Epiphany 5: Suffering

Lesson 1: Job 1:1-7.

I find Job one of the most relatable characters in the Bible, especially in moments like this. Most of us have had nights when we were “full of tossing until the dawn” – I know I have many – and this forthright articulation of suffering can come as a breath of fresh air especially when we are being encouraged by all around to ‘be positive’, ‘look on the bright side’, and ‘focus on happiness’, etc.

I’m quite capable of seeing both sides of things – I can quite easily tell you why it’s good news as well as a bad news that a hospital consultant has decided that there’s no point continuing to try and treat my condition – but my approach, which I prefer to call realism, is often labelled pessimism especially by those who are looking to blame me for whatever it is I’m complaining about at the time. One of my repeated causes of despair over the years has been ‘trying to get a job’. The things I’m good at and which I enjoy doing – reading, writing, thinking, talking, research – are not actually skills much in demand on the job market, which tends to focus on shelf-stacking, phone-answering and mindless obedience. (There are exceptions, of course; sadly, they’re a relatively small part of the market as a whole and a lot of people want those jobs. I was recently rejected from something, admittedly exceptional, with 900 applicants.) I give that background because I find that it informs my reading of the first verse in this passage: “Do not human beings have a hard service on earth, and are not their days like the days of a labourer?”

(You may insert your own Job/job pun here.)

“Like a slave who longs for the shadow, and like labourers who look for their wages,so I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me.”

This seems like a fair description of my experience of being on JobSeeker’s Allowance. We are hearing a lot about benefits at the moment, quite a lot of it from people who don’t seem to have any experience of being on benefits, and conversations about ‘scroungers’ seem more common than those about fairness. My experience was that accessing benefits was hard, and that the demands made of me while I was on JSA were difficult. It didn’t seem unreasonable, to begin with, to be expected to apply for jobs. I was going to anyway, after all. The spread of things for which I was expected to apply did become unreasonable, though; if you apply for something which you are not qualified to do, you’re wasting your own time and – since someone then has to look at and shred your CV – someone else’s as well. The barriers to doing voluntary work were considerable, and when – thanks in part to the stress induced by the way I was treated at the JobCentre – I became ill, the doctor gave me a sick-note which said that I could only work part-time. This, apparently, did not compute at all. I lost count of how many times I had to explain that yes I had a job, no it was only one hour a week, yes I was ill, no I was planning to keep working for that one hour a week, yes it was compatible with my sick-note, no can’t you just read what the doctor wrote? Her handwriting wasn’t even that bad!

Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.”


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