Hemlock: On Job’s Comforting

My Dearest Hemlock,


I’ve written little in the past few years, as you know. I waited, mostly because you seem so unconscionably pleased with yourself, with so astonishingly little reason, that I wanted to give you time to see the true fruits of your labor before sending you this hint. Your superiors don’t see the situation in quite the same light.. Always with the deepest affection, of course, my dear!

Let’s review the facts of the case: she is now mother to two children, whom she loves dearly and disciples, and a husband whom she listens to and respects, though it is often difficult to do so. She is a regular member of her church, who thinks nothing of seeing her fellow Enemy-subordinates two or even three times a week, whether at services or in their homes. She is wasting a good deal of time cooking and cleaning, and thinks little of its being a waste of time. She is, in fact, becoming as steady and productive member of her small community, and worst of all, this community is increasingly something she experiences in real life, in real time.

Did I miss anything?

And your last letter (thank you, btw, for taking time out of your obviously busy workday to bring me this wheedling report about how you have stolen a bit of her joy by stirring up covetousness over her friend’s house!) neglects to take in any of this pertinent information.
The fact is, she is increasingly beyond our reach for any of the favorite attacks—despair, self-pity, physical laziness, or morbid introspection, to name a few. But you are right at least in your hints that she is progressing nicely in self-righteousness. The self-righteousness appears to grow without limit from year to year, as the gap widens between her “past” and her smoothly operating present.

This is the place I want you to keep your finger, and press. And here I also want you to direct your eyes to the area of life she sees as her “ministry.”

I don’t recommend you take the tack that we usually do for other females in the culture at large. She won’t, in her current state, submit to be taken hostage to the emotions of other people. Untethered empathy simply won’t fly with this one; she’s been inoculated in her recent reading. Besides, like most people who err on a particular side of an issue, she is happily on her guard against the very ditch she’s least likely to fall in to. So no, I don’t think you’ll find any success wrecking her effectiveness in “ministry” by making her a slave to the feelings of others, though of course, this move (©1995, Mushmouth) gets all the attention right now. (If I have to read one more cover article I’m writing to The Vile Weekly, I swear it!)

Instead, I’d recommend you do what is obviously better: push towards the ditch. Anyone can follow a fad; it takes experience to execute a custom tailored temptation.

In her case, it seems obvious that her ditch is Job’s Comforting.

Here is what it looks like: She manages to go and see a person who is suffering—with cancer, with a broken family, with a wayward child, with a job loss. She sits and listens to them, and she wears her sympathy face—developed just such occasions, an imitation of the faces she sees others use. The other person describes the difficult situation, often with tears which she may or may not share. She listens. But her mind is working as she listens. Soon, she arrives at her theory: what is “really happening.”

They have cancer—they must have lived for years on an unhealthy diet. Or—they must have trusted their diet to save them, and now God is helping them to see their error by sending cancer. Their family has deteriorated, and the woman says her spouse is abusive. Well, since when is there really an innocent party in divorce? No person is totally innocent of sin against their spouse, so the charges of abuse can hold no weight. Their child is wayward, or their child is disruptive—there is only one explanation for this. They did it wrong. Her own small children are clearly healthy and doing well, and it is inconceivable that they could go from being sweet littles to making terrible choices. Only bad parenting could cause such a thing. A job was lost? The person says that she lost her job because of layoffs or because of religious persecution, but if she had made herself truly essential at work, this wouldn’t have happened. The person struggles with chronic pain? They think about their health too much and is a hypochondriac; if they would only take control of their mind or body, the pain would probably go away.

She doesn’t even know that she’s set up a position for herself where she explains away all innocent suffering. She believes she’s being insightful, that when she pauses a moment and then asks that perfect, leading question to the sufferer, she is doing her duty. But she doesn’t know how little life she brings, because it is clear to them that 1) their pain can never reach her, because she’s made herself unavailable to it, and 2) she will never change her mind about what causes these things.

Why does she do it? Partially, ignorance of what pain is like. She hasn’t suffered much herself. And partially, the same reason why all the humans like to be Job’s Comforters whenever they can: because to admit innocent suffering is a terrifying proposition.

To admit that God, the loving creator of the universe, may intentionally bring about a suffering that wrecks the life you had and gives you a different sort of life (or worse, ends it)—and that there isn’t anything you can do to prevent it—this is more than they can handle. To admit that her friend lost her husband through no fault of her own is to admit that she might lose a husband. To admit that her friend may lose her health, despite willpower and wise living, is to admit that she might lose her health. To see that children can be raised up in loving admonition of the Lord and still stray is to see that her darling children may not come to the Lord. Whatever the deepest desires of her heart are, she will organize the most airtight systems of protection for. I can’t admit your loss is simply loss, because if I do that, I open the door to the wild thought that sometimes things happen and there is no “explanation” until Jesus returns.

And because of this, much of her ministry will be rendered ineffective, praise be to our Father Below. She will never slip into doing something truly horrible, like weeping with those who weep and calling out to the Enemy on their behalf, speaking the truth to them that the Enemy is present in the dark when answers will not come. She will never have her own heart broken by suffering, not really, and neither will it be truly broken by the actual sin she uncovers in other people’s lives.

And so, managed thus, she will grow increasingly pleased with herself from year to year, even while she is growing further and further from understanding what people in her life experience, and perhaps even further from the “suffering Savior,” as the book so asininely calls Him. (Although it is just like Him, to overlook even this kind of error and keep pursuing a person who insists on taking up this position! Illogical)
And then—what delight and what pleasure—when she finally gets hit like a brick with innocent suffering of her own! How fun it is, Hemlock, to watch them scramble for their dignity—when it’s not only suffering, but false guilt they have to find a box for. That horrible moment when you have to find a narrative that fits it all together! And the fun we have, picking over the remains of her faith in a God who never does what you thought He’d agreed to!

She may come to see the truth—that he is an Enemy who keeps asking for things nobody can give.


Madame Helvetius

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