C: UNDERSTANDING SUFFERING – FIRST SUNDAY IN NOVEMBER

JOB”S STRUGGLE TO UNDERSTAND SUFFERING

Job 19

We normally don”t think that doubting is a nice thing to do. Having said that, I must admit that it is dangerous to hide one”s doubt and pretend to be certain about something we are not sure. It is better to be honest and say "I can not believe it." Life is not simple. Simple answers to difficult questions of life may not be the answers at all.

There is in the Bible a story of a man who never gave up askig questions. His name was Job. He was a rich farmer. He and his wife had seven sons, and three daughters, all successful. He had many animals: seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, one thousand draft oxen, and five hundred donkeys. So he had many hired hands. That was enormous wealth. Not only was he rich, but also he was a good and righteous man, believing in God and his words. He was an extraordinary man.

But all of a sudden, serious misfortunes unimaginable befell on him. A messenger came to report that there was a massive invasion of the enemy forces. They not only took his land but also stole all his animals and killed all employees. As Job and his wife were listening to this devastating news, another messenger came to inform that a sudden gust of wind, like a tornado, hit the house where all the sons and daughters were having a party with friends. No one came out alive. Job was stunned. He was so much in pain and sorrow that he shaved his head and tore the clothes he was wearing. He fell down on the ground and did not move. The shock kept him silent for a long time. But when he came to his senses, in stead of cursing God he said, "I was born of my mother”s womb naked, and I will go back to earth naked. God gave us everything, and he took it away. