I have been thinking this week about theology and compassion. I have been wondering how cultural ideas can seep into theology and even how the most basic of idea can get twisted around even though we know better. Have you even known someone who was unreasonable in their beliefs. So much so that it really defied what was “acceptable”. I mean, come on, how far can you go, how radical can you be with your beliefs. At what point do you say to yourself, ok, if everyone else believes there is more than one way to Heaven, yet I believe only through Christ, when do I become pliable and give in. Most of us (hopefully) would not give in to such a central and essential point of the Christian faith, but what about something a little more hidden.
I have been looking at the book of Job this week, thinking about the unreasonableness of this man. How can he sit there and disagree with all his friends. Are they all wrong?
Here is what Job’s friend’s were saying about his suffering:
“Does God pervert justice? Does the Almighty pervert what is right? When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.” Job 8:3-4 (Job’s 10 children died in chapter 1.)
“if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, then you will lift up your face without shame; you will stand firm and without fear. Job 11:14-15
“When will you end these speeches? Be sensible, and then we can talk.” Job 18:2
One of Job’s responses:
“Doubtless you are the people, and wisdom will die with you! But I have a mind as well as you; I am not inferior to you. Who does not know all these things? I have become a laughingstock to my friends, though I called upon God and he answered— a mere laughingstock, though righteous and blameless! Men at ease have contempt for misfortune as the fate of those whose feet are slipping. The tents of marauders are undisturbed, and those who provoke God are secure— those who carry their god in their hands. Job 12:2-6
One of the ideas that Job was fighting was the common thought that if bad things happened to you, then there must be sin in your life. Over and over his friends are telling him this, and over and over Job proclaims his innocence. In Job 12 he says that good things happen to those who oppose God, showing them their idea was weak and not always true. So the argument rages on and in chapter 18 Bildad simply asks him to be sensible (reasonable). He never is (until God speaks at the end of the book). Most of us are taken back by Job’s tenacity and unwillingness to yield. But also I got to thinking about the problem he faced (besides his suffering). He was facing a common misconception, a thought pattern that was incorrect in his day. You think this was only an ancient problem? No – this idea runs all through history.
Do you remember the story of Jesus healing the man who was blind from birth. Here again we see this idea crop up.
“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’” John 9:1-3
So during Jesus’ day, he address this issue as well – the common belief that if someone had an ailment or the like, it was from sin. Jesus clearly says that he was born blind so that God’s glory might be displayed.
The story of Job and this New Testament example tell us that there are things we cannot know, and that many sufferings in life are for the glory of God. Remember God never answers Job’s “Why is that happening to me?” question. Even so, I think this type of thinking can still be a problem today. As Christians, we tend to think we would never think of someone in this way, after all we are holy (pious, self-righteous, know-it-alls, highly educated, been there done that). Actually, thinking “issues” in a person’s life are attributed to their “sin” is quite common. We think like this all the time. It is totally natural.
We must pursue this type of thinking and get rid of it. It can destroy relationships. When Job’s friends first learned of all Job’s suffering, they went and sat with him for 7 days without speaking. It was after this where they went to the left (with all that talking). I think this should be our example. Our first response is compassion, but then we try to “help” – which often includes making judgments, accusations, etc. While I may not ever consciously think a person who is disabled has “sin” in their life, I may think something just a shade lighter. I might think they have been exposed to certain influences or have not experienced the right teaching. All the while not realizing I am slipping into this age-old misconception.
We do not know someone’s life experience or what God has in store for them. There is a wealth of knowledge we just do not have access to. It is much better that we take captive our thoughts and words, and show great compassion on those who are suffering. Our mandate should be taken from Job 2:11-13:
“When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”