Job and the Chinese farmer

Published 7:12 am Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Maybe it’s time we wrapped our heads around this pandemic from a different perspective.

When I was a boy roaming the halls of Huguley Elementary School I read a story that has stayed with me my entire life. It is a fable about an old Chinese farmer.

Times were hard, the nation was in turmoil, and he and his wife and son eeked out an existence by running a small, hardscrabble farm.

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One day the farmer’s prize horse ran away. One of his friends comforted him with, “That’s bad news!” The farmer smiled peacefully, “Who can say?”

Soon his horse came back and brought a beautiful second horse with him. His friend heard about it and said: “That’s wonderful!” The farmer shrugged, “Who can say?”

The farmer’s son broke his leg while training in the second horse.

His friend again comforted him with, “That’s bad news!”. The wise old farmer again replied, “Who can say?”

Soon, the emperor’s men came to the farm to conscript every able-bodied young man into the new war. The farmer’s son’s broken leg excused him from having to go.

None of the events of his life had the impact he might have automatically assigned to it.

He knew that he was too close to the event to understand it yet. He wisely decided to wait and see.

We’ve all run into this sort of thinking before. Remember the book of Job in the Bible?

You will remember that even though Job was a good man, God allowed the devil to take away his family, his health and his livelihood, until all he had left was some grumbling friends and a not-very-comforting wife whose only advice was for him to curse God and die.

Job’s friends gathered to comfort him. But their way of comforting him was to explain that this was all his fault.

Job didn’t buy that, and things got heated. They were each quite certain that their explanation was the right one. As things turned out, they were all wrong.

Job cried out to God to explain things. So, God did.

God told Job to stand up like a man. Then He hit Job with a serious of rhetorical questions. He began by asking him who is this who is using so many words with so little knowledge?

God continued by asking Job where he was when He formed the earth “When the morning stars sang together, and all the Sons of God shouted for joy?”

He spent two chapters asking Job whether he was up to creating the earth an all of the amazing things in it?

Then He stopped, paused, and asked Job, “He that reproveth God, let him answer it”.

Job had nothing. He apologized for ever doubting God. God restored him to better than he was before any of this happened.

But if you are careful with the text you understand God never directly told Job why He allowed him to suffer.

What do we make of that? We know what Job understood: he now understood that he didn’t know enough to fully understand what was going on , that his task was to trust in a loving God who understood everything and who had Job’s best interests at heart.

I learned some fascinating family lore this week. My grandfather’s wife died from the Spanish flu. He remarried, and his second wife died. I can’t even imagine how tough that must have been. He married a third time.

His third wife is my grandmother. Had his first two wives not died, neither I nor my children nor my grandchildren would be here.

You would not be reading this column.

So how should we react to this coronavirus? One thing we know beyond all doubt: God is in control and he has our best interests at heart.

And He is watching to see how we do in this time of testing.