“And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” – Job 1:21
When I reflect on the struggles and difficult times in my life, I often come back to the story of Job, and in particular the statement he makes that God is one who gives and takes away. I often see the story of Job and one who at the beginning lost everything except his life, spends many chapters wrestling with his friends about how to make sense of what has happened, and at the end after conversing with God he receives much more from God than what he had originally. And I realised that though I turn to this book in the Bible to find comfort when God has taken away things in my life, I should also be considering the things that God has given me too; we subtly miss the fact that God gives Job many things at the start before he took them away (well, I subtly missed that point).
Over the last few years, since the inception of this blog, and not so much the stuff I wrote on previous blogs, God has definitely given much and taken much from my life. It is definitely a delicate task to consider what attitude to have when taken into account all the things I have and once had. On the surface, it feels like a simple “God has given you X, Y and Z, be grateful towards Him” and “God has decided to take away A, B and C now, so grieve and learn to let go”. Of course, the emotions and spiritual struggles behind that are a lot more complicates than those simple statements give credit for. It has been long periods of absolute heartbreak for me at times, and sometimes even now, when considering what God has taken away from me. But at the time it isn’t all too difficult to remember the immense joy at seeing God’s grace in His providence for me. Obviously in good times it’s easier to recall the good over the bad, and in the bad times to recollect the bad over the good. That’s our emotions at play.
There are so many things I am thankful to God for, and the level of my gratitude mostly stems from the fact that I didn’t have many of these things before:
Being able to drive, and being able to borrow my parents’ car to drive
The Bible teaching I received from various places: church, university, conferences
The friends I made in university and being able to grow spiritually alongside them
The opportunities in leading and serving Christians in various contexts: church, university, one-to-one discipleship
Having a job/jobs that allowed me to financially sustain myself and not be as much a burden on my parents
Having a loving family that does their best to help support my changing lifestyles throughout university and work (and even all the things before university)
A lot of the material luxuries I have (like the Internet) which help me de-stress and enjoy the life God has given me
And then there are a number of things God has taken away from me, to which I continue to struggle to figure out what the right perspective to take is, and how to get back on my feet:
Losing connections with many friends due to changes in circumstances, changes in their attitudes and sadly from them turning away from Jesus
Losing reputation in certain parts of the Christian community due to gossip and slander, and having the fear of what consequences that will have in the future
Losing much of the support that once strengthened me as a Christian, and the discomfort that being outside your comfort zone brings
I guess I don’t want to be any more specific than that; it’s very easy to let negativity erupt into ungodly gossiping if not managed carefully. I suppose in a sense these gains and losses are not really comparable to the things that Job went through; I didn’t gain all the intricate part of my life from God and then have Him take them all away. Instead it seems God gives me some things at different times, and takes away other things at other times (not as dramatic in Job where it seems he loses everything in the blink of an eye).
For the things that I get or lose, I always ask the question “why?”; but the desire to understand the answer is more evident in the times when God takes things away. I am less anxious with understanding why God blesses me with the good things that He does give, because being comforted by these things does not raise much urgency in understanding – these things are good and we wouldn’t want them to change. However, when God takes away something important to me, I am in discomfort and am more urgent in seeking understanding and comfort from my loss.
We typically cry out more when God takes things away, and focus less on praising God for the things He blesses us with; there is a disproportion between our attitudes towards God when He gives and takes things away from us. Although, if God gives back what He took away, just like at the end of Job, it would be easier for us to recognise the value of what we lost, and how much of an impact having it back has. We learn to recognise and appreciate the things God has given us once we understand loss.
Anyway, each time God takes a number of important things away from me, it does take a while for me to utter the same words that Job proclaims: “blessed be the name of the Lord”. And during that period, and even now, it involves being more sensitive to the good and bad things that happen in my life. I am ever so grateful for the encouraging conversations that I’ve had with my closer friends in the past few weeks; though these conversations wouldn’t have mattered to me as much on any day I was in high spirits, they are the little blessings that I cry inwardly about.
It sometimes feels strange to regard something as small and insignificant, and then a while later to see it as important and heart-warming. But I guess that’s a reminder that God does not have to bless us with a large slice of cake all the time; even the smallest acts can have the largest impacts. In a similar way, sometimes the largest losses do not worry us, but sometimes the small losses like with a friend burn a deep hole in our hearts. At the end of all things, our God is in control and the things we “lose” we never ours to begin with, and the things we receive are never ours to keep.
Despite the rollercoaster of events that toss my life upside down and right-side up, one particular verse keeps me rooted in Jesus, reminding me that sorrows do come to an end, and that the blessings we have in Christ will come upon us again:
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13