Coffee and Donuts with the Faithful – an excerpt

This is an excerpt from A Cup of Pending, which I released last year. I am posting it here in response to a prompt from my friends over at Studio30Plus. The prompt was profundity and/or wisdom. In my whole book, I only used the word wisdom once, and this is it. Enjoy. Oh, and click the Studio30Plus link and check it out. It’s a wonderful site, full of wonderful writers. You’re sure to see something you like.

dontu, doughnut, pastry,

This is a much better looking donut than you usually find in church halls after Sunday services. I find it irresistible, don’t you?

The Wisdom of Job?

The pastor sauntered over to the group. He was beaming and resplendent and looking, Cliff decided, for some attention of which to become the center. His gaze fell upon Cliff, just then having another nibble of doughnut, and his expression froze in place, not a millimeter different from the look of saintly warmth he had carried across the room, but whatever life had animated it before had dissipated like so much smoke.

“I see we have a guest,” he said.

He thrust a brave hand at Cliff who dusted crumbs off his fingers with a napkin and took it. “Welcome, friend. Folks call me Doctor Paul. I’m the pastor here. And you are?”

“Cliff.”

“Enjoying the fellowship, Cliff?” The pastor nodded toward Cliff’s plate and cup. Cliff looked down and noticed Blanche’s twenty dollar bill still lay on the table. He wondered how broadly Doctor Paul defined fellowship.

“Well,” he said, “I’ve been fed and given some money and even prayed over, but I’m not certain any of these good people want to count me among their fellows. For instance, John here asked me to leave because I stink, and Blanche just prayed to God to forgive the offenses I must have committed to get myself into such dire circumstances.”

The pastor swept the crowd with a pleading look. No one met his eyes. They were all busy studying the subtle patterns in the flooring. Cliff watched the exchange, fascinated by the dynamics.

“Cliff has cancer,” Blanche announced.

Doctor Paul cocked his head to consider this new information.

“Not anymore,” Cliff said. “Now I’m just poor, homeless, and unwashed.”

“The first lesson of Job,” the pastor said, “as I stressed in my sermon, is that bad things sometimes happen to good people.”

“I was just telling him that others have had cancer,” John said. “Even here. Even me.”

John seemed proud of his capacity for comprehension. The pastor raised his hand, palm out, whether in blessing or to stop John from talking, Cliff couldn’t decide.

Doctor Paul continued, “Job’s friends, if you’ll remember, had difficulty letting go of the idea that afflictions here on Earth are a punishment from the God of justice. We can’t judge one another on the basis of our trials. Afflictions exist. We don’t know why, but we do know we have Jes …”

“Excuse me, Paul,” Cliff interrupted.

He had his hand up, almost like he was in seventh grade trying to get his teacher’s attention, except he was clutching half a doughnut in his fist. The Pastor took a slow breath.

“Yes, Cliff?”

“I need to know why. I came here today to find out why. It’s what you promised on your sign. This business about nobody knows the mind of God. It is what it is, and we don’t know why? That’s not good enough for me. I want to know why. I need to know why.”

Dr. Paul smiled. He was back in his element.

“Ah,” he said. “The second great lesson of Job. None of us is as righteous as we would like to believe, so what afflictions God sends to us are not punishments exactly, but more like course corrections. He uses our suffering to make us better persons.”

“So you’re saying even if I didn’t do anything to deserve cancer, I still deserved cancer?” Cliff needed more convincing.

“It’s not that you deserved cancer. It’s rather that God in his wisdom decided to bless you with cancer to make you more worthy in his sight. You got cancer because God loves you.”

“Pardon me, Paul, but I think that’s a crock! If that’s true, my new friend, John here, escaped cancer because God hates him, and his lovely wife, Blanche, can spare an extra twenty dollars for a smelly vagrant like me because God doesn’t actually like her enough to polish her up with a little poverty of her own.”

“I think you’re missing the point.”

“I don’t think so,” Cliff said. “I don’t think I’m missing anything at all. It’s just as you said. I’m blessed because I’m cursed and they’re cursed because they’re blessed, and that’s the third great lesson of Job. There’s no justice in a world where God makes bets with the Devil for his own amusement.”

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