Recently my neighbor was sitting at my kitchen table weeping out a tale of family dysfunction and disaster. Her daughter-in-law’s drug addiction was (as Scripture aptly describes) the sickness in one part of the body that renders the whole body sick. Accommodations would have to be made in every other family member’s life to pick up the slack and fill the holes left by a mother unable to care for her two little sons.
But today I ran into that neighbor as her older grandson was hopping into the van for a happy trip to the local library to return borrowed books and videos. We chatted a while, and the boy proudly showed me his two Matchbox cars and a Band-Aid on the back of his leg. We confirmed our date for this upcoming Friday night, when my son will make fire in his fire pit in the backyard and we will roast marshmallows. It was a lighthearted scene in their driveway, and for those precious moments, life was good.
I thought to myself how right C.S. Lewis was when he noted in A Grief Observed, journaling during the lingering illness of his wife from cancer:
“One never meets just Cancer, or War, or Unhappiness (or Happiness). One only meets each hour or moment that comes. All manner of ups and downs. Many bad spots in our best times, many good ones in our worst. One never gets the total impact of what we call ‘the thing itself.’ But we call it wrongly. The thing itself is simply all these ups and downs: the rest is a name or an idea”
And because this is true—because there is no such thing as living “life,” as we tend to think, but only living this moment and then the next moment—our view of our respective stations and circumstances should be disabused of invidious illusions. It makes little sense to envy the rich man or the starlet if what we are envying is their presumed happiness, because their lives, no more or less than ours, are but a string of up-and-down moments.
At the other end of the spectrum, too, we are edified: It is not exactly correct to speak of the Misery of the poor as if they do not have moments of laughter among friends at a table, or are not occasionally delighted by a piece of music or a sunrise. Indeed, there are moments of joy in wartime, and moments of despair in peacetime.
The reason this is important is because it shows us that we are way out of our depth when we try to judge the justice of God’s rule in the affairs of men. We see only the surface of His dealings in the lives of other people. We have no idea what He supplies to them—what joys, what comforts or spiritual consolations for suffering, what opportunities to know Him. In the end, we are left like Job:
“I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.”