Since I've been able to catch up on some computer things lately, I find that I have a few things to post on my blog. So while my husband is busy with chain maille, I'll share some of my recent thoughts.
I have found myself contemplating the book of Job lately. Now, I don't know many Christians, let alone non-Christians who are very familiar with this book of the Bible. They may know the general story line that Job goes through a lot of suffering, but if they look any closer, they tend to get bogged down in the language and give up reading it. Tim has actually taught the book of Job at church a couple of times and I have found his approach helpful in understanding the flow of the book and the big ideas presented. So, I'll share his method to give you some background on how I came up with some of my ideas I wish to share later.
First, When you read the book of Job, you need to read the whole thing in large chunks. It is a story with an introductory narrative and ending narrative. The main portion of the book in the middle is a series of speeches in the form of a debate between Job and his friends where God gets in the last word. If you read the book more like a Shakespeare play than a storybook, you have a better idea of how to go about it. Most people stick with the easy reading of the beginning and end, but leave out all of the meat of the middle. Almost all of the main points in the book are made in the debate section. They are big issues on suffering, justice, wisdom, God's involvement with mankind, and life after death. Job is a man who through no fault of his own is placed in the midst of suffering that most people never experience. He is a man of great faith and trust in God, and his suffering is a test of that faith. In the debate section of the book you see him progress through his struggle from a why me? attitude to nearly grasping the need for the resurrection. Along the way his friends debate with him using all of the various arguments people have used throughout history to explain suffering and the justice of God. They even use what is considered orthodox theology against him. Job points out that their arguments don't hold water and don't fit his situation and what he is going through. In the end, God himself speaks approvingly of Job and his struggle to understand, but blasts his friends for maligning his name.
In reading the book of Job, you have to be willing to wrestle with the big issues of life and not be content to fall on platitudes. There is a lot to make a person squirm in this book if you think that you have everything figured out nice and tidy.
So, with that as a brief background. Let me say that I've been feeling lately that I've been gaining insight to the dynamics between Job and his friends. Many of you know that we are expecting a baby who has the chromosomal anomaly "Trisomy 13" and as a result of this she is not likely to live long. Since we were hoping for a healthy baby to cherish for many years to come, this was a big shock. Since learning of this diagnosis, we have come to terms with it and are doing the best we can by living life in the present. We are not ignorant about what this means for us or our baby. We have researched what it is and what it will mean for our lives. We understand the underlying causes and what medical hope there is. Yet we do not feel ourselves to be suffering in anything like Job's situation. In fact, it sometimes feels like we have to encourage the people around us who are suffering for us. We know that when our daughter dies, we will grieve. Knowing about it ahead of time, just seems to provide glimpses of the grief we will have later. But in the meantime, we find ourselves on a completely different page than the well meaning people who are trying to encourage us. They seem to think that they have to bolster our faith (since we don't give the answers they expect to hear). It reminds me a lot of Job talking with his friends. Let me try to explain it for you.
I can see now how Job, having to live with his suffering on a day by day basis, has a different perspective than those who see it and its ramifications on a purely theoretical level. We are living with this trial in our lives in a similarly daily way in which we will live with it from now on, no matter what the outcome. We have had to make life and death choices for our daughter. We have to face the prospect of her highly likely death and that it would have to take some very big miracles to change that outcome. We have to face explaining the death of a little baby to her big sisters and brother. The reality that not all babies are healthy and thrive has come home to us. Life in America with good health care and low mortality rates has insulated us from how common this used to be and how common it still is in the rest of the world. We feel our faith providing us an anchor that holds us firm as we negotiate this unknown territory. We feel the need not for the big miracle to "fix" the problem for us and cause it to disappear, as much as we feel the need for the strength of simple faithfulness to get through what lies ahead.
Whenever I encounter one of these well-meaning friends, I am not offended by their comments. I am not insulted by insensitivity. They usually ask if there has been any change in the baby's situation. Or without asking any questions, start talking about how we need to keep praying for a miracle. I am simply struck by the thought that they don't understand what they are saying.
Now I am not one of those people who disbelieve in miracles. I have seen enough miraculous stuff to know that God still does miracles. I had an elderly friend who was literally going through kidney failure with the expectation that he had only hours or days to live. After much prayer by the people who cared about him, he mysteriously recovered. It amazed his doctor whom he then preceded to outlive by another 10-15 years. I knew a student where I worked who struggled with the difficulties of having one leg shorter than the other. She sought healing for years and was miraculously granted that the length of her legs would match and she no longer suffered the effects of the problem. I also knew briefly a young woman who was struggling with the physical recovery from having been hit by a car several years prior to my meeting her. She had the un-nerving way of mentioning how God talked to her. She kept praying to God for healing. One Sunday she told us that God said that he was going to heal her. Three days later she died after being hit by a car as she crossed a street. Sometimes miracles don't happen the way you expect them to. There are numerous stories out there that people can tell of miracles that have happened in their lives. But, when you are dealing with miracles, you are dealing with exceptions to the rule. If miracles were routine, they wouldn't be miracles and they wouldn't have their intended effect. The Bible is full of miracle accounts. The Bible is also full of accounts where miracles didn't happen and people were expected to live faithful lives anyway. I am convinced that God doesn't just hand out miracles like a fairy godmother, if we just believe enough he will do the impossible just to make us happy or save us from some of the unpleasant things in our lives. I think God wants his miracles to make a difference in the big picture. We tend to be looking at a much smaller picture than God is.
Knowing what we know about our daughter's condition, it would not only have to be fixed in her chromosomes in every cell in her body, it would have to be fixed in the multiple organ defects that have taken place as she developed in the womb. That would be a big miracle. Would we be happy to have a healthy daughter? Absolutely! So why don't I pray for the big miracle? Because I can't see what "big picture" good it would do. People in our society are very skeptical. When faced squarely with a miracle like that, they do not decide "OK... God must really exist after all." They assume that the initial diagnosis was wrong, the tests were messed up, the ultrasound pictures weren't accurate or any number of excuses to avoid believing a big miracle. Would a big miracle in our situation do much good beyond our little circle? Somehow, I don't think so.
On the other hand, what about the small miracle, which is what I pray for. If God grants us the ability to live simple faithfulness through our trial, what good would that do? How many people are hurting and struggling in their lives? A lot. How many of them expect a miracle to save them from it? How many of them would instead find greater hope in their own lives by seeing someone go through a struggle successfully relying on God through simple faithfulness rather than that person being one of the few who are granted a special miracle? Somehow, the small miracle seems to me to fit better into doing the most good in the big picture.
So when I encounter these people who are trying to encourage me by telling me that God can do anything, don't give up, we're praying for a miracle, and so forth, I get the feeling that they are doing the same thing that Job's friends are doing. Unlike us they are not intimately connected with the situation, so they haven't really needed to wrestle with it and think it through deeply. It is very easy to sit back and rest on cliches and platitudes. It is easy to say what you think God should do, but that doesn't change the fact that God does what he does in each situation based on that situation. The moving of God's Spirit is not controlled by us to do as we wish. We are the ones who are supposed to be sensitive to God's Spirit to be thus moved and controlled to do as He wishes. It is so easy to have a surface conversation, say the "right" things, and be completely wrong.
So what are the real right things to do and say? It is good to listen. If you aren't sure if someone wants to talk about it, ask them if they care to talk about it. Until you hear the person who is going through some suffering or trial talk about it, you don't really know how they are doing. Only then can you figure out how to respond appropriately. If the person says something that shocks you or conflicts with your sense of the way things are or should be, don't immediately try to correct them. Try to understand that they have a different view of things based on their personal experience. Until you have a better understanding of their experiences, you may not have a complete view yourself. It is OK if people spend time wrestling with the big issues when they are going through struggles. Look at all the major figures of faith from the Bible, not one of them had an easy faith experience. They argued with God. They ranted and raged. And God worked with that. It was the people who thought they had all the answers, that God had trouble with. So if you are tempted to stop people from struggling with their faith, and just hand them the clean-cut answers you like so much, stop. Don't do it. Let them struggle. Instead, you might point them to examples of others who have also struggled so they can see something that they can relate to. It seems that in the midst of our struggles, we have the opportunity to understand things much more deeply and better, than we would otherwise.