Dear Job: You deserved it. Sincerely, your friends
I am reading through Job again in my daily devotions. I remember reading the book as a kid and not getting much out of it. With life, and experience, and suffering, I find myself relating more and more to the theme. I was hit squarely in the forehead by the following:
If your sons sinned against Him, Then He delivered them into the power of their transgression. (Job 8:4)
Wow. Seriously? Your best buddy is sitting on a garbage-heap, scratching his oozing sores with a piece of pottery, deeply mourning the loss of all of his sons and daughters, killed in a catastrophic freak accident, and this is what you say to him? “Meh. They had it coming.” Seriously, Bildad – that’s your great pearl of wisdom?
And we have all said it, haven’t we.
Maybe not in so many words. Or in so many words. The book of Job is so long because Job’s friends were spending so much time beating around the bush. Even in this passage, Bildad is hiding behind the word “if.” But the implications were clear.
Good things happen to good people. Bad things happen to bad people.
God gives health & wealth to good people, sickness and poverty to bad people.
(thus if you are sick and poor, you must have done something very, very bad…)
Why do we do it? Why do we look at the suffering, and so quickly assume that they deserved it? I will restate
It is a disconcerting thing to see someone suffering. All the more when the suffering is really severe. I’m still not really recovered from the amount of suffering I saw in Africa in 2014.
One thinks here of the story of the Good Samaritan. Why didn’t they stop? Why didn’t they care? Why didn’t they serve? Well, I didn’t stop. Not every time, anyways. What not? I’m still not quite sure.
A big part of the discomfort of seeing someone suffering is, I think, fear. It is at least a three-tongued serpent that wraps itself around our hearts, and chokes out any ability to love, to give.
- This could be me
- This could cost me
- This shouldn’t be
The order is not important. Sometimes, the cost hits us first. If I stop to care, if I even make eye contact, his problems may become my problems. And do I have time for that? Do I have the resources for that? Best to walk on by.
And what if his suffering spreads? What if I catch his disease? What if I get sucked into his word? What if caring for him pulls me down?
Best to cross on over, then walk on by.
But most importantly, this shouldn’t be! It breaks our hearts and breaks our heads to see such suffering, in a world which we feel so profoundly should be fair. (No matter how many times we teach our kids to the contrary).
All of that is going on when we see someone suffering. And it doesn’t matter if it is a beggar in Africa or your friend’s son on a deathbed: it messes with us. And there is fear.
And there is a convenient solution. Oh, so very convenient.
“It’s his own fault.”
Oh, what a load off!
No, that can’t be me! No danger here – I have not made the same foolish mistakes he made!
No, I don’t need to get involved: nay, I cannot get involved. How will he ever learn? Let him sleep in the bed that he made.
No, God is not unjust to allow him to suffer. God is supremely just! In fact, now I know for sure we live in a world that makes sense!
Oh, what a relief! All of the mental anguish is subside. All of the moral qualms and icky guilty motivations are stilled.
It’s his own fault. Leave sleeping dogs lie.
Except it’s not. At least, it wasn’t Job’s fault. That’s the entire point of the book.
And so Buddhism is wrong, and Hinduism is wrong, and Judaism is wrong, and yes, many forms of Christianity are wrong when they walk past a sick man and ask Jesus, “Who sinned – this man or his parents that he should be born blind?” (John 9:2)
It’s a shame, really. It worked so well! There was just enough truth in it to make it stick.
People are, it is true, sometimes “cursed” by the fruits of their actions. We could say others are “blessed” by positive actions, such as hard work and godliness. What goes around comes around. Work hard and brush your teeth and you will be healthy and wealthy. Well, usually.
And there’s the rub. It usually works. It works just often enough to temp us to generalize into a rule. And generalizations kill.
And it is here that we need to be careful. Very, very careful.
The fear is sneaking up in us. Whispering, choking. “What if that is us? What if that costs us? What if the world really is unjust?!?” And fear lays the cold and lifeless hatchlings of religions which all scream in unison, “It’s his fault – it’s his own fault! Don’t care, don’t love, don’t give, don’t get involved!”
And we must resist.
Resist the urge to make sense of it. Resist the urge to jump to a snap conclusion. Resist the urge to be judge-jury & executioner of our friends.
“Why is this man suffering?” perhaps we will never know. Perhaps it doesn’t matter.
“What do you think God wants you to do about it?”
That, my friends, is the real question.