I continue to be troubled by the on-going and ever-increasing callousness and hostility evident in our daily interactions over the airwaves and social media. It seems we cannot discuss differences without denigrating those who hold a different opinion. We cannot win, without humiliating those we have vanquished. We cannot succeed without crowing about the failures of those we have surpassed. We lack compassion. We lack the willingness to understand. We lack love.
There appears to be a hardened refusal to “walk a mile in another’s shoes.” It is not convictions upon which we stand in refusing to consider differing points of view, but rather we stand upon mountains of arrogance. We do not take refuge in strongholds truth and beauty as much as we hide within fortresses of pride and prejudice. We either scoff at those who are struggling as viewed from our perspective of achievement and success or else we berate those in need, supposing in our privileged estimation that those to whom misfortune seems to cling, deserve their wounds or else have earned their difficulties.
As a pastor, I am often asked “Why do bad things happen to good people?” The short answer is, “I don’t know.” Nevertheless, after experiencing a significant personal failure earlier in life and while currently dealing with a chronic health issue, I have come to see losing and suffering as great teachers in the school of character development and priceless guides along the path of walking with Jesus. What’s the lesson? Psalm 119, verse 71 best captures the heart of the curriculum, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”
Affliction – be it in the form of a setback or an ailment – can transform one’s indifference to the plight of others to a sensitivity in the difficulties encountered throughout life. While the affliction itself may not be good, it can lead to good for anyone who uses the pain of it to enlighten, inform and sensitize them to those situations when for whatever reasons, life just doesn’t go one’s way. Affliction can draw someone closer to God and allow them to learn His decrees, understand His precepts and walk in his ways with a freshness and energy not always experienced when one is caught up living the good life, problem-free.
If the medicine of affliction has its greatest impact, the person afflicted will not just be more sensitive, and compassionate in practice as well as in theory. Justice Roberts captured the essence of this impact in expressing his hopes for a group of youngsters he addressed in a graduation speech. He said,
“From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don't take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.”
If we can grasp the kind of compassion and understanding about which Justice Roberts spoke, perhaps the afflictions we experience in life will not have been for nought and our interactions with one another might lead to more understanding and cooperation in our daily dealings. Though I don’t wish ill for any of us, I do pray that each of us can extract the precious stones of understanding from the ashes of life’s setbacks, and mine the gold of compassion from depths of our seasons of despair.