For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Mathew 25:29
I’m tired of hearing about “superstar sufferers.” You know the people who were talented, gifted, beautiful, wealthy and suddenly experienced a terrible life event that shattered their expected perfect life. Their losses are truly terrible and their challenges are truly insurmountable. Then somehow they manage to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of their dreams and find new purpose for their lives. We lift them up as a symbol to all of us. This is what we should strive to be when we suffer. We hear their stories and we say, “I need to stop complaining about my life. It could be so much worse.” Or, “My life is so insignificant compared to God’s plan.” Then we go on with our lives not thinking of those whose story will never be told, those who suffer while still sitting in the ashes.
What would it take for all of us who suffer to become “superstar sufferers?” First, we have to start out talented, gifted, beautiful and wealthy. Second, and more importantly, we have to grow up in a stable healthy family through which we learn two important truths about life. I am okay. It’s going to be okay.
I am okay. I have the ability to change and grow. I have feelings. It is normal and human to have feelings. My feelings tell me things. I should not ignore my feelings but I do not have to be controlled by them. I am important. I am lovable. I am okay.
It’s going to be okay. I have people who love me no matter what I do, say or feel. These people will take care of me and protect me. They will help me when I need it. The helps me to believe the world is an imperfect but orderly place. I am safe. It’s going to be okay.
Some who do not grow up knowing that “I am okay” and “It is going to be okay” are able to get these later through therapy, people who act as emotional parents or other deep friendships. This requires the ability to pay for therapy or having enough charisma to get people to want to help you. You also need a deep commitment by a friend or group of friends who have the ability to tip the scales in your direction – they already know they are okay and it’s going to be okay.
“Superstar Sufferers” are people who, through chance or what I would call “divine providence,” have deep personal resources which allow them to go through terrible trials and come out the other side with a firm grip on hope. But what about all the people on a journey of suffering alone with empty hearts and empty bank accounts? What about those who know in their minds what they cannot believe with their hearts because their hearts tell them it is not true?
But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.
For days now these words from the Bible have been echoing in my head like a mob chant in a gymnasium. Every time I read Jesus saying this it rattles me. It sounds like Jesus is condoning the dog-eat-dog survival of the fittest mentality. How could the man who identified with prostitutes and tax collectors say this repeatedly? It’s just not right.
Jesus speaks some version of this statement in Mathew 25, Mark 4, Luke 8, Luke 12, and Luke 19. Mathew 25 is Jesus’ Parable of the Talents. The master gives his three servants different amounts of silver (talents) to invest with while he is gone. He gives amounts on the basis of the servants’ abilities. One servant who is given the smallest amount of the masters’ wealth does not invest his master’s currency but instead buries it. When he returns, the master takes the dug up silver and gives it to the servant who was given the most at the beginning. Jesus concludes the parable by saying:
For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.
Searching for some resolution to my anger I found myself reading Mathew Henry’s Complete Bible Commentary online. In the section regarding Mathew 25:14-30 Henry explains that one talent, the amount of silver given to the servant with the least ability, was a significant sum. Then I came upon this (section (2) ):
When Divine Providence has made a difference in men’s ability, as to mind, body, estate, relation, and interest, divine grace dispenses spiritual gifts accordingly, but still the ability itself is from him. Observe, First, Every one had some one talent at least, and that is not a despicable stock for a poor servant to begin with. A soul of our own is the one talent we are every one of us entrusted with, and it will find us with work.
Then Henry Quotes Seneca (de Otio Sapient):
It is the duty of a man to render himself beneficial to those around him; to a great number if possible; but if this is denied him, to a few; to his intimate connections; or, at least, to himself.
Henry is telling us “God knows our resource level.” He is the one who gives us our resources. He then bestows gifts (purposes, responsibilities, jobs) that we can handle at our current resource level. For some of us the best we can do is take care of ourselves. That is okay. Some of us can care for ourselves and our closest friends. That is okay. Some of us can add our neighborhoods, our states, our schools, other nations to that list. That is okay.
This does not mean “God will only give us what we can handle.” Anyone with or without resources who has suffered will tell you it is always more than we can handle. Instead, God asks us to do what we can with what we have where we are at. That will be different for each person each minute of each day. But if we do not try to use what we have to do what we can, we will lose even the ability to do that.
I will never understand why God does not give more resources to some people who suffer. However, it is freeing to me that God does not compare us on our capacity to serve. God does not see anyone as a “superstar sufferer.” Or maybe He does. Maybe He sees any of us who are trying to put what we have to His use as superstars.
The next time you hear a story of a “superstar sufferer” stop and think, “How can I serve God today?” The best you can do might be to text a friend, pray for someone, dig deep for patience with your child or smile at the check-out clerk. If that is what you have to give today and you give it, God has a position for you on His All Star Team.