Friday, June 13, 2008
While in Zambia, I had the opportunity to discuss the book of Job with about 2o pastors from Zambia and then again with about 30 from Malawi. On the one hand I was a little apprehensive about teaching this book to men who have experienced far more suffering than I am likely to ever know. One of our cultural norms is that those who haven't experienced the same thing should keep their mouths shut. But one of the things that is striking to me about the Bible is how it tends to ignore our cultural norms about how to talk to people in the midst of suffering. Job's friends were not reprimanded for speaking when they hadn't experienced the same thing, they were reprimanded for having their theology wrong. When God finally addresses Job at the end of the book, he spends chapter after chapter reminding Job how little he knows in comparison to God, which also would likely get you a poor grade in most counseling classes. Peter and James write letters telling people to rejoice in their suffering while they are suffering, which is of course exactly what our culture would say you shouldn't do. Now all of this has to be tempered with Romans 12 which does tell us to mourn with those who mourn, so I don't think the Bible is forbidding sympathy. But from my experience in Zambia I get the impression that they may actually be quicker to say things we would be reluctant to say, and it is not because they have suffered less.