"In the thought of one who is at ease there is contempt for misfortune." - Job 12:5
I am so quick to judge.
Yesterday, I learned of a tragedy. Another woman was widowed and left with a handful of children to raise without their father. I wish I could say that my first response was compassion, sorrow, and empathy. After all, she is beginning the very same journey that I am on and I know first hand how difficult it will be.
I’m embarrassed to admit that my first response was actually to look for fault. My mind raced to understand why this tragedy had happened. “Surely there must be an explanation for this!”, I thought. In the face of a tragedy that cannot be explained, I wrote my own backstory. Maybe there was some unconfessed sin or some character flaw that God was going to use this experience to expose or fix? Maybe there was a lesson they needed to learn and could only learn through this loss? My cold heart looked on their tragedy from a comfortable distance and declared them guilty and deserving.
I've been shocked by my response before to others’ suffering before, but to have it for a fellow widow seems to be a new kind of low. My heart is so wicked. I, a person who has felt so much hurt when others have added condemnation onto my suffering, am guilty of the very thing I hate.
I have watched as people searched for the reasons why God would allow particular suffering into my and Greg’s lives. I’ve heard their painfully accusatory conclusions: We deserved it. We had unconfessed sin. Our faith was too weak or our prayers too pitiful. We were weak and God was making us stronger. Or slightly more positive but just as hurtful: we were strong and God only entrusts awful things to people who are strong.
I wonder how much of this desire to find fault is rooted in fear. We hear of suffering that we don’t think we could bear and so we try to convince ourselves that it would never happen to us. Whatever the tragedy, whatever the suffering, we desperately want it to only happen to "those people". We try to put sufferers in a category that doesn’t and couldn’t possibly include us. We want to believe that we are in the category of people who will have their prayers answered and their dreams come true. Our loved ones will be safe, our family will stay intact, and we will die in our old age. We want to think that God will spare us from particular hardships because we deserve it after all, don't we? We aren't perfect, but we are better than "those people".
When I read the Bible, I see that this desire to find fault in sufferers is nothing new.
In Luke 13, a group of people hear about a horrible event in which some people from Galilee were killed and their blood was mingled with their sacrifices. These seem to be devout people who die, not while doing something evil, but while in the midst of an act of worship. When they bring this to Jesus’ attention, he exposes what’s happening in their hearts. Jesus says, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”” (Luke 13:1-4)
With some simple questions, Jesus leveled the playing field. The people who were killed during their sacrifices and another group who died in a” freak” tower accident, were no more deserving than those who did not die. Accidents and afflictions do not only happen to certain people. These things can happen to all people in this world - no one is immune from suffering. Jesus goes even a step further and says that all people need to repent. Every person will ultimately perish. Being safe from suffering in this life is no indication that you will be spared eternal suffering.
In another encounter, Jesus passes by a man who was born blind. Jesus’ disciples ask him a question that reflects that way people thought of disability at the time. “And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:2-3).
Again, Jesus refutes the thinking of the day. This man’s disability was not a result of sin. They were looking at it completely wrong. They saw his suffering as a punishment. Jesus saw it as full of purpose. This man that others rejected and looked down upon was valued by God and was about to be used uniquely to bring God glory.
These encounters with Jesus so many years ago expose what’s happening in our hearts today. We are quick to judge but he is moved to compassion. We are quick to find fault but he is full of purpose. We discard sufferers but he glorifies himself through them.
I pray that my response will change from “whose fault” to “how might God be glorified”. I pray that I will see myself as God does - as much in need of his grace and mercy as any other person. I pray that I will respond with the compassion of Jesus and see people’s humanity instead of trying to separate myself and protect myself from their pain.