I get up this morning, and the very first things I see are this, and this . I sometimes wonder why God gave me two or three extra helpings of empathy. Sometimes, it sucks. My feelings of well being are generally attached to those of others. It pains me greatly to see anyone struggle. It strikes me to the core when it happens to people I really care about.
I had been putting off writing this. It was going to be a sermon, but I thought, “there’s not enough Joy in it for church”. The same goes for a blog post. So, these words sat dormant in the back of my mind, revising themselves, preparing for a moment when they would be set free. I feel that right now is that time.
I want to talk to you about three couples.
I grew up just about as sheltered as is possible for a boy who had parents of limited means. When I became a young man, my innocence, no doubt, was a source of humor for my more cynical and jaded friends. The first jolt to my system, when I really started to question God and His judgement, came when a girl I was dating at the time confessed to me her greatest pain.
She had been working as a nanny for a couple. The child she cared for had an unusual name: Yobi. He was the most beautiful child she had ever seen, and she loved him almost as her own. But fate took an unkind turn: he developed brain cancer. This beautiful child withered and died at two years old.
My overloaded empathy kicked in. This young lady and her pain was all I could think about for a while. For the first time, I questioned God. “What, Lord, is the point of this?“, I asked. “Are you helpless, or cruel?”. Those were the only two options I could see. I was having my first Job moment.
Job’s story is one that almost everyone knows. Whether it is a literal recounting of events, or an allegory, one thing is clear: Job’s suffering is the benchmark of all suffering (save for Christ). I’ve had friends encounter much suffering over the years, but never anything as acute as that of Job. He lost all but his life.
We are often quite critical of Job’s “friends”, who did nothing to encourage him. The mid chapters of Job are filled with words upon words by his friends, joining him in the pity party. They wallow about as much as onlookers can.
But most of our scorn is saved for Job’s wife. Most remember her advice to him: “Curse God and die”. Thousands of years removed from this moment, comfortable in our churches and living rooms, we ridicule her advice. We mentally reply to her, as Job did, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”.
It’s easy to forget that Job’s wife, at this point, was now destitute, all the children she had borne were dead, and her husband had become an invalid, writhing in pain. She had been through more than any of us will ever see. We, no doubt, would have a reaction closer to hers than that of her husband. And, like all of us, she saw God through a straw.
God is eternal, omnipotent, omniscient. We are temporal, know nothing of eternity, and have a myopia in our view of God. Even on our best, most revelatory days, we can only see God through the eyes of mortals. It is as if you were looking at me through a straw. My head might be visible to you, but there’s no way you could see my arms flapping like a chicken. We see just a tiny speck of the action; even if we are lucky enough to get a fleeting glance of God’s face, we do not possess the vision to see what the rest of him (of which there is no end) is doing.
Let’s get back to today. I’d like you to meet Robert and Eunice. 55 years, they’ve spent side by side. They finish each others sentences. Their love is so deep, so profound; the kind of love that comes from a lifetime of shared experience.
But Robert is weary today.
You see, Eunice, the woman who stole his heart all those years ago, the mother of his children, his best friend – she had “gotten the cancer”. They fought it for a while, but now the doctors have given up all hope. Now, she is bedridden and withering away; everyone knows that it’s only a matter of time.
And Robert is weary. Unless you’ve been through it, it is impossible to know the burden that must be borne when walking a dear loved on through the valley of the shadow of death. Robert alternates prayers between, “Please, let me have her just one moment more”, and “Please, Lord, take her, she is in such pain; set her free”. Along with this, he must attend to her day to day care, something he was never trained to do. It is a cross that is more than he can bear. How it weighs on him!
But, two times a week, someone comes into their home, and eases the burden, if only for a little while. She attends to Eunice with a loving care, gets her clean, even lightens her mood with a joke or two and stories of the good old days. She makes sure that Eunice is comfortable, and has the medicines she needs. For just a little while, Robert can catch his breath, he can rest. You and I cannot know the unimaginable heavy cross that Robert must bear; yet, a couple of times a week, for a little while, an angel arrives, takes the cross from his back, and carries it for him. It is just enough to allow him to go on.
There are hundreds of Roberts and Eunices spread throughout our community.
If you know me, you’ve probably figured out that the angel of which I speak is my wife, Lintilla. She is a hospice caregiver. Most people, when they find out what she does, respond with something akin to “I couldn’t do that”. I know I couldn’t.
I once asked her how she does it; why on earth did she choose to make her vocation, of all things, this?
She then asked me if I remembered, when we were young, the story she told had me about the young boy she had lost named Yobi. She had watched him wither away, and saw how it devastated and tore apart Yobi’s parents. She had been helpless. There was nothing she could do. That’s when she decided to go into nursing. Then, she could do something.
And so she does. And it occurred to me not long ago, that God had given me the answer to those angry questions I had asked Him so long ago when I learned about Yobi. God was not the source of that young child dying; there is an Enemy. But that Enemy is helpless when God takes all things, even evil things, and turns them to the good. In this case, the immense pain of one yesterday was transformed into the vehicle for the easing of pain for many today.
Many times, it takes centuries; sometimes just a few short years. We don’t know, we can’t know, what God is doing or how long it will take. We only see Him through a straw, if we see Him at all.
But I know that all evils will be turned to the good in time. I know it like I know the sun is shining although my eyes are closed.