I woke up, as many of my neighbors did, early Monday morning to storm warnings in the area. We found out later that six tornados had ripped through our community. The largest one made a path through a neighborhood less than five miles from my home.
Many of us who were spared from losing our homes felt so blessed, especially as we looked at photos of the devastation so close by. I felt blessed, but how did my neighbor feel just miles away? Did they feel blessed in the loss of all they owned? And the family of the 16-year-old girl who died, did they feel blessed? And what were we all really saying about God? That He blessed some and not others? Is that what we were really saying?
Then I remembered a fable I once read, and the message it sends. I want to share it here because I think I am not the only one who wonders these things.
Once there was a poor old man who lived in a tiny village. Although poor, he was envied by all, for he owned a beautiful white horse. People offered fabulous prices for the steed, but the old man always refused. “This horse is not a horse to me,” he would tell them. “He is a friend, not a possession. How could you sell a friend?” One morning he found that the horse was not in the stable. All the village came to see him. “You old fool,” they scoffed, “we told you that someone would steal your horse. How could you ever hope to protect such a valuable animal? You could have gotten whatever price you wanted. Now the horse is gone, and you’ve been cursed with misfortune.”
The old man responded, “Don’t speak too quickly. Say only that the horse is not in the stable. That is all we know; the rest is judgment. If I’ve been cursed or not, how can you know? How can you judge?”
The people contested, “Don’t make us out to be fools! The simple fact that your horse is gone is a curse.”
The old man spoke again. “All I know is that the stable is empty, and the horse is gone. The rest I don’t know. Whether it be a curse or a blessing, I can’t say. All we can see is a fragment. Who can say what will come next?”
The people of the village thought that the man was crazy. But instead, he was an old man still cutting firewood and dragging it out of the forest and selling it. He lived hand to mouth in the misery of poverty.
After fifteen days, the horse returned. He hadn’t been stolen; he had run away into the forest. Not only had he returned, he had brought a dozen wild horses with him. Once again the village people gathered around the woodcutter and spoke. “Old man, you were right and we were wrong. What we thought was a curse was a blessing. Please forgive us.”
The man responded, “Once again, you go too far. Say only that the horse is back. State only that a dozen horses returned with him, but don’t judge. How do you know if this is a blessing or not? You see only a fragment. Unless you know the whole story, how can you judge? You read only one page of a book. Can you judge the whole book? You read only one word of a phrase. Can you understand the entire phrase?
“Life is so vast, yet you judge all of life with one page or one word. All you have is a fragment! Don’t say that this is a blessing. No one knows. I am content with what I know. I am not perturbed by what I don’t.”
“Maybe the old man is right,” they said to one another. So they said little. But down deep, they knew he was wrong. They knew it was a blessing.
The old man had a son, an only son. The young man began to break the wild horses. After a few days, he fell from one of the horses and broke both legs. Once again the villagers gathered around the old man and cast their judgements.
“You were right,” they said. “You proved you were right. The dozen horses were not a blessing. They were a curse. Your only son has broken his legs, and now in your old age you have no one to help you. Now you are poorer than ever.”
The old man spoke again. “You people are obsessed with judging. Say only that my son broke his legs. Who knows if it is a blessing or a curse? No one knows. We only have a fragment. Life comes in fragments.”
It so happened that a few weeks later the country engaged in war against a neighboring country. All the young men of the village were required to join the army. Only the son of the old man was excluded, because he was injured. Once again the people gathered around the old man, crying and screaming because their sons had been taken. The enemy was strong, and the war would be a losing struggle. They would never see their sons again.
“You were right, old man,” they wept. “God knows you were right. This proves it. Yours son’s accident was a blessing. His legs may be broken, but at least he is with you. Our sons are gone forever.”
The old man spoke again. “It is impossible to talk with you. You always draw conclusions. No one knows. Say only this: Your sons had to go to war, and mine did not. No one knows if it is a blessing or a curse. No one is wise enough to know. Only God knows.”
It’s true, who are we to judge what is blessing, and what is not? Doesn’t the Bible tell us that God works all things to the good of those who love Him? I heard one storm victim say, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes way. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” I feel blessed to have my home and family safe. He feels blessed to be alive.