Today’s 1st Reading is taken from the book of Job. Job is a married father of 10 who has wealth, prosperity and good fortune. He is a good and upright man who loves God. The devil goes to God and says, “Job blesses you because everything is going well. I wager that when adversity and troubles come, Job will curse you”. God allows Satan to test Job. He gives the devil permission to do whatever he wants to Job with 1 condition – Job himself must not die. The devil sets about to bring disaster upon Job. Within 1 day, Job loses everything – his livestock, his servants and his 10 children all die.
Today’s 1st Reading describes a conversation that Job has with 1 of his friends after all these terrible events have taken place. As a result of these tragic circumstances, Job experiences unbearable agony. Notice the expressions that Job uses to describe his situation: “months of emptiness”, “nights of misery”, “my days come to their end without hope”, “My eye will never again see good”.
In the depths of such heartbreak and despair, Job is overwhelmed by the unfairness of this undeserved suffering. In the end, he questions the meaning and value of life.
All of us can relate in one way or another to this situation. Although the book of Job was written about 2,500 years ago, it deals with an issue that we all wrestle with. This book attempts to answer this question: If God is so loving and caring, why do suffering and evil exist?
I was forced to confront these questions in my life in a very real way this past week. On the evening of January 27, my cousin, whose family lives in a rural area west of Detroit, Mi was out walking his dogs. Suddenly, he collapsed on the sidewalk. He was rushed to the hospital where emergency heart surgery took place. Tragically, he died on the operating table.
Michael was 50 years old. He leaves behind his wife of 22 years whom he loved deeply and 3 daughters to whom he was completely devoted.
As I watched the webcast of the Funeral Service, I was deeply touched by the priest’s homily. Sensing the overwhelming pain and sorrow of those present, he was a modern-day Job when he asked these questions.
Why is a husband who was so thoughtful and loving be snatched away from his family so soon and so abruptly? How could a parent who loved his daughters and for that matter, loved all people not be allowed to continue that love? How can we understand that all the work that he did for his family and friends, and for anyone who needed a helping hand come to an abrupt end?
This experience teaches me that, whenever we experience chaos, torment and death, we are like Job. Our grief and sadness send us searching for understanding and meaning.
Bishop Robert Barron provides this example in one of his homilies dealing with the problem of suffering. Bishop Barron was comforting a young dad whose 3-year-old son just had major surgery. The father wanted so desperately to explain to his son that there was a purpose to this surgery, that the pain had to be endured and that the surgery was necessary for his health and well-being. However, the father was unable to get the son to understand that great good would come from this terrible experience.
There was a radical difference between the child’s capacity to know and understand and the father’s capacity to know and understand. The father had a clear understanding of the purpose, meaning and positive outcomes of the surgery. However, the child just did not have the inner capacity and the ability to receive that full knowledge and complete understanding. All the father could do was to be present in the situation, hold and hug his son and express his great love for him.
Bishop Barron’s point is that we are all like this young child. Why does God allow suffering? We don’t know. We can not understand the purpose of God with respect to our suffering. Our human minds are too limited. We lack the ability and the capacity to truly know and understand the workings of God.
Over the course of time, Job reaches the same conclusion. Despite his inner turmoil and anguish, Job does not curse God. He refuses to reject God. Rather, he discovers that God’s thoughts and ways are ultimately unknowable. God’s wisdom and understanding are beyond human understanding. This discovery pleases God. To make the point that God is more powerful than any suffering, God restores Job’ health and provides him with twice as much property as before, 10 more children, and an extremely long life.
What does all this mean for us in 2021? Let’s not forget that God is like that young father. God, who loves us and cares for us so deeply and so perfectly, is present in our pain and suffering, but he can’t make sense of it for us because of the radical difference between the divine mind and the human mind in capacity and ability to know and to understand. On the other hand, God neither willingly deals out disasters upon us nor does he prevent trials and tribulations from touching us. But, like that young father, he is beside us in the midst of our sorrows actively seeking our greatest good.
Let’s listen again to these powerful words from today’s Responsorial Psalm: “The Lord heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds; the Lord lifts up the downtrodden”. These words assure us that when we cry out to God, he does listen and does speak to us and does act.
As was the case with Simon’s mother-in-law, Jesus does come to us, takes us by the hand and lifts us up from our suffering, whatever that may look like in the unique circumstances of our lives. The Jesus from today’s Gospel, casts out demons and cures illnesses. That same Jesus is present and at work in our lives with the same supernatural powers and the same divine assistance that are stronger than any pain and suffering.
WHY does suffering exist? It is a waste of time to ask this question. The answer will never come in this life. Rather, let us put our energies into this question: “HOW do I suffer?”
Saint Francis de Sales puts it this way: “Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either he will shield you from suffering, or he will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then, put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations and say continually: ‘The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart has trusted in Him and I am helped. He is not only with me but in me and I in him’ ”.
St. Francis’ point is that, although we will never know the reason for suffering, we can come to know something: God’s love for us is unconditional, unlimited and unending. This knowledge ought to lead us to deep trust in God. As the Book of Proverbs states: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding”.
Trusting in Jesus will not free us from suffering. Trusting in Jesus will not remove the scars caused by pain and sorrow. In fact, some scars will never go away. But trusting in Jesus will enable us to hear the voice that says, “Look at me. My tomb is empty. Suffering and death are no more. Suffering and death do not have the final word. The last word is life. I love you so much that I promise to share this life that will never end with you”.
As I reflect on my cousin’s untimely and unexpected death, it is this voice that brings me strength, comfort and peace.
As our Eucharist continues, let us ask God for the same grace that Job received. Whenever we journey through pain, sorrow and suffering, may God let us know his love and give us the gift of trusting him beyond our human understanding.
Deacon Roland Muzzatti
February 6 – 7, 2021