by Jeff Wescott
When I lived summers in my parents’ home, I often found myself having to do things that just didn’t make any sense. I don’t mean things I simply hated, like taking out the trash or mowing the lawn: such tasks had merit and contributed to the family’s health and well-being. I mean tasks that promised only pain and failure. Learning to ride a bike, for example, demanded I accept the notion that bleeding and hurtling across hot asphalt would, eventually, transform me into a bird. Or, perhaps the job made sense—like earning my first paycheck picking shade tobacco in Connecticut—but still left me sore and itchy, imagining easier ways to make a buck-thirteen an hour.
To all my protests, my dad would just say, “keep at it, it builds character.” “Oh. For what?” I’d ask. “Couldn’t I build character just as well by playing with my friends behind the house? Couldn’t I build a great character by reading great characters? And when will I be done with my character anyway?” Such well-reasoned, sober questions seemed iron-clad to me, but my dad saw right through them. The poor man had to be a little ashamed: After all, what kid didn’t want to ride a bike? What was wrong with picking tobacco? He did it when he was a kid! But all he’d say to me was, “you keep at hard things because it builds your character.”
This summer, I’ve been thinking a lot about Job, wrestling with questions of human suffering and God’s role, if any, in the meting out of evil and suffering. I don’t mean to say that Job and I are equals in any way—my character is still under construction, whereas Job’s character was built so well that God bragged about him to Satan. But I do confess to feeling, as Job did, how nonsensical injustice can be. I hear and understand him when he asks, palms turned to heaven,
“What is my strength, that I should wait?
And what is mine end, that I should be patient?” Job 6:11
To be still and patient, attendant upon God’s wisdom, is perhaps the hardest thing for people to do. ‘Action!’, we cry. “Let’s fight this thing! There has to be some way we can reverse this situation! I’m not going to sit by and watch…!” To move and to know and to fight the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune is what I might think is best. Scripture offers a lesson here. God twice asks the question, “Where were you?”—once to Satan, the Accuser, when he returns from “going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.” (Job 2:2) Satan is an active spirit, “watching everything,” and gathering evidence to use against people. The second time God asks Job, who remains seated and silent in his boils and ashes, and who becomes humble before God’s power and wisdom. Job finds humility, quiets himself, and learns to trust God. Therein lies the lesson and the challenge: can I find where my strength is, and for what I should be patient, and to what end are all my actions?