then it changes.
Almost in a moment.
Job has no idea ‘why’.
As we read this surreal tale, we see an evil being come before God. Challenging God. Taking more of Job’s prosperity with every encounter.
Can you imagine having to bury all your children? On one day?
Can you imagine the devastation?
The story gives us a glimpse into heaven.
It is not a place where Satan is absent.
It is not a place where people sit in the shade of trees, singing all day.
How the one telling this story could know this, or could have seen this, escapes my imagination.
But I believe the Bible to be true.
I believe it to be given to us as a way to know something of who God is. Some call it a revelation. Revealing who God is. Or at least some of it, for somewhere amongst all those words it is also said that we now see only as in a dusty mirror, but that one day we will see clearly.
As I read the story of Job, oblivious of what adversity truly is, I saw something clearly.
I saw Satan, the accuser, being & living freely amongst the angels. Amongst the ‘sons of God’.
That is somewhat different from the images which have been conjured in our own imagination by decades of theological indoctrination. A Satan locked away in a burning jail of sweat & tears. Shunned from the presence of God.
In this day & age we are disconnected from a spiritual awareness. We do not live as if God & angels & Satan, a realm other than the one we can see & feel & touch & smell, exists. A spiritual realm. A reality different from ours, present in this moment.
We live as if this physical reality is the only real reality.
As if it exists in isolation.
In this story I see clearly a God who is.
Not a Bette Midlerian God who watches from a distance and to whom everything seems calm and peaceful and all right. A different kind of God. A God who knows and does not know either.
Notice, if you read only what is now marked as the first ‘chapter’ of this story, how God asks Satan where he comes from. As if he does not know where Satan had been & what Satan had done. Notice how he is aware of Job. His individual life. His life in contrast to many other lives.
Perhaps God is playing with Satan?
Perhaps he knows exactly where Satan is coming from, as well as with what intent he makes his appearance amongst the ‘sons of God’?
If he does, in this story, he does not give it away.
He does however, as the story is told, get right down to business with Satan, asking Satan if in all his travels he had seen Job. If he had noticed him.
I hear a tinge of pride.
A whisper of ‘you couldn’t not have seen him. He stands out. He is amazing.’
And I see God doing a funny thing. Something which I have not seen him do before. Maybe because in all my Church attendance & Sunday School & Theological study my attention was never drawn to it. Maybe because he never before wanted me to see it.
I see God entertaining Satan.
I see him listening to & interacting with Satan.
Not as if Satan is an Evil who is vanquished, but a someone with whom God is still in relationship. A someone who has a role to play. A function to fulfill. A something to do.
In the story Satan mocks God.
God shows him Job. Very proud. Look at him. There is no one like him on this earth. He is blameless & upright. He ‘fears’ me & shuns evil.
Satan’s response is: ‘but, off course! He would. I would too if you put a hedge around me & my family & blessed everything my hands touched. Look at him. You’ve bought his love. He is nothing more than a prostitute. He sells you his love, which isn’t love at all. He sells it to you in exchange for your blessing.’
I was astounded when I read this first chapter of the book of Job in the Christian Old Testament, hoping to get some answers for people experiencing something I’ve not experienced deeply.
And then I hear the voice of Christianity.
The gospel of our century.
‘You are the son of a King. Believe & he will give you health & wealth. Repent & you will be blessed. Bring your tithe & you will have abundance. Be obedient & it will be well with you.’
‘Comply & you get his love & grace & blessing.’
Very much like it was in the home I grew up in?
Comply & with your compliance buy my love.
Give & with my giving buy yours.
I wonder if we share the same revelation.
I wonder if we read the same Old & New Testament.
For here, in this story, I see a God who did bless a man. A God who did put up a hedge around Job and his family. Who did bless the work of Job’s hands, so that his flocks & herds spread throughout the land.
But not in exchange for anything.
Not as a reward for anything.
And most definitely not as a certainty.
I see a God, who drops the hedge & stops the blessing.
Not because of disobedience.
Or lack of faith.
It shook me to read these first few paragraphs of this story.
It challenged everything I thought I knew about God. About who he is. About how & what he does.
I think, in Satan’s words to God and God’s response to it, we see something more of who God is.
Who he truly is.
And in this we find a clue to the answer of that relentless ‘why’ question, which plagues every single soul who’ve ever tasted adversity.
It has to do with something which is like a theme-song to my life.
And the desire for it.
Now don’t forget to take part in this process. Tell me what you’re missing from this chapter. Or what expectations it creates.
And if you’ve not yet taken a look at what is on the bookshelf in Amazon’s Kindle-store, please take a look here: Theunis Pienaar’s Books in Amazon’s Kindle-Store