In Mags & Shorts, Short Stories

It’s the one thing we all have in common, but no one wants to talk about – Trouble. It may sneak up on us with stealth, but it always attacks like a brazen thief. Trouble has a way of tying us up with the frayed ends of our own habits and fears. Then, forcing us to watch helplessly, it steals away our dreams and wrecks the foundations of all we have accomplished.

Despite the devastation it causes –or because of it – no one wants to talk about Trouble. The mere idea that disappointment, disasters and death are part of our life experience is a truth many would rather not explore. Like a stack of unpaid bills deliberately dumped into a drawer, most of us would rather ignore the inevitable, hoping it will just ‘go away’. But the ‘inevitable’, by definition, always comes.

No amount of denial can prevent the arrival of Trouble. But once it has done its damnedest to wreak havoc on our world, we possess the power to deny it control over our ‘self’. We may not be able to do much about when it arrives or what damage it inflicts, but we can do something about our role in the aftermath.

From the beginning of recorded history, the battle of ‘Mayhem vs. Mankind’ has raged. The experience is so universal that throughout the centuries the confrontation has become the ultimate standard for measuring the strength, the very character of the human spirit.

Trouble, in its many malevolent forms, has terrorized every period of history, and every culture of the world. And through the ages, the tales of these adventures have been used to not only entertain the masses, but also, educate the perceptive on how to better prepare for the next battle with The Thief.

The most insightful, all-encompassing of these stories is the ancient tale of Jobe. Among the earliest of history’s recorded legends, this story best illustrates the message of, and motivations behind this book…

The sheer volume of Trouble this man endured surpasses anything we might face, today. The helplessness and devastation he experienced is more than anyone ever should. But, as Jobe discovers; with great adversity comes great enlightenment – that is- if one is willing to look past the wreckage… past the moment…to tomorrow.

The legend of Jobe is a lesson in hope, teaching us that the inevitability of Trouble should not be a ignored, but explored. We should not close our eyes to the problems that will always come. Instead, we should open our minds to what we can do – should do — afterward.

The Cosmic Contest

If a man who lost everything can look beyond the moment and see tomorrow. .. we can, too.

~ One of the first stories ever written down was the ancient tale of a bet between The Maker of all things and his adversary, The Taker, ‘Trouble’. The subject of this other-worldly wager was the tolerance, the resilience, of a mortal. The fellow chosen for the challenge happened to be among the richest of his day. By any estimation he had it all; land, livestock, the respect of his neighbors, the love of his wife, their seven sons and three daughters, and above all, the favor of grand Source, Himself. The contest started with a simple, but loaded question.

“Ever consider my servant Jobe?,” The Maker gestured down to the created world. “There is no one like him on earth; he is an upright man who honors me…”

“Of course he honors you,” The Taker countered, “you watch over him, protect his household and everything he has. You grant him flocks and herds and the vast lands on which they graze. BUT,” he grinned, raising his twisted finger, “if you stepped away, and allowed me to take everything he has from him, the mortal would curse you to your face.”

For a moment the Source considered the challenge, then with a blast of His voice, He declared, “Very well, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself… do not lay a finger.” Nodding his agreement to the terms, Trouble turned and descended into the everyday events of man…

One day, as Jobe was going about his usual routine, a messenger stumbled through the front gate and fell on his knees before him. Panting from his long run the disheveled man struggled to form words, “We’ve been attacked, sir! Where your oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing, thieves jumped us. They carried away all the livestock and put everyone to the sword. I alone survived to tell you!”

While he was still speaking, another runner entered the gate. Wearing a singed patchwork of clothing and smelling of smoke, the messenger struggled to stand alongside the first man. “While we were tending to your flocks, a rain of fire fell from the sky. The maelstrom consumed everything – the sheep, your servants. I alone escaped the flames.”

Before Jobe could even take in the news, another runner fell at his feet. “Three raiding parties hit us at once. Before we could mount a defense their swords cut us down. They killed everyone, but me. They took your camels!”

Over the shoulders of the first three men, Jobe spotted yet another runner, and with a mounting dread, he turned to meet him. The servant, out of breath, bowed; “Your children were feasting at your oldest son’s house, when a great wind swept in from the desert. The house collapsed. Your sons, your daughters, all are dead!”

In an instant everything he had was gone. In a moment all he had worked for, all that he loved was ripped from his hands and swept away by the wind. If anyone ever had just cause to shake their fist at Fate, it was Jobe. But though he was overcome with emotion and despair, the mortal did not respond as predicted.

Although he tore his robe and shaved his head, as all men of his time did in such moments, Jobe did not do what Trouble wagered he would. As the crescendo of his loss cascaded over him, the man fell to the ground and cried; “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart…”

In his words there was a sense of ‘understanding’. He couldn’t see the Big Picture, yet somehow he knew it existed. Though heartbroken, there was no cursing, no blame assigned; just the acknowledgment that there was a wisdom beyond his own. Though everything was gone, Jobe’s resilience remained. And Trouble, The Taker, lost round one.

