Why Me? Diabetes and the Story of Job

Once, I wanted to know where my illness came from. What had I done wrong? Was God or the world punishing me for something? Now, I’ve given up that line of thought, because nobody knows what causes multiple sclerosis (MS) anyway.

But with diabetes, especially Type 2, people blame you; they think they know. They think it’s your fault, and they tell you so. Do you blame yourself, or do you get angry with your family or maybe with society for getting you on an unhealthy track?

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It’s hard not to blame yourself when others are blaming you. Your doctor and Dr. Oz, your newspaper and your mother-in-law, and some random person in the street might all agree that you gave yourself diabetes. You ate too much of the wrong things. You didn’t exercise enough.

Or maybe some alternative-minded friends said you stressed out too much. You worked too hard or you put other people’s needs ahead of your own. Or a religious acquaintance might hint that you should pray more or join his church. Some way or other, it’s your fault.

That kind of blaming goes back a long way. The Bible has a whole book about it, the Book of Job. If you don’t know the story, Job was a rich father who had it all. He was healthy, good-looking, with big herds of animals and a loving family. He was known for being just, generous, and pious, and everybody liked him.

Then one day, as a result of a bet between God and Satan, Job loses everything. His family and all his flocks of animals are wiped out. Then he loses his health. He develops painful sores all over his body; he becomes physically weak. He can’t do anything but sit all day rubbing ointment on himself and moaning things like “Curse the day that I was born.”

Job’s friends and neighbors come to him and say, “Look, man, we’re really sorry for your pain. But you must have done something wrong to cause you to be punished in this way.”

As I wrote on my blog Reasons to Live, this is the common reaction to diabetes and other chronic illness. The friends say, “You must have done something” — did you eat the wrong foods, think the wrong thoughts, not exercise enough, or worry too much, or use drugs, or sleep around, or this, or that, or the other thing?

People may do that because they’re honestly trying to help. More often, they are trying to make themselves feel better. By identifying what you did wrong, they make themselves feel, “This won’t happen to me. I’m better than you.”

Blaming is even more hurtful when we do it to ourselves, but we really do want to know why we’re going through our difficulties. Not knowing can be worse than self-blaming.

The ending of Job’s story is relevant to us, too. He refuses to accept that his illness is his fault and insists that God come and explain to him directly what he did wrong. When God does show up, He says (paraphrasing here), “Who are you to ask me anything? If I told you, you couldn’t understand anyway. Life is much too big and powerful for you to make sense of. Get used to it.”

He illustrates his message with dozens of beautiful, poetic verses about how amazing the world is and how little Job has to do with it. It sounds almost as though God had an IMAX video playing scenes of mountains, whales, and storms, to illustrate his words.

Finally, Job gets the message. For him to wonder why he got sick was like an ant wondering why a human has just stepped on him in the grass and crushed his thorax. There is no “why,” at least no why we can understand. Job says that he had known how insignificant he was in an intellectual sense, but now he could see and feel how small he is and how great God (the world) is, and he can accept it.

Of course, the reality of Type 2 diabetes is a bit different from Job’s. There are whys, although they are poorly understood. There are toxic chemicals and refined carbohydrates. There are environmental barriers to exercise. Especially, there is stress.

And unlike Job, there are things we can do to take care of ourselves better. We can eat less carbs, move more, and relax more. We could try to avoid chemicals, if we knew what to avoid. We could drink bitter melon tea.

But there would be no guarantees of success. Diabetes is like life, too big and complicated for us to fully understand. We have to accept it. When Job fully accepts the wonder of life and stops trying to understand it, he begins to heal.

Acceptance doesn’t mean giving up. It means realizing that life — social conditions, nature, and things we can’t understand — have a lot more to do with our outcomes than we do. Like Job, we have to accept it and do the best we can. Change what we can change; let the rest go, and appreciate the wonder of it all.

If you like this kind of story, you might want to visit my blog here.