This week’s message is just for you if you’ve ever wondered why bad things happen to good people.
It’s inspired by the Arabic Ya-Adl, meaning something like just mercy, but in a meta sense that also is about balance, and flow, and a sort of cosmic or divine evening out of things that are way beyond our ability to grasp.
Here’s a quote by Paulo Coelho from his book, By the River Piedra, I Sat Down and Wept:
“Joy is sometimes a blessing, but it is often a conquest. Our magic moment helps us to change and sends us off in search of our dreams. Yes, we are going to suffer, we will have difficult times, and we will experience many disappointments — but all of this is transitory it leaves no permanent mark. And one day we will look back with pride and faith at the journey we have taken.”
Those words are comforting to me. Are they to you?
“One day we will look back with pride and faith at the journey we have taken.”
I believe that I should NEVER tell someone else how they should feel about an experience—how to grieve, or when pain or loss translate to suffering. Although Paolo Coelho does exactly that in his book, and I want to think all suffering has meaning, if you’re suffering, that’s something only you can decide.
I want to share a story about justice, about mercy, and about suffering. Many years ago, when I was in my late teens, I worked long hours as a locksmith. By the way, if there’s one person in this world who gets to see people in their lowest moments, it’s a chaplain. Standing nearby, though, is a locksmith. That’s for another day though.
On this hot, August afternoon in the Midwestern United States, I had just finished working outside for twelve or thirteen hours in unbelievable heat of around ninety-five degrees Fahrenheit and eighty-five or ninety percent humidity. I was hot, dirty, and exhausted. All I could think of was getting home to shower, change clothes, and cool off in the air-conditioning.
Stuck in a traffic jam, I was already frustrated when another driver in a light-blue sedan cut in front of me in order to make a left turn through the traffic jam. I exploded in rage, yelling and cursing out the window and flying a one-fingered salute as the driver pushed through and disappeared down a side street.
About five minutes later, I was beginning to forget about the incident when I heard the screech of braking tires on pavement and became aware out of the side of my vision that this familiar-looking blue car had slid to a stop beside me.
My windows were already down because I didn’t have AC, and I’ll never forget the driver’s face as he rolled down his window and lifted a pistol up to rest on the opening. The nickel-colored pistol was pointed directly at me and the man said, “do you want to live?”
“I’m sorry,” I said. I’m just trying to get home.
I watched the muzzle of the weapon quiver almost imperceptibly back and forth. It was like it was a part of him, and the whole package—the man AND the weapon—was animated with a rage so powerful, that I can still feel it.
After what seemed like hours, but was probably only a handful of seconds, the man pulled the weapon back down and said, “you be careful how you act. You never know what somebody’s been through. You just might not make it home.” He drove off and left me alone with my nerves.
What I remember most about that day was wondering just what it would take for ME to reach that point.
I’ve never been all that religious, but for some reason, I thought about the stories from the Hebrew B
Was I suffering? Yes, I certainly thought so. Was this man suffering? Almost surely, he was – or he had before to lead up to that moment.
Years later, I watched the movie “Crash,” starring Don Cheadle and it instantly made me think of this man. In the movie, tons of seemingly random and tragic events are masterfully stitched together in ways you would never expect. Seemingly evil characters are shown in a different light in that movie.
I imagine that the man driving that car was kind of a modern-day Job. In fact, maybe that’s what I’ll call him from now on. “The day I met Job.”
Why do bad things happen to good people?
Why do good people do bad things?
Is there such a thing as a bad person or a good one?
Or are we all just here, living this life from one choice to the next choice, following a path that’s already decided?
Whichever you think it is, I wish you well.
And when you’re late to pick up your child from daycare and cut me off, I hope I remember that each of us is Job at one time or another and to show mercy.
You never know what battles someone else had to fight just to be here.
That day didn’t turn into tragedy, but it could have. If he had pulled that trigger, would my suffering have had meaning? I don’t know.
It’s easy to vilify him and declare outrage and say that he should
be punished for this crime. It’s easy for me to see myself feeling hatred for
But what if he had already been punished BEFORE he did this? What if his suffering was already happening? What if Job’s God had forsaken him and he had nothing left to live for so that when this snotty privileged white kid insulted him, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back?