Since I was 17, the book of Job has brought more solace to my life than any other work. The story of Job doesn't deal in nice clean formulas or outcomes, it deals in pain and reality. The book of Job is about as real as it gets. Good people looking for nice clean explanations as to why really bad things happen even when they have done all that is right to the best of their ability. Job says, "yeah, it doesn't always work that way." Then the book of Job will basically go on to say, "and there isn't always a good explanation as to why."
Most of us know this story. Even if you aren't a bible person, you've more than likely heard the story or a version of it. A story about a really good man whose life goes really bad. Toward the beginning of the book, Job's wife, who should be his truest partner, asks a very telling question:
“Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die."
This is a curious statement to me. I get the statement, "curse God and die." That makes sense to me. I've been in those places, where I too want to "curse God and die". I understand this thought. My curiosity is peaked toward another part of the statement or question proposed by Job's wife - "do you still persist in your integrity?" This word "integrity" is the Hebrew word תֻּמָּה and pronounced 'tummah' and it means innocence. But not like innocence as ignorance of wrong or evil, innocence as in a deep committed willful way of being and doing because which flows out of your deep conviction about reality - it is what you base your entire life on. It is integrity and/or innocence because there is no compartmentalization or differentiation in the way you deeply believe and the way you live. This is not a thoughtless way of being, but a very thoughtful way of being. Job's wife is asking, "hasn't your way of being and doing proven itself to be wrong. Look at the outcome. If your 'integrity' was the right way of being this would not have been the result. The outcome would have been different."
So, why not just change the integrity, why go to the extreme of cursing God and dying? The reason the authors use the word "integrity or innocence" is because they are dealing with something much deeper than a simple choice that can be changed - like switching from eating Paleo to eating Vegan. Or switching from driving a Ford to a Toyota. In Proverbs 11:3, this same word is used as a way of life grown out of a belief system in which one's entire existence is based. If you let go of it, it is the same thing as letting go of your life, you might as well be dead. Job's wife is saying, "your whole life has been wrong, and these immediate circumstances prove it." This is the thought pattern: a life based on a proper "integrity", "way of being", or "ethos" cannot go this wrong; and the fact that it has gone this wrong is proof that it can't be right. Right?
So, what was Job's integrity?
He was "blameless and upright, and turned away from evil." He was a hard worker and this work lead to great wealth. All of his uprightness, hard work, and blamelessness caused others to believe he was, "the greatest of all the people of the east". Job "rescued the poor, assisted the orphan" and cared for the widow. The original audience would have seen this as Job having the purest form of religion and the most right form of living possible. Job's wife is basically telling him, "this way of living didn't pay off, it has done nothing but hurt you, you could have lived just like the unrighteous and received the same outcome, or at least a better one than you have now." Job's wife knows how committed Job is to this way of being, and that he would rather die than not be this way. So, yes, it makes sense, "let go of your integrity, curse God, and die."
Then Job's friends surround him with their advice and life formulas. If we are honest, many of us hold to these very formulas. Job, disagrees with them, but he obviously can't prove his way to be prudent, because his way is only producing pain. Next, Job begins to question God (and rightly so). God never gives him a satisfactory answer, in fact, God, in a nutshell, tells him, "no answer would satisfy you." Then the Divine goes into this long and beautiful monologue, not about Job’s problems, but about how little Job actually knows. God does this by questioning Job about the beauty of nature and the vastness of the universe, as if to say, “Job you don’t get it, there is something going on here so much larger than you can grasp.” It is almost as if God is ignoring the problem at hand. This doesn't do much for God's sensitivity reputation. In fact, this monologue from God starts with the following phrase, "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge. Dress like a man, I will question you and you will answer me..." Daaaaaaaaamn!
For the last 18 months, I've been meditating on Job 38-41, if for nothing else perspective. When God is finished with his monologue, Job is not put off by what seems to be insensitivity, rather he makes a statement that shows the change of perspective gained through taking a glimpse at the vastness of the universe, the limitations of the immediate, and his own weakness in comparison to reality. Job says, and I have this text tattooed on my arm, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear..." I refer to this as the faith many of us grow up with, faith that isn’t our personal faith, maybe the faith of our community, our parents, our friends, but it is not ours - this is faith Job had before his "integrity" was tested. Then he goes on. "...but now..." Now what? Now that I have been through all I have been through, now, that my equation didn't produce the immediate results I expected, now that my equation seems to have produced the opposite of what I was aiming for. "But now my eyes see you; therefore I refuse myself and am comforted in dust and ashes."
Dust and ash is the place of humility (and humiliation), desperation, and weakness. The place where we are completely out of control and undone. Ironically it is the place many of us work our lives to protect ourselves from, but is also the place we begin to personally know the Divine. Dust and ash the place where the equations stop working. It's the place where we realize...
- ...unlike math, our equations don't always play out how we think...
- ...our integrity is about hedging our bets on the end game, not the immediate
- ...there is so much more going on than we can even conceive of
- ...we are not in control of as much as we wish we were
- ...holding on to our integrity is not based on circumstantial evidence, but on what we believe at a soul level
- its the place where the Divine becomes more known and real than ever
At the end of the day, when it seems like everything we hold to be reality is producing nothing but pain, sometimes all we can do is hold on to our integrity while living in "dust and ash" and begin to "see" God in the very places we had once assumed the Divine would never be found.