One of the striking statements of the book of Job is found in 16:4, where Job tells his “friends”: “I too could speak like you, if I were in your place.” It should cause each of us to ponder the attitudes we have towards the suffering of others.
“I too could speak like you, if I were in your place.” In other words, it is easy to cast judgments upon people, when you are not “in their shoes.” It is easy to attribute sin, or deservedness, on those who suffer, when you haven’t been through what they have. Maybe they DID keep themselves clean from sin; maybe they DID do all they could; maybe they DID seek God; maybe they DID try to make it without asking for help from others first, etc., etc.
Unfortunately, it is not difficult to envision a lot of “conservative Christians” taking the place of Job’s friends here, who sit in their “ivory towers” casting aspersions on the suffering: “What did they do to deserve this? Why don’t they just get a job? Why don’t they just take care of themselves? Why don’t they just …” and on and on.
Job would respond that they could say such things too, if they were in your shoes: if they had the health that you have been blessed with; if they had the family that you were born with; if they had the opportunities that you had been given; if they had been mentored and given the role models that you followed; if they had the advantages of a good education that you took for granted; if they had been taught Christian values; if they weren’t discriminated against; if they weren’t caught in an endless web of difficulties that those of us who have been more blessed have no understanding of.
Let us examine our own attitudes towards the suffering of others in the light of Job’s experience. We might not think so, but the truth is, many of us are just as judgmental as Job’s friends towards those who are suffering. We need to hear the words of the exasperated patriarch — which, by the way, carry the full weight of the inspiration of scripture: “I too could speak like you, if I were in your place.”
One of the reasons we judge others when we really don’t know what they’re going through is a common mental bias that Daniel Kahneman (in the book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”) dubbed WYSIATI – What You See Is All There Is – the assumption that the information before you is already enough to come to a valid conclusion, that there is no information unknown to you that is relevant to the situation and could change our conclusion (the latter is my expansion on it). While reading through that book, I had the experience of finding that, having already learned from Job and other scripture the principle of “Pay attention to what you don’t know” (which turns out to essentially be the antithesis to WYSIATI), I *didn’t* trip over some of the example tests he gives that are designed to expose that bias.
Very insightful Ben. One of the reasons we shouldn’t judge is that we aren’t God — we don’t see all there is to see, or know all there is to know! Thanks!