Tuesday, August 02, 2005

All Screwed Up

Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason."

"Skin for skin!" Satan replied. "A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face."

The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life."
Job 2:3-6

Why do people suffer? Is it some big bet between God and Satan or is there more to it? Here is a little essay I have written on how messed up life can be and wondering if there is a point:


Everything is all screwed up. Everything is perfect.

The last couple of months there has been a series of events that have screwed everything up. My child was playing with fire. Soon we were watching flames leaping from our church. Our church family has been forgiving, loving, and caring but we are going through big emotional, psychological, parental, financial, and legal challenges (optimisticly). My wife and my two sons are seeing counselors. Our dog broke through a french door, resulting in blood on floors, walls, and furniture throughout the house (he’s fine). I ran out one night to investigate a beating in front of our home, and found myself on a fast-paced ride on the back of a pickup.

I have torn the muscles in my lower back, and it is difficult to move. My psoriasis has flared up to the point where I am swelling, peeling, cracking, and splitting all over. In the past three weeks my hair has suddenly found itself more at home on the floor of the shower than on my head, and so I got, for the first time, a sunburn on the top of my head. I just learned that an old injury has gotten to the point where my shoulder muscle is in danger of slipping off the bone (I am doing exercises to strengthen the surrounding muscles). We have had a series of unexpected expenses and financially we have just about given up the idea that we can keep from going deeper into debt. Our emotions are pendulums swinging wildly between depression and hope, relief and anxiety (fortunately my wife and I usually counterbalance each other). Emotionally, physically, legally, and financially it is all screwed up.

But everything is perfect. Often there is a great sense of peace (it’s beyond logic, I know). Throughout these events there has been a sense of purpose and power and protection. I know that I (we) will be ok. No, we’ll be great!

Take for example the strange ride a few weeks ago. I was flying down the rode, hanging onto the back of a pickup truck, while waking up (I was asleep less than 60 seconds before).

My wife had yelled that someone was getting beaten in front of our home. I sprang from bed, ran outside. Gang members were jumping into the back of a pickup. I ran to see if someone was being hurt. The truck sped off while I was peering into its bed. I jumped up and on instead of up and off. I found myself gripping that tailgate as the truck swerved back and forth to throw me off (those swerves only kept the two youths in the back from reaching me). After squealing around a corner and racing down a quiet street they come to a stop. I stepped off, hands open, high. A squeel of tires and it was off again. I stood there, contemplating the receding truck, in my Sponge Bob Square Pants boxer shorts, listening to a dog bark in the distance. I felt no fear at all.

A little later my wife and I, while waiting for the police, found ourselves bumping into another gang member. He was searching for his friend (the recipient of the beating) and was carrying something spear-like.

“What’s that you’ve got?” my wife demanded. She took away the metal fence post. She even scolded him about his need to smoke and not being in bed where he would be safe.

We felt completely safe. And we were, I am certain. Yes, it was stupid to do what I did. It was dangerous. They could have had guns, or knives, or simply used their fists. I could have simply fallen off of that truck at 40 mph and been seriously injured, or killed. But throughout the incident I felt safe, even amused. It was a part of a series of events that should have demoralized us.

The physical, the financial, the emotional drain on our family recently has been rough, but there has been frequent times where we have felt loved and safe in the midst of these difficulties. I understand that it doesn’t make sense. Still, it is true.

I believe that dark forces have wanted to do my family harm. And those forces have been prevented by the prayers of many who care about us. The amusement comes from the incongruity of it all. Picture a malevolent being, thousands, perhaps billions of years old. Seeking to do harm, but is thwarted by an overweight middle aged guy smiling with chagrin in his boxer shorts on a dark suburban street.

For those who are skeptical about prayer let me pause to say, I understand. I can only claim that my experiences have shown that the petitions of myself and others have had a real effect. I love science, but there is a huge blind spot in the scientific paradigm. Science is based on the premise that things are repeatable and measurable and therefore the imperical proofs it offers come with strings attached. I agree that most of what we see around us in the universe is observable, measurable, and often repeatable. But not everything. There are unique events that cannot be subject to verification.

So, dear reader, you have three choices here.
1. Accept my point, at least for the sake of my argument.
2. Reject the point and either read on out of curiosity or quit reading now.
3. Experiment with prayer yourself.

