Let me paint you a portrait of a normal nighttime routine for Bekah and me. We decide we’re both tired and it’s time to go to bed. Bekah goes to the bedroom to put on her pajamas while I begin my teeth-cleaning ritual. First I painstakingly floss between each tooth, then I brush my teeth ad nauseum, after which I use a mouth rinse just for good measure. After finishing all of this, I go to the bedroom to find Bekah already in bed .
“Aren’t you going to brush your teeth?” I ask.
“Ugh. I’m already comfortable. I’ll do it tomorrow morning,” comes the response. Then I sigh, shrug my shoulders, and get into bed.
This isn’t a nightly routine, but it does happen with some frequency. Recently Bekah and I had dentist appointments. Guess who got compliments on how well they take care of their teeth while I found out I have three new cavities.
This isn’t just a one-time fluke; this is the way it always goes. I floss daily with few exceptions and Bekah flosses the night before the dentist appointment, and normally she has perfect teeth and I have a mouth full of dental work. It’s just the way it works for us. Her teeth-genes are impeccable, and I am my parents’ son. Despite my best efforts, at the end of the day my teeth are simply falling apart.
As I sit here with half of my face muscles unresponsive due to local anesthesia, I’m thinking that this really isn’t so uncommon. It seems that without regard to our positive efforts some things just don’t work out.
I can’t help but think about our son Silas.
We did everything right. We read to him and sang him songs in the womb, set up his nursery, and prepared a loving home for him. We read books on parenting and chose how we were going to try to raise him. We tried to live healthy lifestyles, and Bekah did everything the doctor told her to assure that we would bring home a healthy baby from the hospital.
Other people smoke and drink every day of their pregnancy. There are men who beat their pregnant wives, and women who think about the child in their womb with contempt: “This is so unwanted!” There are some who treat their children like garbage to be thrown out at a moments notice.
Who got to take a healthy child home from the hospital?
I’ve been studying the book of Job recently, and this is one of Job’s central complaints:
[The wicked] end their lives in happiness
and go down in peace to Sheol.
Yet these are the ones who say to God, “Go away!
We do not want to learn your ways.
What is the point of our serving Shaddai?
What should we gain from praying to him?…”
Do we often see the light of the wicked put out,
or disaster overtake him,
or the retribution of God destroy his possessions,
or the wind blow him away like the straw,
or a whirlwind carrying him off like the chaff?
Job 21:13-15, 17-18
Life is unfair.
Those who brush their teeth get cavities. Those who love their children have to mourn their loss. Those who live upright lives have tragedy befall them. Now this doesn’t mean that we just throw all wisdom aside, letting our teeth, and for that matter our souls, rot. Even so, those who try their hardest may lose the very thing they love the most, and Job is no stranger to this fact, and in angst he cries out to God. He even dares to say that God “laughs at the plight of the innocent.” Rich Mullins would say that, when we use such words, we are simply “lashing out at the one who loves [us] most.” (From his song, “Hard to Get.” Listen to it here.)
But that’s okay.
It’s a part of the process.
Gustavo Gutierrez notices that, through this process of crying out and even challenging God, Job comes to the conclusion that even though he doesn’t get an answer for why he is suffering, he can choose to do something very important. He chooses a prophetic solidarity with those who are being oppressed. He chooses to be one with the people who, like himself, are suffering greatly. Gutierrez says, “To go out of himself and help other sufferers is to find a way to God” (On Job, p. 48).
Maybe there is some truth to that. Maybe we can begin to transcend our suffering by reaching out to help our fellow sufferers. The Bible doesn’t offer many reasons as to why we suffer, but it does depict a God, through Jesus Christ, who is constantly on the side of the downtrodden.
This insight may not have too much to do with my dental health, but it has everything to do with life. Perhaps instead of only asking “why” we should start standing alongside those who suffer: the children who suffer abuse from parents who do not love them, the parents who don’t know how to love their children because they were never loved themselves, the poor who are destitute by no choice of their own, or the lonely who don’t know the sweetness of community. Maybe by standing with them we will find our way to God.
In doing so we can show that there is such a thing as disinterested faith. That is actually one of the central themes of the book of Job. It is introduced in the beginning by the question the accuser poses to God, “Is Job righteous only because of what he has?” In essence, God was being asked, “Is it possible for someone to love you, to worship you, to do what is right, without being rewarded for it? Can a disinterested faith exist?”
Job shows us that it is possible. One can live a faithful walk with God even in the midst of hell on earth. That is accomplished, in part, by following God to work for the betterment of others who, like us, suffer unjustly. The Hebrew prophets make it clear that such service is our truest form of worship, of faith. Job’s faithful service to others who suffer truly was disinterested; he did it even though there was no recompense in it for himself.
And thus the question remains for all of us today. Even if you knew you would have cavities, would you still brush your teeth?