"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.