I am right. You are wrong. We are right. They are wrong. Throughout human history, people have never stopped this kind of self-righteous arguments.
On the positive side, it could be a constructive step to lead everyone to the right answer. If one can criticize another, that is the antithesis against the thesis, and both sides could agree on the synthesis. In Hegelian’s metaphysics, such a dialectics could lead us to the ultimate goal called absolute spirit. In Marxism, such a goal was on the utopian communist society.
Evolution, in general, contains this mechanism called the survival of the fittest. In Darwinism, such survival is genetic arbitrariness. As a result of “random” combinations of species, only when one is the genetically fit, this creature could survive. Hence, diversity is a must to allow more combinations for survival.
On the negative side, however, it represents the cruel reality of the world. Throughout human history, we’ve been killing one another because of this perspective of the survival of the fittest. If we think we are right, then we must kill others who are supposed to be wrong. They should not survive in a given environment. They are the enemy that we must defeat and destroy. In this mindset, everyone can be so cruel and brutal as our bloody history proves itself.
We have to be right for survival and evolution. Once, however, we believe we are right, others are wrong, which makes us blind, judgmental, narcissistic, selfish, and even cruel. The problem is we think we’re right, that is the prison of self-righteousness.
The Life of Job
It reminds me of the Book of Job, one of the oldest books in the Bible, and perhaps one of the most enigmatic stories. A lot of people in history provided various interpretations for this book. The story goes this way:
There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.Job 1:1
He was perfectly right and faithful to God. God was so proud of him and his faith. One day, God told Satan to challenge Job with various sufferings, saying as Job’s faith is steadfast, he must never turn against God.
Thus, Satan gave Job every kind of sufferings, agonies, and distresses. All of a sudden, he lost all his children and possessions. He suffered from various skin diseases. However, he never lost his faith. He believed he was right for God, even though his wife told him to curse God and die.
Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die. But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips.Job 2:9-10
And three of his friends visited Job, named Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar. They were so surprised by what happened to Job and his life. And they cried hard. For seven days, staying with Job, they did not say anything but remained silent, comforting him.
Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came every one from his own place; Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite: for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him. And when they lifted up their eyes afar off, and knew him not, they lifted up their voice, and wept; and they rent every one his mantle, and sprinkled dust upon their heads toward heaven. So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great.Job 2:11-13
After the seven-day’s silence, they started each dialogue with Job. Their intentions were good. They tried their best together with Job to find out the answer to this question.
Why does Job suffer?
Job was perfectly right for God. Everyone agreed with this fact, including three friends of Job and Job himself. Nevertheless, why did Job suffer? Why did God allow these things to Job? What was God’s will on earth?
Everyone, including three friends and Job himself, believed that nothing happened without reason. If anything happens, there must be some reasons. God never punishes anyone without cause.
Thus, Job’s lengthy dialogues with his three friends started. It was long because the question was so fundamental and existential. That is to say, why we suffer? Moreover, why is life suffering? While their conversations were so long, the messages from all three friends were more or less the same:
- While we thought Job was perfectly right for God, perhaps he was still not right enough. His faith was not strong enough. That is why God challenged him (with Satan) through these sufferings to remind him. Job needed to repent more strongly and sincerely.
- While we thought Job was perfectly right for God, perhaps there was still something wrong with him. Job was still hiding his sins. That is why God challenged him (with Satan) through these sufferings to remind him. Job needed to be honest and repent.
- While we thought Job was perfectly right for God, he needed to ask God what was missing in his action and life. It was only God who could tell him what was not enough for him to praise God. That is why God challenged him (with Satan) through these sufferings to remind him. Job should pray harder and offer more sacrifices.
All their suggestions were on the mindsets that God never punished anyone without reason. If we are perfectly right, we should never suffer, and our life should be full of blessings.
Job’s answers, however, were always his best efforts to defend himself. Despite all these sufferings, his faith was steadfast. He was right and perfectly believed in God. Again and again, he reconfirmed his innocence, righteousness, and faithfulness as follows:
Moreover Job continued his parable, and said, As God liveth, who hath taken away my judgment; and the Almighty, who hath vexed my soul; All the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils; My lips shall not speak wickedness, nor my tongue utter deceit. God forbid that I should justify you: till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me. My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go: my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live.Job 27:1-6
His conviction was impressive. He was indeed a man of faith and righteousness. He also recalled good old days when everyone respected and admired him because of his faith with all the blessings, in the contrast of the moment when everyone despised him because of what happened to him. Everyone thought that Job was under God’s punishment.
I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgment was as a robe and a diadem. I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame. I was a father to the poor: and the cause which I knew not I searched out. And I brake the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil out of his teeth. But now they that are younger than I have me in derision, whose fathers I would have disdained to have set with the dogs of my flock.Job 29:14-17
Once more Job asked God why these sufferings happened to him. Why?
Oh that one would hear me! behold, my desire is, that the Almighty would answer me, and that mine adversary had written a book.Job 31:35
Is it the end of Job’s story? No, God forbid. There was the fourth friend of Job, the youngest among them, named Elihu. He had kept silent due to his respect for all elders and Job himself. And yet, finally, he spoke up.
And Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite answered and said, I am young, and ye are very old; wherefore I was afraid, and durst not shew you mine opinion. I said, Days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom. But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding. Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment. Therefore I said, Hearken to me; I also will shew mine opinion.Job 32:6-10
Elihu spake moreover, and said, Thinkest thou this to be right, that thou saidst, My righteousness is more than God’s? For thou saidst, What advantage will it be unto thee? and, What profit shall I have, if I be cleansed from my sin?Job 35:1-3
In Elihu’s point, all dialogues between Job and his three elder friends were on the deception that they could negotiate and trade with God in one way or another. All their perspectives were like — they did not righteous enough; they did not pray hard enough, or else they did not offer enough sacrifices, and so on.
Their mindsets were that God was angry because they did not take care of Him properly. Once they meet God’s needs, their lives would have been full of blessings. God would be thankful for them. Is that so?
Elihu told them: Who do you think you are?
God is beyond our limited perspectives of good and bad. He is beyond the domain that “I am right, you are wrong, and we are right, they are wrong.”
Certainly, God in the Old Testament acted like an ethnocentric benefactor. God helped one group and defeated the other as if He was on the side of one group who claimed they were right and others were wrong. One of the oldest books in the Bible, however, denied it as a delusion.
Job’s True Humility
After Elihu’s speech, almost abruptly, Job heard the voice of the Lord.
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.Job 38:1-4
Asking Job to be ready, God started providing a series of questions like: How did I lay the foundation for the earth? Were you there?
All questions devastated Job to realize how God was everything and he was nothing.
God is the source of the universe, even beyond its origin. Before the universe at the start of spacetime, He is that He is, even He is beyond Being and Non-Being. Compare to this infinity, our agreement of being right or wrong is merely a grid of superficial, relativistic perceptions. As Lao Tzu stated:
Colors blind the eye. Sounds deafen the ear. Flavors numb the taste. Thoughts weaken the mind. Desires wither the heart. The Master observes the world but trusts his inner vision. He allows things to come and go. His heart is open as the sky.Tao Te Ching – Chapter 12
Jesus also knew such nature of God as we can easily noticed everywhere in his teachings:
That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.Matthew 5:45
Despite all those devastating sufferings and agonies Job experienced, these were merely the worldly affairs. Everything he experienced was only the ups and downs of his earthly life. Despite all dialogues with his wife and friends, these were only his sentiment that life is suffering.
These were only the lengthy conversations on these questions:
- Why do we suffer?
- Why does God allow Satan to happen all sufferings in our lives?
- Who is Satan on earth?
At the beginning of the Book of Job, we see God talked with Satan about Job’s life. God was proud of Job and his faith in Him. And God allowed Satan to test him. What was this conversation after all? Did both God and Satan just play around the life of Job on betting?
What if everything was merely within Job’s illusion?
Job thought he was perfectly right for God. Thus, he also thought God was proud of him. And, he also thought God talked with Satan to challenge him. That was all what Job thought.
God was never proud of particular persons. He loved everyone in His way. God never had such a conversation with Satan over someone’s life.
These are all that Job thought on his self-consciousness. It is not that God was proud of Job, but Job himself was proud of himself on his faith and righteousness using the metaphor of these imaginary conversations. In Job’s mind, God was proud of Job. In Job’s mind, someone called Satan challenged him to cause various sufferings. Even Job’s conversations with his friends could be part of his inner monologues. It was Job himself who kept on asking and seeking God’s will over his life.
And there was the moment when Job finally surrendered his self-righteous monologues. At this very moment, representing Job’s selflessness, Elihu showed up telling Job himself that his inner monologues were indeed the cause of all his sufferings.
God had been with Job ever since beyond his struggles over good or bad and right or wrong. From God’s perspective, all things are as they are. It was only Job (and his inner friends and imaginary Satan talking with imaginary God), who created the drama of his worldly life. We are also like Job.
In his selflessness, eventually, Job was able to hear the voice of God. And Job’s true humility finally emerged.
Then, Job answered the LORD, and said, I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.Job 42:1-6
At this moment of true humility, Job returned to his normal life. And the final verses of the Book of Job described that the multiplied blessings came back to him.
It was not that Job proved himself right and faithful at all. Realizing he is nothing and God is everything, and an infinite gap between both, Job felt the underserved grace and love of God. At this very moment, Job truly understood the true blessings he could receive from God. The book of Job ended as follows:
So the LORD blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning: for he had fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she asses. He had also seven sons and three daughters. And he called the name of the first, Jemima; and the name of the second, Kezia; and the name of the third, Keren–happuch. And in all the land were no women found so fair as the daughters of Job: and their father gave them inheritance among their brethren. After this lived Job an hundred and forty years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, even four generations. So Job died, being old and full of days.Job 42:12-17
Was it the restoration of Job’s wealth? Not exactly. It was the transformation of Job on how he saw his life from God’s perspective. He was finally able to get out of the prison of self-righteousness.
Image by Tabitha Guarnieri