Way out West, a modern-day cowboy was driving down a dirt track, his dog riding in the back of the pick-up truck, his faithful horse in the trailer behind. He failed to negotiate an awkward curve in the road and had a terrible accident.
Some time later, a highway patrol officer came on the scene. He saw the horse first and the serious nature of its injuries. He drew his service revolver and put the animal out of its misery. He walked round the trailer and found the dog, also hurt critically. He couldn’t bear to hear it whine in pain, so be ended the dog’s suffering as well.
Then at last he came across the cowboy, who had suffered multiple fractures, off in the bush. “Hey, are you okay?” the officer asked. The cowboy took one look at the smoking revolver in the cop’s hand and quickly replied: “Never felt better!”
Normally, when someone asks us how we’re doing we just say ‘fine’ (or ‘fine, thanks), because that is more or less the standard reply. This question and answer is one of the ways we communicate with each other and quick-start a conversation. We rarely expect to hear anything other than a monosyllabic answer; rarely do we ourselves add anything else.
Not everyone colludes with this unwritten agreement, however! There are a few person who need no prompting to give a blow by blow account of every little ailment to anyone foolish enough to ask after their well-being.
Others, more reasonably, when asked: “How are you doing?” may say: “Okay, under the circumstances.” And that is an interesting reply. I sometimes wonder to myself: ”What are you doing under the circumstances? Who put you there? Why don’t you get on top of the circumstances?” I hope that doesn’t sound hard or insensitive; it’s not intended like that.
I’m recalling someone else suggesting that circumstances are like a mattress on a bed. Get on top of them and you’ll rest easy. Get underneath them and you’re going to be suffocated.
Now, of course, our circumstances are quite different from those of the next person. But what is true for all of us is that though our circumstances are bound to vary, it’s how we react to them that really matters in the long run.
There are no assurances in the Bible - for either believers or unbelievers - that life will ever be straightforward. But there is a clear promise that “everything works together for those who love God.”
That, I’m fairly sure, is likely to make a difference to how we are doing here and now.
Rev. James Gordon Matthew
Retired Church of Scotland Minister