I try to read the Bible every night (though this has really fallen through since Baby arrived) ((same with posting here on a regular basis)) (((you might have noticed))). And something in the book of Job really stood out to me.
If you have a chronic illness, physical or mental, you’ve probably had well-meaning friends try to offer advice on how to get better. And you’ve probably heard it at just the wrong moment or in just the wrong way, and felt hurt or annoyed. You, after all, live with this every day. Don’t they know you’ve done research and tried lots of things? Don’t they know you’re trying to get better? Why can’t they just listen and comfort you in these hard times?
Job did have a sort of illness – he was covered in painful skin sores. But that’s really the least of his many problems. See, Job was a good guy. But Satan argued to God that Job was only good and faithful because he had a comfortable life. So God allowed Satan to rough Job up a bit to prove he would remain faithful. Job lost his children, all his worldly possessions, and his health in one day. And he wasn’t all “God giveth and taketh away” about it either – he was sad, and he was pissed! Most of the book of Job is him cursing the day he was born, yelling at God, and yelling at his friends.
And that brings us back around to where I started – well-meaning friends. What did Job’s friends have to say?
Well, they tried to figure out what Job did to deserve this. I mean he must have done something bad, right? Clearly this was a punishment. Victim-blaming is as old as the Old Testament. Have you had anyone suggest that you somehow brought your chronic illness on yourself?
They also hypothesize that Job’s dead children probably brought their deaths upon themselves, and say that Job’s lucky his punishment wasn’t worse because he probably deserved something much harsher. Thanks guys! Very helpful.
So here’s the verse that stood out to me:
“I also could speak like you,
if you were in my place;
I could make fine speeches against you
and shake my head at you.
But my mouth would encourage you;
comfort from my lips would bring you relief.
Yet if I speak, my pain is not relieved;
and if I refrain, it does not go away.
Surely, God, you have worn me out.”
I’m sure we’ve all wondered what we would say to someone with our illness if we were healthy and had never experienced it. We all hope we’d refrain from offering that well-meaning advice about what they should or should not have done to get themselves into that situation. We hope we wouldn’t “make fine speeches” or “shake our heads.” We hope we would encourage them and comfort them. But there’s no way to know.
And I’m sure there have been many times when you thought “if I speak, my pain is not relieved, and if I refrain, it does not go away.” Blogging feels that way sometimes. Here, I try to offer comfort, encouragement, and catharsis. But does it make me better? Does it matter at all?
“God, you have worn me out!”
Well, back to Job’s story. After arguing with his pals for a while, yet another well-meaning friend arrives with even more tsk tsks and unhelpful advice. And Job is wondering out loud about life, the universe, and everything between occasional outbursts and his freaking annoying friends. But he never says “God, I hate you!” or “There must not be a God!” or anything accusatory. He cries out to God about how hurt he is, how angry, and how sad. But he passes Satan’s test.
And while he’s tearing his clothes and crying and yelling and his friends are still trying to explain how he kind of deserves all this, God literally parts the sky and goes “SHUT UP, YOU GUYS ARE THE ACTUAL WORST.” Then he takes Job aside and asks him some rhetorical questions, using them like a kind father to explain how little Job understands about life, the universe, and everything. Job agrees, and again, never says anything like “well if I were God…” or “I don’t think the universe should be this way!” He simply acknowledges that he is small and knows little.
The God goes back to Job’s well-meaning friends and is about to really let them have it, but Job jumps in and says hey, they’re also dumb little humans. And he can’t hold that against them, and he asks God not to hold it against them either.
So here’s two things to take from this:
If you have well-meaning friends who have tried to tell you you’re not working hard enough to get better, or that you wouldn’t be sick if you hadn’t x, y, or z, remember that they’re just dumb little humans. Think of life, the universe, and everything that you don’t understand, and empathize with their stupidity and ignorance.
And also remember that God empathizes with you. Any moment he might be ready to open the sky and really tell those well-meaning people off. He feels your feels.
And if you’re not of the Christian disposition, I hope you take something from this story as well. You’re not alone. These well-meaners are as old as the mountains, and generations upon generations have had to deal with this crap. You don’t understand everything either, and all us humans just have to muddle through life, the universe, and everything together.
I’m going to end this with the benediction my church ends each service with, because I think it’s a beautiful blessing to send someone off with.
“May the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord look upon you with His favor, and give you His peace.”