A woman I don’t even know and almost certainly will never meet, a veterinary colleague who is part of a Facebook group to which I belong, has had unspeakable tragedy. Six weeks ago she lost her mom. Four weeks ago, she had a miscarriage. As I write this, only hours ago her husband was killed in a bike accident.
What do you say to someone to whom this has happened? Maybe they should have just forwarded that damn meme and Jesus would have blessed them?
Why is life so un-fucking-fair? Visit any pediatric cancer center and you’ll ask yourself that question in your sleep. Times like this I am glad I am not a pastor. Not that I haven’t thought about it. I think I am empathetic enough and the world needs more non-judgmental spiritual leaders. On the other hand the world definitely does not need a foul mouthed, whiskey drinking cigar smoking preacher with a fondness for dirty jokes and Southern Rock.
Two works of ancient literature explore the theme of unfairness and meaning of life; the book of Job (pronounced “Jobe”) in great detail. We will get back to Job in a second but the other book is one of the most perplexing in the Bible: Ecclesiastes. Don’t read it if you’re depressed. It starts by saying “life is meaningless”. Put that on a bumper sticker and park it. The writer goes on to describe how he searched for meaning, spending much of his life in search of his next orgasm. Apparently it was good to be the king and he got laid more than Charlie Sheen. Ultimately, life left him empty and he concludes the matter with this: “Fear God and do what He tells you to do. And that’s it.” Wow.
Job is even darker. I mean it makes The World According to Garp look like Blazing Saddles. It starts with God placing a bet of sorts with Satan. Basically, Satan is taunting God about all the evil in the world. God doesn’t deny it, but instead points to Job who is a righteous and just man. Satan says “well no shit, Sherlock! You have given him everything he wants in life. He lives on easy street. I bet if he fell on hard times he would curse you to your face.” God then allows Satan to kill off Job’s livestock and family and eventually afflict him with boils. To satisfy a bet. Between God and Satan. So the winner can give the loser the cosmic finger.
Job is long and consists of a series of dialogs between Job and his friends. If you approach it right, it is a good read, but in a nutshell, Job’s friends mean well but attempt to convince Job that he must certainly have done SOMETHING to deserve all this calamity. Job protests he has not. Job is despondent (as we all would be) but doesn’t curse God nor accept blame for the circumstances.
The book concludes with Job and God having a talk. Job asks God basically “WTF?” Only it was in ancient Hebrew so it was more like “?FTW”.
God doesn’t answer Job directly, as such. Never reveals the bet. Never tells Job anything beyond “I’m God. You’re not. Feces occurs.” I am sure that wasn’t seen on too many chariots back in the day.
I find both Job and Ecclesiastes comforting. Not because they offer easy answers, but precisely because they don’t. We make a grave error when we attempt to turn these books into history. These books are poetry and use ancient literary devices to make a point. The writer of Job seems to go out of his way to create a set of circumstances so unjust that no one could possible blame Job since we know the whole back story. And that is just the point. In our lives, just like Job, we don’t. Life is hard and we rarely know why. We at best see bits and pieces, never the whole thing. Ecclesiastes helps us see that in life it’s hard to find meaning in the meaningless. And can’t know it here on earth.
Bumper sticker Faith will let you down. It’s shallow, like the seed that fell amongst the rocks in Jesus’ parable. What we need to make it through the times when shit seems to be flying all around us is a faith rooted deep underground. Job’s faith. The “Teacher’s” faith (the writer of Ecclesiastes is only identified as “the teacher”). Faith that says, this world is effed up and it seems meaningless but whatever happens to me, no matter how crappy or unjust, I will persevere. I will seek God, knowing I don’t have the big picture. And I will cry out to God with “?FTW” when I don’t understand. He’s big enough to take it. And grants us the grace to ask the questions.
I can not even fathom my colleague’s pain. I have lost both my parents and a pre- term son who fit in an emesis basin as I held him for the only time. But I have not lost a spouse, much less losing members of THREE generations of my family in a six week period. All I can do is sit in silent contemplation and remind myself that life is both unjust and fleeting. At times it will be meaningless. Sometimes you have to embrace the suck. And cry with those for whom life has come crashing down. After all that’s what Jesus did. He simply wept at the death of his friend Lazarus. Right before he raised him to life.
That’s what I must cling to. The sure hope that ultimately all will be restored to the way it is supposed to be.