Last night I could not sleep. Different thoughts were going through my head and feelings through my body. I was reflecting on the difficult situation we live in at the moment. One calamity after the other has been hitting us, wave after wave. Coronavirus has been affecting everything in our life. Our health is compromised, many of us cannot work, we cannot continue our social lives, see our loved ones, we cannot go to our places of worship and participate in communal prayer or even just go outside of our homes for a walk in the park. Moreover, we are at risk of governments using this situation to violate our privacy through tracking our mobile phones and politicians exploiting the chaos to gain political power. All that we hold dear to our lives are threatened. This situation in many ways makes us feel restricted, vulnerable and violated.
Up until the outbreak of the coronavirus, things were looking good for us. But just like the story of Job, everything has changed in the blink of an eye. In the same way messengers came one after the other to Job with devastating news, we feel similar hearing more and more negative news in our time of crisis. And finally, Job was eventually affected by the calamities by being physically sick himself, some of us may eventually experience the same thing or are already at that point. Nothing seems to improve.
This is why I couldn’t sleep, just like job we witness lose after lose with no improvement in sight. We must be aware of what this situation does to our spiritual, emotional and mental health. Some people have claimed that the outbreak is the beginning of the End Times or that the virus has come upon us as a curse for our bad actions. Others have used this to blame nations or individuals for their wrongdoings and have decided to do nothing to help the situation. These accusations and opinions are comparable to those that Job’s friends had. Perhaps Job’s friends and our contemporaries are holding these retribution doctrines and End Times notions because they themselves are afraid to be next to feel the calamities and are trying to rationalise the crisis.
However, Job refuses to accept these positions and says that he had done nothing. People who are infected by the virus today may feel the same. Instead, Job laments and uses this situation to reflect on all people in the world. In his reply to his friends, Job argues that what happened to him and to others around the world is truly an injustice, and is careful in how he talks about God. Job neither compromises his integrity and faith in God, nor only thinks about himself. In his suffering he is able to transcend beyond his personal and immediate situation, and connects with all people who are suffering. Moreover, Job feels free to express to God his honest opinions and concerns. Job wrestles with concepts of justice, suffering and God.
We learn three main things about Job’s lamentation: (1) Job does not endorse the retribution theology of his friends. (2) He is not selfish and individualistic in his reflection on his suffering. He is in solidarity with all who suffer. (3) Job realises what God is doing in history and his plan for the world, and therefore, continues to trust in God’s sovereignty and power.
In our difficult situation and lamentation we ought to learn from Job. Let us not think of ourselves alone in this crisis, but be in solidarity with all who suffer in the world and trust in God’s divine plan for humanity. In this lamination we can learn more about both God and ourselves. Will we allow for this crisis to paralyse us and explain it away with individualistic theology? Or will we use this situation to be honest with ourselves, learn about God and ourselves, and continue to be in solidarity with all those who suffer?
Musalaha Executive Director — Salim J. Munayer