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Monday, February 23, 2009

Everybody Hurts

It's interesting to me that the toughest day so far in this virtual commitment to spend a little time alone reading the Bible was Sunday. Go figure. But today I'm back on track with Job chapters 4 and 5, not because I want to make up a day, but because those two chapters form one continuous bit of poetic advice from Job's friend Eliphaz.

Even before I began reading, a thought hit me about Job: I care more about Job's suffering because he had it good for so long. The injustice of his suffering seems far more monumental than that of someone who has suffered all his life. And I can say whatever I want about Job being a picture of American culture or my own callousness toward the poor and suffering in the world, but I'm just going to leave it at that. I know it's sad. I know it's wrong. Maybe my heart will beat differently now that I realize how my slanted compassion favors those with whom I most closely identify. I can't force it. But still . . . 

Anyway, Job's friend's soliloquy only deepened my convictions, because he describes this very simple understanding of the very complex problem of human suffering. I realize I'm simplifying it even further, but the gist I came away with was this: 

Look, Job, you've helped people out of trouble before. You're a godly man, and that should be enough to pull you out of your misery. Good people don't get destroyed, evil people do. But nobody's perfect. God is just disciplining you. If you let this present suffering embitter you, you'll be ruined. If I were you, I'd ask God to make it better--you know he will. . . . Oh, and I had this weird dream about an angel or something flying by me. Gave me the chills. Whispered something. Weird, huh?

Some things I take away from this:

  • I am not the center of the universe. Not everything that happens in my life is a carefully orchestrated plan to send me a message.
  • They say the flapping of a butterfly wings can trigger a chain reaction that results in a hurricane halfway around the world. I don't know about that, but I do know that huge changes can result from small variations. The things in my life that I am most sure about and place the most security in can fall apart in an instant. God's love will never fail. (I believe you were looking for this verse, Bill.)
  • I need to be careful not to oversimplify life or God. Phrases like "Good people don't suffer" or "you reap what you sow" don't account for the complexities of being a tiny part of a gigantic universe. Not everything I experience in life is the result of my actions. And God isn't a calculator; you can't just plug in the numbers and predict what He'll display. You can't just tell someone, "Ask God to make it better, and He will." I should turn to God, but I shouldn't expect Him to conform to my trite understanding.
  • Job didn't ask God to heal him. At least, it's not recorded here. He was suffering, yes, but he didn't adopt the attitude that God should operate at his beck and call. I'm not saying that's right or wrong, but I am noting that Job seemed to have an uncanny sense of humility.
  • Job's heaviest mourning came during his own physical suffering. It was probably torture. It can be somewhat easier to think through and reason your way toward coping with emotional loss, but it's hard to even think straight when you're in physical pain. 

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