I've often wondered why so many innocent people must suffer. A day doesn't go by that I hear about one tragedy after another¾church bombings, school shootings. The list goes on. What tears at my heart the most are the same questions being asked over and over by so many people. There are those that try to convince others that God lets people suffer because He is vengeful and has turned His back on His people. "They" say that if God truly loved us, He wouldn’t let such horrible things happen. Why would God let the innocent suffer?
I don't believe that God is "letting" us suffer. I believe that he is acting like a parent by guiding us and showing us the way, but in the end, letting us make our own decisions. It's called Free Will. And God gave it to all of us.
The most famous sufferer in all of biblical times was Job.
Before I studied the book of Job, I only knew that this simple, humble man had a really great life and then, seemingly from nowhere, horrible things started happening to him. What did he ever do to deserve such a life?
Was Job being punished for not loving God enough? Was Job being punished for something his children did? Did God stop loving Job? Was Job being held up as an example for all people?
As a very young child in Sunday school, eager to learn all I could, it was difficult to grasp the concept of our Almighty God as a living breathing entity, and I only had a community-esque view of the basic parent/child relationship. But, I got this message through the cartoon images our Sunday school teacher used.
Job was a child of God.
So, as my Sunday school teacher revealed the rest of the story to me, I learned that Job wasn't really being punished at all, but was being tested to prove his faithfulness to his Father. God wanted to prove how faithful Job really was to Him.
God was showing off.
And, just like most children who don't understand what their parents are doing, Job was confused and didn't understand why God would do this to him. He was a good man. A God fearing man. A normal, everyday person who kept to himself and didn't make waves. And, although he had all that going for him, although he didn't deserve it, he was still handpicked by God to be tested like no man had ever been tested before.
He was tested.
I truly believe Job and I were separated at birth.
Did you ever do math word puzzles as a child? Do you remember one that went something like this? Jane and John are twins. Jane was born in 1970 and John was born in 1969. Explain how this could happen if they were born only six minutes apart. Of course the answer is that Jane was born on January 1, 1970, at three minutes after midnight, and John was born on December 31, 1969 at three minutes before midnight. Easy, right?
So how do I explain that I think Job and I were separated at birth by a few thousand years?
Originally, I only knew that this simple, humble man had a really great life and then, seemingly from nowhere, horrible things started happening to him. What did he ever do to deserve such a life?
Did God stop loving Job? These were the kind of questions we were asked during class.
As I said before, God was showing off.
Actually, God was showing Job off. Like any parent who was proud of their child's accomplishments. Like any parent who wanted to tell anyone who would listen. You know the kind of parent; they especially want to show off if they think it'll impress the other person.
If you are a parent, you understand this concept very well. What parent could pass up a perfect opportunity to show off how proud they were of their child?
And, just like most children who don't understand what their parents are doing, Job was confused and didn't understand why God would do this to him. He was a good man. Even so, God picked Job to be tested.
So where does that leave us in our current time? And, how does this fit in with my thinking Job and I were separated at birth? Well, let me tell you that God must be so proud me. That has to be the reason why my life has gone the way it has. Otherwise, what I learned about Job doesn't matter. And I don't believe that. I believe that God loves me and is proud of me.
I believe that it's absolutely true that bad things happen to good people. I also believe that God never gives you more than He thinks you can handle.
I just never realized I could handle so much in my life at one time.
He sure showed me.
Too bad I wasn't looking when he was showing me. It would have made things so much easier. But, then, this isn't about making things easy, is it?
Was it coincidence that I learned, almost too late, that I should have been focusing on my faith in God to set a path for me to follow?
I don't think so. I think, like Job, I had to experience all that I did to become the person I am now.
But, you'd think that I would have paid more attention to His path, rather than wandering so senselessly and blindly on my own. The signs were all there. Strange how they look so much clearer from behind than when faced with them.
Would I have still marched to the brink of sanity and looked in wonder over the edge and beyond? And, if I hadn't, would I still be the same person I am today? All good questions.
They, (you know who "they" are), say that hindsight is 20/20. I believe that. Would I have done anything differently if I had known the outcome? I don't think so. But, then, would any of these events have even happened if I had the foresight to know the consequences of my actions?
Now, there is a question for the ages. Would I still have willingly endured the pain and suffering? Probably. Wait, no probably about it. The answer is a resounding yes. Even if I had to go through all the pain again.
Pain is one of those emotions that help us focus our attention on God. How many of us have ever cried out, "Oh, God, just make it stop hurting!" I can't remember the number of times I have cried those exact words.
Pain gets our attention real fast. It got Job's attention. And it got mine.
Unfortunately, I have a really high threshold for pain.
Pain makes us look inside ourselves. Most of the time, whether we want to or not. We've been brought up in a world that uses pain as a punishment. As children, we constantly heard, "Don't do that or I'll spank you." As parents, we used the same techniques to invoke obedience in our children. How many times have we said, "I love you so much it hurts." Or, how about this, "It pains me to tell you this, but . . ." We use pain all the time to emphasize our actions.