Before any of this began I had been praying a particular prayer for three months. It was about Jesus as our shepherd. I prayed this prayer by writing out the words in tiny letters on a wall in such a way so that when one steps back it is an image of Jesus carrying a sheep. He is the good shepherd, willing to stand between the wolf and His flock. But we are to be obedient. That is our role. We are to follow Him, regardless of how rocky the path is currently. We are to trust that He knows where He is leading us. And that is what I am doing. Wherever He leads, I will follow.

So why the tough spots at all? Consider: we are eternal beings. I will continue long after this overweight, aging shell with the skin problems and receding hairline fails. What kind of creature will I be then? I’m not sure. But I believe that mortal experiences will effect large changes in how I approach eternity.

For example, the death of my first child is the most difficult event of my life. I would NEVER choose such a trial. It was painful, debilitating, and damaged me in deep ways. But out of it I have grown spiritually. What does that look like? It will be different for different folks, but for me it meant getting more out of reading the Bible, more out of my time in prayer. My empathy toward suffering is far greater. My compassion for others has grown. My desire to grow has grown. I believe I am better at helping others through difficult times. Most importantly, I feel closer to God. If you would like to know more about this experience and that type of interaction with God, you might read the first posting found on this blog: “A Starting Point”.

So that is where I am now. In a tough spot. Everything screwed up. But at peace. I feel protected (though I will not test my invulnerability). I believe that no matter the situation, I am under the guidance of someone wiser, someone greater, and it will be all right. I am growing and all growth is painful.

Everything is perfect.


bjk said...

Wow and thanks for the continuing inspiration....He is an amazing God!! in prayer and petition for you and your family....b

lex said...

what incredible insight this is to the hurting. i so enjoy reading your blog. it totally puts my problems into perspective. a book on this subject that is a must read--Shattered Dreams by Larry Crabb.

jimmy said...

crazy, it does seem you and Job have something in common, I appreciate your vulnerability too. Not many men would fess up to Spongebob undies!!!


Maripat said...

Your essay is truly inspiring.


Thank you for stopping by.
I will come back after my vacation.
God bless you in your journey.

Lucy Stern said...

Sometimes we feel like Job, but Job still had it harder than you. You still have your family and a place to live. My mother always told me that, "It's not the problems in life that count, but how we handle them." I try to remember this when I start having problems. I think sometimes Heavenly Father is trying to Humble us. Life on earth is a learning ground with stumbling blocks along the way. We learn from our experiences and we take that knowledge and help others. I remember when my mother died. It was early in the morning and we were all hungry from not eating for hours. I opened the refrigator and came out with cheese and mayo. We made cheese sandwiches because we were too stuned to do anything else. I learned why it is important to take food in to a family who are grieving a death. I am alway volunteering to take food in during these ocassions. I have learned many things in my years of different challanges. I like to think that I am a better person because of it.
Prayer is definately a line of communication between you and the Lord. I don't know where I would be without it. Prayers do get answered, but sometimes the answers are not what you want to hear. I always make sure that I thank the Lord for all my blessings. We need to remember to do that.
My husband has psoriasis and he recently bought a book that has helped him with it. There are certain foods that aggitate the condition and he has learned what he can eat and what he can't. It has helped.
Good luck with all your recent troubles and be grateful for all the wonderful things that he Lord has given you.

curious servant said...

Thank you for your kind comments.

I would like to make it clear (as I have in earlier postings) that I do not feel that I am suffering like Job.

This blog is an exploration of the book of Job and I am using a few experiences in my own life as illustrations of certain points.

The book of job has certain conspets that are the main point. Such as, does God care? What is the nature of good and evil? What roles do friends have in our times of difficulty? Whaat does it mean to be human and to try to live a life that pleases Him?

This blog is just a series of explorations.

For example, upcoming topics I am working on are: prayer, friends, The Lord's perspective on us, the sense of separation from God, sins of youth versus maturity, and solitude.

Thank you for taking the time to stop by. I will take a look at diet (I know I could improve in that area).


Lorna said...


tx for stopping by my site. We often have a blind spot for pride I think that's why I find that prayer so challenging and good.

Your comments on Job and the insight into your sufferings and exciting battles with the enemy ended up with my laughing out loud. Not AT you but WITH you. It is good to laugh in the face of the enemy. And I love Ps 2:4 which says the One enthroned in heaven laughs the Lord scoffs at them.

