I committed to myself to read my scriptures through this year, which works out to 7 pages a day. It has been an amazing experience, because when you need to read more (and sometimes even more if you miss a day or two) you get the big picture. Larger trends become obvious, you remember how things relate several chapters before, connections and patterns and realizations distill that don’t come when reading in shorter bursts. It isn’t for everyone, and at the end of the year I too will return to former habits of study. But this has been incredible.
I just finished the Book of Job in the Old Testament. Because I missed a couple of days to prepare a Sunday School lesson with extensive readings, I read the entire book last night and this morning. I have loved Job for awhile, probably first because I thought myself a victim, then because I fancied myself a scholar, and finally because I wanted to be a better counselor. I find something different every time I return.
This read-through I was overwhelmed that in the pressure cooker of refinement, the most intense force is time. Second only to time is wrong interpretation of our experience.
Few adversities mar us deeply in a moment, but as talents are built through practice over time, the overcoming of adversity over time builds faith. Job proved over time that he would not step away from his covenants or his belief that God has a plan, and God responded by correcting his ideas about the divine nature over time. Time was his greatest adversary, and his greatest friend.
The wrong interpretation of his experience by both Job and his friends was the tool to make Job’s suffering inexplicably more intense, but also the tool to bring it to a quicker end. As he finally opened his mouth, he misstepped, and so did his companions, and they escalated their misunderstandings of truth and each other like blindfolded children with swords. However, as their discussion progressed, his companions began to say less, and Job’s view of God was refined, until they had painted themselves with platitudes into a corner and he could finally hear that voice of God that he so earnestly had sought – initially to badger God, then to request explanation, and when it did come, to listen.
I’ve often thought how much nicer for Job if his companions had remained as silent as they were when they arrived, respectful of his grief, understanding that there was little they could truly offer except their love and support. However, over time, I’ve come to believe that they did him a favor, helping him to expose his misunderstandings of God by giving him reason to vent his protective self-justifications, and then talk out his belief until he better understood himself, thereby bringing to swifter close the trial intended to repair his misplaced faith.
Everyone has had a sorry counselor in life, whether human or situational. At the time, we might not have seen the value of someone’s cutting judgment or mercy withheld or the maddening silence of the heavens. It may, however, have been the surgical cut needed to free us from a lingering pain more deeply hidden. Most intense sufferings have a peculiarly alienating feel to them, a trial every one of us must eventually face. The experience, intense and unremitting over time, goes deep within us to expose the cause of our separation from God. In the depths, we release something, and ever after our faith has greater capacity to be true and strong and vibrant, not to mention – patient.
So I guess, if you can’t say something nice … maybe you’re someone else’s trial. When they think about it (*Much Later*), they may even thank you for it.