Job is perhaps the closest equivalent the ancient world had to a jet-setting, mansion-residing billionaire. Considered the “greatest of all the people of the east,” he had “7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female don keys, and very many servants” (Job 1:3). And if that weren’t enough to make him great, it turns out he was also virtually sinless.
God Himself described Job as “a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8). This was a man of integrity and faith and goodness. He worked hard and lived well and had earned his great fortune. Life was good, as was Job. He raised ten healthy children, built homes, and barns, and fences, and honored God in all he did.
And then, in the space of one day, he lost it all.
One servant came to tell him that raiding Sabeans had taken the oxen and donkeys and killed the servants who cared for them. Before he could finish his report, another servant ran up to tell Job that fire fell from Heaven and burned up all the sheep and the servants who cared for them. And before that message was complete, still another servant rushed in to inform Job that raiding Chaldeans had taken the camels and killed the attending servants. True to form, yet another servant rushed in to announce that the house in which his ten children were feasting had collapsed and killed them all.
One moment Job’s life was wonderful, and the next it was shattered.
And just when we might be tempted to say, “Well, at least Job still had his health,” this blame less and upright man was struck with a disease that caused “loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” (Job 2:7).
Some who know the rest of Job’s story might argue that we really can earn our way to a carefree life because, by the end of the book, we learn that Job was healed, all of his wealth was restored to him, and he went on to have more children and even more prosperity. But I would argue that if we could, then surely John the Baptist wouldn’t have been beheaded, the apostle Paul would have been cured of the thorn in his side, and Stephen wouldn’t have been stoned to death.
I think the story of Job illustrates a much different truth. Perhaps what it’s really telling us is that we can be good, wise, and faithful and still lose everything. That life is hard, but God is still good. That the “happy ending” to Job’s story is one that points us to the hope of heaven and the treasure that awaits us there, in spite of our suffering here on Earth.
Even if we never experience suffering and loss to the degree Job did, none of us can avoid heartbreak forever. We’re all just one phone call, one knock at the front door, one storm, one regrettable decision away from the worst day of our lives. And if we’re not currently sitting in the wreckage of what used to be a peaceful life, we are just an arm’s reach away from someone who is. The temptation to turn our faces can be strong. After all, we don’t want to be reminded of the fragility of our own happy existence. We want to believe that if we work hard enough and live well enough, we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from disaster. The falling apart? That’s what happens to some one else.
It’s amazing how many people buy into the illusion of the “self-made” man or woman — of working hard enough and being good enough to earn or create an untouchable life. I have long been critical of the prosperity gospel — the idea that if you have enough faith, God will bless you with material wealth and an easy life. And yet, how many times have I looked at the suffering of my neighbor and thought, That will never be me? How many times have I rearranged some corner of my life for safety? How many times have I googled safe guards against crime, double-checked the smoke detectors, reached for the Dave Ramsey DVDs, and read yet another parenting book in a vain effort to disaster-proof my life?
I may be a slow learner, but pain is an effective teacher. While we’d never ask for calamity, it is the moments of crisis that shape our hearts, strengthen our resolve, fine tune our perspective, and grow our empathy for others. If empathy is the ability to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, doing so becomes far easier when we look down to see the scuffed toes, fraying laces, and holes in the soles of our own sneakers. When our own shoes are ragged and worn, we’re no longer reluctant to take them for a walk down our neighbor’s muddy path.
The harsh reality is that it’s just not possible to live a life void of suffering. And knowing that we all fall down should make us a little more gracious, and a little more generous, and a little gentler when those around us do. It should make us not just willing but eager to sit with our suffering neighbor and offer any comfort possible, knowing that one day we may need them to do the same with us. Pride is the devil on my shoulder, whispering in my ear, “This will never be you.” And if it ever was, I convince myself I’d do it differently. Better.
But empathy whispers to my heart, “This could be me. How can I love today?”
Suffering changes us. It leaves scars and burns, but it can also welcome us to the ministry of empathy — loving others who are hurting. How have you seen your trials redeemed through loving someone else in a similar situation? How have you experienced empathy from someone else whose been in your shoes? Come share with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full