Wednesday, February 23, 2005

A Familiar Story Retold

So this is how it went down.

One day the Snake slithered and slimed his way into the presence of the Big Man. And the Big Man said, "what are you doing in my presence? where you been keeping yourself?"

"Around, man," said the Snake.

The Man pointed out the window and says, "Did you see my boy down there? He's a righteous man. I like him an awful lot."

The Snake said, "Of course he's on your side; you've got his back. I bet if things fell apart, he'd spit in your eye, Big Man."

"What are you saying?"

"Lemme f**k around with him a while. I'll show you what I mean."

The Big Man said, "Go ahead." Because the Big Man knew what was going to happen; he's the type that doesn't need to peek at the last page to know how things turn out.

So the Snake slid his way down to the town of the fella that the Big Man bragged on. The Snake struck at the fella's family, at his cash, at his house, and it all came tumbling down. After getting further permission from the Man, the Snake struck at the fella himself, until he was sick almost to the point of death.

So the fella suffered day and night. He didn't understand why this had happened (he wasn't party to the earlier conversation), and the Big Man did nothing to explain to the fella what was happening. The Big Man isn't always too big on answering questions; especially not from people who have no right to ask them. He's big on trust, on obedience--not so much on explanation.

So the Snake eases back from the fella and sends in his "B" team, because when you're not allowed to run up the score, you have to use the substitute players. The Big Man wouldn't let the Snake run up the score, wouldn't let him take that knockout punch, no matter how much the fella begged and pleaded for it. The Snake sent in his practice squad, a trio of church folk, to mop up, to maintain the lead.

These church folk came after the fella, accusing, prodding, insulting. Never directly, heavens no, that wouldn't be proper. That wouldn't be nice. And everyone knows that church folk are nice. So they made back-handed comments. They made implications. The Snake teaches his people to be passive-aggressive, don't you know.

The fella put up with all of this for as long as he could. Then he lost it. He told them they were all wrong. That he was a righteous dude, that his paths were straight. He then turned his accusations to the Big Man. He questioned the Big Man's fairness. He questioned the Big Man's love. He never questioned the Big Man's power. He never cursed his name. But the fella was hurt. The fella was confused.

What most folks forget, what most folks don't understand, is that while the fella was hurting, the Big Man was hurting too. The Big Man knew the end of the fight from the beginning, but it didn't make it any easier to watch His boy suffer, even if He knew he would go the distance. But when the fella started blaming the Big Man for the evil that the Snake started, the Big Man had heard enough.

About this time, another friend of the fella stepped up. The only true friend of the bunch. The friend told the fella to get a grip and quit being a whiny-ass baby. The friend said, "who do you think you are, fella? do you think you're the Big Man? do you think you can take Him on? He owns you, dude. The sooner you get that, the easier it will be." But the fella still didn't listen.

Then a storm came. A foundation-rocker, full of fury. And in the middle of the storm, the fella heard the voice of the Big Man.

"Who do you think you are, fella? Did you create this world? Can you control the wild things? Can you ride the storms and walk on the raging seas? Can you master the monsters of the deep dark, the monsters that I formed by my powerful hand? Can you come close to that?"

The fella said, "I'm a fool. I don't know what I'm talking about. I'm gonna shut up."

The Big Man, however, was on a roll. "Can you take care of yourself? Can you be your own protector? If you can, then you can question my decisions. If you can control your circumstances, go ahead, and I'll leave you alone. Are you wiser than I am? Are you more powerful? Can you comprehend my perspective? No? Then where do you get off, questioning my justice? Questioning my motives?"

The fella, now petrified of the Big Man (who was in full "rant" mode), said, "I can't answer your questions. I am nothing compared to you. And I'm sorry for doubting you."

The Big Man took a breath, calmed down a bit, and turned to the Snake's "B" team, who had hoped they could sneak out of the room without being noticed. The Big Man said to them, "And you people--you people piss me off. You disrespect me, you lie about me. So go and make a sacrifice to me for the sake of your sorry, pathetic asses, and ask this fella to beg me to forgive you. If you do that and he comes to me on your behalf, I'll let you slide."

So the "B" team did as they were told, and the fella asked the Big Man to forgive them, which He did, because He's true to his word. Then the Big Man opened up his billfold and showered the fella with resources to replace his loss. He gave him more children to fill the emptied seats at his table. And He gave him a big, long life to enjoy his renewed favor.


Job learned not to question God, because he wasn't owed anything. He never questioned God when things were going well, never accused Him of being too kind when his family was successful and his flocks were large.

Folks tend to hold it against God, when the rain comes. Yet when the sunshine hits them, they feel entitled to it. That's the problem of Job: when you feel like you deserve the good things you've been given, you demand answers when they're taken away (or when they're withheld). Because you misunderstand the system. God sends his rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. Sometimes you feel like wicked men are stealing your sunshine. But it just ain't so.

Life isn't like the Plagues in Egypt, where those big, bad sinners suffer, while all of God's sweet children are perfectly happy, free of harm and distress.

This is a hard thing for me to accept these days: Rain isn't judgment, like frogs or locusts.

Rain is just rain.

Rain is natural. Rain is growth. Even rain is blessing, when understood correctly. This is why James says to consider it pure joy when you suffer, because the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

I hate the rainy times. I despise them. And the temptation, so strong these days, is to blame God for the rain. What I'm beginning to learn, oh so slowly, is to pray: "Help me wait patiently for the sunshine."

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