Taunting His opponent with the mortal’s remarkable tolerance, The Maker gestured again to the world below. “So, what do you think of my servant, Jobe, now? He still maintains his forbearance, though you incited me to ruin him without cause.”

“Yes,” The Taker snarled, “BUT… a man will give all he has for his own life! I wager that if you will allow me to strike his flesh and bones, then he will surely curse you to your face.”

“Very well,” the Great One replied, “he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.” As Jobe stood surveying the smoldering ashes of his world, he suddenly found himself afflicted with a menagerie of throbbing boils, from his feet to the top of his head. The pain was so agonizing, so torturous that his only measure of relief was a scrounged piece of broken pottery, which he used to scrape himself. And if that irritation was not enough, his wife’s constant droning was like salt in his wounds; “Why are you still holding on to your precious integrity?” she nagged, ‘What has it purchased for us? You can end this misery — just curse The Maker and die!”

Her suggestion was certainly the easy way out. Voicing that sentiment loudly to the sky was the ancient equivalent of deliberately stepping off the curb into on-coming traffic. But taking that leap into the great unknown was not something Jobe was ready to do, just yet. To his wife’s dismay (and Trouble’s displeasure), this resilient man held on to his self control, as if it were treasure. Stubbornly, silently, he stood his ground, though it appeared there were no grounds for such a stand.

By the time his three remaining friends showed up to comfort him, the community’s collective view of Jobe was so dismal that the trio’s initial sympathy for him quickly turned to suspicion. In front of their boil-afflicted neighbor the group actually, blatantly, began to debate “what terrible thing” Jobe “must have done” to bring this misfortune on himself.

Degenerating into a jury of calloused inquisitors, they paraded the ashes of Jobe’s tragedy before him again and again, forcing the afflicted man to relive the horror repeatedly. Then coldheartedly, the group passed judgment on Jobe with such ‘witch-hunting’ fervor that a lesser man would have certainly melted under their rebuke.

But tolerant Jobe endured the grilling- that is, until the critical mass of his friends’ limited views reached such absurdity that he saw – for the first time- just how short-sighted his fellow mortals were; And moved by that sudden awareness, Jobe rose to his feet, ready to take that ‘leap’.

With more energy than he had felt in days, Jobe lifted his voice, and posed a question that turned the mirror of self examination on his inquisitors;

“…How long will you tormen me and crush me with words? … You have humiliated me tentimes now, and mistreated me without shame…”

In that moment of illumination, Jobe captured their undivided attention and held on tight; ‘…Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written in a book… or engraved in rock forever!” Then, gazing beyond the ashes of his despair; which he now realized blinded every human’s views – Jobe leaped, and took his friends with him. “…For I know that my Liberator lives,” he shouted with a certainty, “: And though the skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh I will see Liberation…”

Looking beyond his calamity, even beyond his day, Jobe gazed into the big picture of tomorrow and let go a string of words that painted an entirely new point of view; “though the skin worms destroy this body – yet!”

It is amazing how the smallest word can hold the biggest message; for that little, three-letter word ‘yet’ carries within it an entire big picture-cosmos of possibilities. When Jobe used it in his declaration, he implied that there was something beyond the ashes of our mortal perspective. Even after referring to ‘death’, and the ‘inevitability of skin worms’, he said YET -which means, ‘Wait! There’s more!”

In other words; there is more to come; something more to look forward to. Even after the tragic death of everything we value – a dream, a friendship, a marriage, a home, a loved one, there can still be more. And that insightful awareness is Liberation personified!

 

****
 

This ancient tale, written down for the betterment of man, contains a message as illuminating today as it was when it was first “written in a book”, nearly three millennia ago; Trouble and tragedy comes to us all. But when that cosmic contest of tolerance compels us to step off the curb into on-coming traffic, we have the capacity to stand our ground – hang on to self control, and try look beyond the negative limitations of ashes past… Jobe took that mind-opening leap. And when he did, it changed everything…

As the story goes, Jobe’s fresh perspective cleared both his mind – and his afflicted body. His new point of view allowed him to let go of his past, forget his troubles, forgive his detractors and even pray for his friends. And when The Maker saw those unselfish acts, (to the chagrin of the Taker), He prospered Jobe with twice as much as he had before.

Liberation did indeed arrive. And as Jobe predicted, it showed up after the death of everything he valued –his possessions, his work, his children – everything he thought of as his Life:

According to the story, Jobe’s friends and neighbors eventually starting coming by again; each one bearing a conciliatory gift of silver or a ring of gold. In time these small acts of kindness mounted up, helping Jobe to not only get back on his feet, but actually double his original fortune; amassing fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. And, if that wasn’t enough, he and Mrs. Jobe had seven more sons and three more daughters…

Why not double the children? Simple really, Jobe never truly lost the first 10; for when he finally passed at a full, ripe old age, they were all there to meet him, on the Other Side.

If anybody won that cosmic bet it was Jobe; for he was willing to look beyond the ashes of yesterday and see the possibilities of…. YET.

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