God set limits on what satan could do to Job. He seemed to get a raw deal losing all that he had, but he remained in awe of God. I want that too.

Blessed be the name of the Lord and may He continue to bless you richly and beyong your dreams - in your health finances and relationships.

Steve F. said...

Powerful, powerful stuff, brother.

Just as a favor, though - if you ever, ever hear of me in underwear of any cartoon character whatsoever, just take me straight to detox - because I've probably swallowed something I shouldn'ta oughta...

I have not survived tragedies like yours. But the end of my marriage, the end of my old life, the end of my seminary career and my unfulfilled call to ordained ministry each seemed sufficient to break my heart, at the time.

I am trusting that where the pieces of my heart broke, God is filling in the cracks, like a bone where the breaks calcify even stronger than the original bone was. Still, I can't help wishing there was an easier, softer way - that somehow there was a slightly less ugly answer behind door #2...

There is much good in my life - even though from an absolute standpoint I am more broke, more alone, and more challenged spiritually and emotionally than I have ever been.

I have to admit, I can't and won't buy into your premise that "everything is perfect," nor can I buy the assertion often voiced in 12-step programs (of which I am a part) that "everything happening in God's world is part of God's perfect plan."

I can trust that God can use tragedy and struggle to perform mighty changes in people's lives - I am proof of that. But if you're telling me that God plans the death of children and the massacre of a quarter million people - once by human violence, and once by tsunami - then that God is the antithesis of good, of love, of whatever would pass for "loving kindness."

I find it easier to believe in God as a transformer of people, lives, and situations more than an angry puppetmaster, content to smash the puppets that do not please him or that do not fulfill his purposes.

I am also smart enough to know that I may be dead wrong. I'm just more willing to trust in the excesses of God's love, and not my own....

T. F. Stern said...

Thanks for stopping by my site too, we have some friends who lost children and that is a test of your testimony. We are never given more than we are able to endure, knowing that makes it possible, maybe not easier, but possible to get through trials. All the same, don't go swallowing any keys just to see if the Xray thing will work. (lol)

kenny said...

I stumbled across your email from someone who left a comment on my blog. I just read this one and I needed to read it today. Hard day, battling thoughts and what seemed like, the enemy at every turn, trying to tear me away from the battle. It gave me courage to hang in there. To stand firm in the faith and trust that God has things in control, even when it seems like it's not. Peace to you my brother, and thanks.

Phyllis S said...

I've been immersed in the physical world this weekend--been to see March of the Penguins Friday and am finishing up 'The Secret Lives of Lobsters' today, having also recently read 'A Short History of Nearly Everything' by Bill Bryson. Science does explain a lot, but not everything. In fact, the Bible and science are not mutually exclusive. Frankly, they go hand in hand. We cannot know joy without sorrow and pain. Our lives are a series of lessons that prepare us for the next one.

Ruth said...

You have an interesting blog curious. "When the student is ready the teacher appears" - I have found that to be the case in my life.

Thanks you for your nice comment on my blog, too.

~m2~ said...

i found myself not feeling so well and unable to sleep and happened in here (after your nice comment on my blog, as well). i note that this was posted in the beginning of july - i am almost afraid to ask if anything's *happened* since?

peace be to you.

HeyJules said...

And I thought I had had a rough year...

But, like me, I see you've still managed to retain your sense of humor as well as your ability to trust that this all is happening for a reason or for strength and I think you're on the right track there.

As I was scrolling through your comments I noticed that Ruth said, "When the student is ready, the teacher appears." I can't agree with her more. Sometimes the teacher is a person, sent to help us to make it to the next level in our faith, other times it is a lesson to be learned or an opportunity for growth. God keeps us moving on our path one way or the other and he'll do the same for you.

I seem to have the same take on life that you do. I, too, compared myself to what Job experienced in one of my posts and once I made the connection, the past year all made sense. I'm in the middle of the worst health crisis of my life and I couldn't be more calm. Everything is all screwed up, and everything is perfect. Amen to that, brother.

hazelorbs said...

beautiful words...i feel your pain, yet i feel your curious, peaceful joy in the midst of all your troubles. i pray every day for that peace. thank you for praying for me...my prayers and thoughts are with you as well.

David said...