However, pain can be a useful tool for something else. It doesn't always have to be punitive or corrective. Sometimes, like in Job's case, and in mine, it can be used to instruct.
Learning our lesson the "hard way" is, in my humble opinion, the best way to be taught. I always thought I was a really good student.
So much for what I thought I knew.
The lesson that I needed to learn was that God created human beings with a free will. And, because of that free will, God wasn't going to raise His mighty hand and smote every single person down who did wrong. Not even if I was right there to point every single one of them out to Him.
I couldn’t call upon Him to give the driver who just cut me off on the freeway a flat tire. The same as I couldn’t ask Him to seek out the murderer of the child down the street and make him pay for his evil action.
And, no matter how hard I begged, He wasn't going to strike my ex-husband down dead in his tracks for being a knucklehead and not accepting the fact that I was right.
True justice requires patience. A lot of patience.
Although the wait for justice might seem unbearable, God one day will restore those who have suffered without cause. He promised. Solomon said, "God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil." (Eccl. 12:14)
It wasn't my job to make sure that all the evil of the world was recognized and punished. My heart carried so much resentment and self-pity, that I wasn't able to see the good that I had in my life. I wasn't able to see the good I would have in the future. I just wasn't able to see the good in the real me.
I had always considered myself a conscientious person. Like Job, I felt that I was ethical, feared God, and avoided evil. Somehow, in the back of my mind, I knew that there was a reason I was born and a purpose for my being put here on earth.
Although, for the life of me, I couldn't figure it out. And, nothing used to trouble me more than not being able to figure something out.
I was brought up as a Christian. A good little girl. Painfully shy, overweight, and acne-prone, I was an honor roll student in school and sang in the choir every Sunday. I kept to myself most of the time, avoiding confrontations and existing on the outer edge of life. Sound familiar?
I tried to fade into the background as much as possible. It made my childhood easier. It made my whole life easier. It made it easier to forget about the series of broken marriages with a nearly endless parade of stepmothers, stepfathers, stepsisters and half-sisters, stepbrothers and half-brothers. All of those wonderful events captured in single moments in my mind just like the faded pictures in my photo albums.
My photo albums. Only the happy moments are captured in those pictures. No one ever saw the other side of my life. There is no photo album that you can turn the pages and see the pictures I have in my mind for those times. Those pictures I refuse to bring out to show my friends. My family. Myself. The ones that showed the other side of our supposedly happy, typically dysfunctional home, filled with alcohol abuse, physical and mental abuse, and incest. That was the home I wasn't supposed to talk about. There are no real pictures of those moments. Only the pictures in my mind.
Appalling pictures. Ones that I wish I could destroy as easily as setting a match to a piece of paper. I'd do it if I could. I would put the match to the edge of the picture; watch the flame lick hungrily at the paper. I'd smile when the picture darkened; the edges curled in toward the heat. I'd hold the picture between my fingers for as long as possible, watching the flame devour the moment. Watch the moment go black, like the charred paper, and then flutter away as ashes. To never be remembered again.
The pictures in my mind won't burn.
I keep those pictures locked in a box in the back recesses of my memories. I try not to think about them or remember that they're there. I pile other clutter on top of the box. Pushing and shoving it further and further in the back of my mind, like hiding a box filled with items you just can't throw out in the back of a dark closet. Trying to forget. Trying.
I've done a lot to put physical space and time between those memories and me. But, every where I go, no matter what place I end up in, somehow, when I least expect it, I'll realize that little box has found me. Again.
That little box isn't so little anymore and it's found friends. It's multiplied and grown, to include boxes from other parts of my life. Boxes of memories from failed relationships. Boxes of failed parenting tactics. Boxes of failures.
However, as I've grown in spirit and mind an amazing thing has happened. Other boxes have accumulated that contain good memories. Boxes of accomplishments. A wonderfully, supportive marriage. Good parenting decisions. Outstanding professional achievements. Happy memories with my children and my friends.
So, now I welcome that little box and all its friends. I don't often look inside, but instead I continue to add other boxes to the collection. In these boxes I've placed all my memories. Some good, some not so good.
But, all of them together make up whom I am. And who I am is the person God wants me to be. At least, I hope so, anyway.
Like Job, I no longer curse the day I was born. I don't demand that God tell me why I must go through what I have and will continue to experience in the future.
Now, I ask Him to be with me as I travel from day to day and provide me with guidance and wisdom to know Him.
I am content in knowing that I don't need an answer for every question right now. I understand that there isn't always going to be a reason that makes sense. Only the knowledge that there are answers and maybe in time, I will discover them. And, if I don't, then I have to trust God enough to understand that He knows.
That is enough for me. I am truly blessed.
And, in return, my promise to God is that I will try to listen more and complain less so that I can hear His gentle prompts and be prepared to let go of what I can't control.
I welcome God's tests because I know that He is proud of me and wants to show others how proud He is of me.
And, like Job did, I too look forward to living a full life, albeit not an easy life, and dying very old. An old woman surrounded by my children and their children and their children.