In his fine book “The Pioneers”, David McCullough tells the story of Ephraim Cutler. An esteemed leader of his people, this early Ohio pioneer lost his son Charles to cholera as their wagons rolled toward California in the 1849 Gold Rush.
In his journal, Cutler said he suffered that deep loss without complaint, because he felt that his silence was an expression of his faith. He wrote: “I opened not my mouth, because thou God did’st it.” Just as the famous Bible sufferer Job erroneously gave God credit for killing his family, wiping out his wealth, and ruining his health, Ephraim Cutler believed that God killed his boy.
A best-seller novelist whose name I can’t dredge up at the moment told the chilling story of gross suffering inflicted on prisoners in a South Pacific island compound. A leader of the captives kept advising them to accept the abuse as God’s will for them. I remember saying a loud Amen when the novelist observed, “God gets credit for the dumbest things.”
Yes, I know that the Bible tells us to “count it all joy” when trials come on us and to rejoice in our suffering. I remember that the psalmist told God, “It was good for me to be afflicted.” He said his troubles alerted him to God’s rules for the good life. The suffering described in scriptures like these drew the writers and readers closer to God, but God was not the source of those troubles. Instead, he turned those bad times into blessings.
Do you remember what the apostle Paul wrote about his “thorn in the flesh”? Looking back at that hard time, Paul said he now could see that his health problems gave him a clearer view of Christ’s grace. But at the time he was wise enough to blame Satan — not God — for sending that sickness, and he begged God to it take away.
In this fallen world, bad things happen to all of us. But the fact that we have suffered a calamity doesn’t mean God is using us for target practice. Those of us who serve a loving Lord should know this, but sometimes we’re like Job. Our love for the Lord is unquestioned but also uninformed. “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away,” Job meant as a tribute to the Almighty. Only later did he learn that Satan, not God, was the real source of all his anguish.
Gene Shelburne is pastor emeritus of the Anna Street Church of Christ, 2310 Anna St., Amarillo. Contact him at GeneShel@aol.com, or get his books and magazines at www.christianappeal.com. His column has run on the Faith page for more than three decades.