Sunday, January 25, 2015

They saw his grief

the Book of Job, Chapter Two

How can we comfort a grieving friend?

This is a challenge for me, and I confess I often avoid visiting sick friends because I don't know what to do or what to say. Truthfully, I'm impatient. Why are they still upset? Can't they just push through the pain? I want to say the perfect thing to make it all better, share the easy answer.

But there is often no simple solution and talking can make suffering worse. Consider Job's wife's words of wisdom: "Are you still maintaining your integrity?" she told Job who sat scraping himself with broken pottery as he sat among the ashes. "Curse God and die!" Now that's helpful!

Job's friends were more comforting.  When Job’s three friends ... 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.

As we talked about it in our group this week, often that is the best comfort: show up and shut up! Visiting friends in their distress shows we see their grief, care about them, are concerned for them, want them to be consoled and healed. Just holding their hand, praying for them, giving them a message, brushing their hair, doing their nails, bringing special food, or running errands for them, can be encouraging. Don't offer discouraging advice, such as Job's wife, or ask foolish questions. Laughter is good medicine, sharing good memories and reminiscing about happy times.

Most important, we discovered that different people are encouraged by different things. Some of us wanted people to come and have conversations with us. Others of us appreciated practical help. Others longed for quiet companionship. It is important to ASK what is needed. How else can we know?

Job's pain was extreme. He lost all his livelihood, all his children and his health. Scripture tells us it was all without cause. While he affirmed that we need to accept the trouble from God as well as the good, Job's torment was intense. Not only do I want to have Job's attitude always, but I want to be able to be more of a comfort to others when they suffer.

Father, You are a God of mercy and lovingkindness. Help me to be more like You. I have been reluctant to engage, fearful of saying the wrong thing. Guide me to lean in to them and show Your love in the ways that are most encouraging. Let me also remember that no one is exempt from misfortune and that next time the person who is suffering could be me!    

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

When bad things happen to good people

the Book of Job, Chapter One

"Have you considered my servant Job?"

And so begins a story of calamity and suffering, that quite frankly, I find difficult to read. We chose the book of Job because it discusses the question most difficult to answer: Why do bad things happen to good people? One woman in our group told us she wanted to be prepared because people often ask her this question. Another woman wrote to me, "Please help me understand why do these things happen. This by no makes me love God any less or makes me not want to serve Him but it does confuse me sometimes."

In the book of Job, the curtain is pulled back and we see what is happening in heavenly places. We hope to discover the larger purposes of God. As we discussed the first chapter together this week, even this does not satisfy. Job is described by God as "blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." Blameless does not mean Job is perfect, but it does mean there is no fault in Job that deserves punishment. Job did nothing wrong to merit this onslaught. Indeed, Job was singled out because "there is no one on earth like him." Satan had not identified Job as a candidate for suffering. God did.

From the heavenly conversation we see God clearly is able to control Satan's actions. God allows Satan to strike everything Job has, but in the same breath, God limits Satan's power. God is in control. He could have prevented this pain.

But God does not. God allows it all to happen to Job, the loss of all his livestock, almost all his servants, and all ten of his children. It's the loss of his children that distressed me the most. You can replace sheep and camels. Children are not replaceable.

Even when the calamity came, half of it came from the forces of nature: "The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants," one of Job's servants announce to him. Another tells him, "suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed..." leaving all ten of his children dead. It was God. Who else controls fire from heaven? Who else controls the wind?

We are left the ask the question: Why would God act so cruelly to someone who worships Him? Who is blameless?

Perhaps it is impossible for us to understand the purposes of God. Like our children can't understand why we do things that cause them discomfort or pain, how can we expect to discern the thoughts of a eternal God? Perhaps God tested Job and preserved this historic story all these years for us to see and help us understand pain. Perhaps God was refining Job, helping him grow in his faith and understanding of God. Perhaps the best explanation was the one shared by one of the women: "blank happens!" This is basically what Jesus tells us in John 16:33: "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

None of those answer are comforting for people who face death. What answer can be given to the parents of the children of Connecticut's Sandy Hook? To the wives of the fire fighters who climbed into the Towers on 9/11? To the families of those who lost loved ones in the South Asian tsunami on Christmas day 2004?

There are no answers that satisfy, no reason that is good enough. The only one that comes close is that Jesus joined us in our world of trouble. He did not come to merely teach us, but enter into our pain. Jesus experienced poverty, hunger, betrayal, extreme physical pain and death. Even Jesus asked for the pain to be removed, but was willing to suffer it to save us. Jesus' answer to the pain was: "not My will be Yours be done."

Jesus, it was not easy for You either. Scripture tells us in the garden when You prayed these words, You wept and sweat drops of blood. Help me to accept all from Your hand, the good and the bad, trusting You. You give and take away. In this world I will experience trouble. Let my response be to continue to trust You and to bless Your name!