Where does suffering come from? Who’s responsible? Why do I suffer so much? Do I merit such suffering? Does God care? Does he hear my cry? The list of questions is endless when we are confronted with suffering. What hope do this Sunday’s readings bring us?
Bible readings Job 7: 1-4, 6-7 Psalm 147: 1-6 1 Corinthians 9: 16-23 Marc 1: 29-39
Suffering, question of all ages
The questions we pose today regarding suffering are not new. Suffering is as old as human history and it remains unsolved riddle of life despite the various attempts. In fact, the first reading lays bare the official explanation of suffering that can no longer hold water.
Job, a story of protest
No need to recount the story of Job, it’s quite well known. It suffices to say that Job is suddenly stripped bare of all he has; his children and thousands of his animals perish while he himself is struck with sores all over his body. Job suffers not only the pain of loss but also the meaning of this suffering. His integrity is at stake.
Mockery of his wife
“Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” the wife tells Job. What’s the benefit of continuing to be as a God fearing fellow after that has befallen him? It’s like saying: God has given up on you; no use holding on. For her, it’s like God has not honoured what he should be doing in favour of the person who walks with integrity –to bless him and to protect him. Come on, insult God and your end won’t be different anyway –you will die.
Probably we too we have had this voice of Job’s wife in us especially those moments when we feel God has abandoned us to ourselves. We wonder; what’s the use of believing in God who can allow so much suffering to befall us? Job has to explain himself not only to his wife but also to his friends.
Merciless, official theology
Three friends come before Job, not in order to express their sympathy; non, they come to apply their theological formula. The doctrine is that: you are rich, you have many children and you have good health; it’s a sign of God’s blessing as reward for your uprightness. On the contrary, are you poor, sick or childless? Well, it’s a merit of your sins. That’s what is called retributive justice; you reap what you sow. That’s why, for these friends, the calamities that have befallen on Job are a clear evidence of his sin –he’s punished. They nag him to confess his sin and tell him to stop pleading innocence. However, through his suffering Job attains wisdom, unknown to his rational friends, and so he can question the truthfulness of the official doctrine.
Aren’t there times when we have been hard and heartless towards persons who suffer because of our rationalisations that we have elevated to eternal truths? Consequently, instead of listening to them or sympathising with them we try to force them into the mould of our fixed ideas.
But my life proves your theology wrong!
Job, by his own experience, comes to realise that the way his society looks at suffering can’t hold water anymore. There he’s suffering innocently. Suffering can’t be explained singly in terms of sin and merit. Even though, following the thinking of his wife, Job challenges God but finally he surrenders. Through this painful experience Job learns a lesson that will probably change even his relationship with God; from a deal to gratuity. Isn’t it amazing! It’s in his diminished state that Job arrives at that treasure of wisdom.
How often we pretend to be counsellors and advisors to those who are suffering! We had better listen to them; for they have practical wisdom that we may not have.
Jesus, God’s response to human suffering
These Sundays we are reading the Gospel according to Mark where Jesus is announcing the Good News by words and deeds. He preaches in the synagogues but he also goes to the houses and villages to meet those who are troubled by all kinds of sufferings: the sick and those who are possessed by evil spirits. Jesus does not pretend to explain the suffering, but brings his comforting presence to those who suffer. To Peter’s mother- in-law, down with fever, Jesus holds out his hand to help her up. That’s quite telling!
Remember, lying down is a position for the dead or for defeat. And getting up is a sign of victory –sign of life. Hence, in this gesture of raising up the whole of meaning of the resurrection is implied, and to be crowned later when Jesus would rise from the dead. There we see that it’s not the suffering or death that has the last word. Indeed, God has created human beings, not in order to abandon them to death, but for life. That’s the assurance Jesus brings us.
A Christian in a world of suffering
Today doctors and scientists can explain the diseases and the natural calamities, yet, they cannot explain the question: why me? Why has that happened to me, and not to another person? When we are confronted by sickness or death we are shaken to the roots of our existence; labs fall short in answering existential questions. There Christians can collaborate with science.
Yet, as Christians, we should resist the temptation to want to explain things out. We should also avoid to judge. Our message, and indeed our strength, is in the apparently useless gesture of just being there before a person who’s suffering. To the suffering person we witness our love through which we radiate the hope that inhabits us –it’s life, not death, which has the last word.
Subscribe to be receiving new posts in your email box.