This post is the second of four in the “Hope” series, which will be released through the month of February. The story behind the healing journey of a family from Niger is told by Josh Korn, one of the Spiritual Directors at CURE Niger.
We hear it over and over again. Almost every patient we talk to at the hospital tells us the same thing. Their disability is seen as a curse. It is something terrible and unfortunate that has happened to them, but also something for which they feel responsible. In many cultures, having a disability is viewed as a sign that you must have done something wrong; you must have somehow invited it upon yourself. If it wasn’t you, then it must have been your parents. Sometimes people say it is a curse from an evil spirit; sometimes they say it is a curse from God. But either way, they are saying that if you have a disability, it is your fault.
Even though every single one of us knows that bad things happen to good people, something in our soul fights against this idea. We persist in believing that the good are rewarded and the bad are punished, in spite of all evidence to the contrary. And if this is true, then we understandably come to the conclusion, even if it is a subconscious conclusion, that suffering is punishment, and if you are being punished then you must deserve it.
After all, if there is smoke, there must be fire.
This understanding of things isn’t limited to Niger. We find it everywhere. In the Bible, it is a point of view that is articulated by Job’s friends when they try to convince him over and over again that he must be responsible for all the terrible things happening to him. It is hard not to think of Job in this context, because of how righteous he was and because of the terrible things that happened to him. The story of Job is one that has fascinated people throughout the ages and continues to do so. Part of the reason for this is that it deals with the universal question of suffering, but also because it shows the inadequacy of the popular wisdom articulated by Job’s friends. They persist in trying to attach some kind of blame to Job until he finally says, “Oh, that you would be silent, and it would be your wisdom!” (Job 13:5, NKJV).
He speaks out of pain, the kind of pain anyone who has gone through suffering can understand, perpetuated by often well-meaning friends who try to comfort by commentary. They try to make sense of suffering that is not their own because they are afraid of what the suffering signifies. In fact, they are trying to comfort themselves by reinforcing the idea that suffering is simple. It is an obvious problem with an obvious solution. No mystery involved.
In this way, the victim of the suffering is blamed for the suffering and made into a scapegoat to ensure that no one is too troubled or put out. The scapegoat is actually a good image, since often those who suffer from disabilities are sent out, away from others. They are rejected and kept hidden from view because to see them is to have our understanding of suffering called into question. We don’t like to question this idea because to question it is to question everything, including God. If the innocent can suffer, then everything is turned upside down.
But we don’t question God. We praise God when things are good, and when things are bad we say, “God works in mysterious ways” with a half-smile and try not to think about it too much. We don’t question God because we think we aren’t allowed to question Him.
Where does that idea come from? Certainly not the Bible. In the Bible people did question God when they didn’t understand the situation at hand. Look at Jeremiah, for example. He said, “Righteous are You, O LORD, when I plead with You; yet let me talk with You about Your judgments. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why are those happy who deal so treacherously?” (Jer. 12:1, NKJV). In other words, “Why do good things happen to bad people? Why do the very people who oppress others seem to be rewarded?”
Job had no problem questioning God. He didn’t curse God, or stop praising God, but he did question his treatment at God’s hands. He said, “Know then that God has wronged me, and has surrounded me with His net.” (Job 19:6, NKJV). Later on in the same chapter, he goes even further, saying, “He breaks me down on every side. And I am gone; my hope He has uprooted like a tree.” (Job 19:10, NKJV).
This is not a little thing. When hope is uprooted like a tree it means that all hope is gone. If the tree is damaged, hope remains. If a few branches of the tree are chopped off, hope remains. Even if the tree is cut down to a stump, there is still a degree of hope. As long as the roots are in place some regrowth is possible, even if it is only a tiny sprout. But once the roots are taken out, the tree will never grow again. All hope is gone. Once the roots are uprooted, the tree is dead.
Come back next Thursday for the next installment in our four-part February “Hope” series.