Understanding suffering

By | February 1, 2012

As we listen to the first reading from the Book of Job, it seems like he was having “one of those days.” “Is not our life a drudgery?” he asked, and then responded, “I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me.”

We remember the context of Job’s complaint. In a short time span, natural disasters and marauders took the life of his children as well as all his property and sources of wealth. Friends tried to commiserate and even gave him advice and possible reasons for the evil befalling him. They explained that somehow he must have deserved this punishment from God because of something evil he had done. But Job knew that this was not the case.

In the beginning, Job seemed very philosophical about the experience and maintained his sense of hope and trust in God. He acknowledged that, in the past, he had received good things and blessings from God, so he expected some difficulties and trials as well. But the longer he struggled and the more losses he endured, the more difficult it was to remain hopeful.

This week’s reading concludes, “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope. Remember that my life is like the wind. I shall not see happiness again.” It actually took another 31 chapters of searching, struggle, prayer, and even some “holy whining and complaining” before Job received an answer. And even then, part of the answer was Job’s need to submit to the mysterious wisdom of God which is beyond human understanding.

We may not experience the severity of losses that Job suffered, but all of us have suffering in our lives. So how do we handle the trials?

Most of us search and struggle for answers as Job did. And after days and nights of prayer, suffering still remains a mystery. But eventually, for people of faith, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus help give a context for our understanding and eventual acceptance of suffering.

From Jesus’ example and teaching, we know that God does not create evil. He does not will our suffering and death, and does not demand retribution for faults and failings. In fact, Jesus himself responded with pity and compassion to those who suffered. In today’s Gospel we hear of his cure of Peter’s mother-in-law and many others in that village who were sick.

We also know that in all things, Jesus did the Father’s will. No one lived with greater integrity than Jesus, yet no one suffered more.

On the night before his death, Jesus prayed that God would save him from what he was about to endure. But part of his prayer was an acceptance of whatever God asked. And God did not rescue his beloved Son from death. But he did enable Jesus to walk through the pain and death into new life. Suffering was conquered by love.

In our lives, amid the pain, struggles and questions, we know, from the life of Jesus, that God will also help us to walk that journey of faith. And along the way, God provides comfort through the words of Scripture, the prayers of the church, through friends who support us, and in the sacrament of the sick, enabling us to walk through death to fullness of life.

Sr. Rehrauer is the diocesan director of Evangelization, Living Justice and Worship.

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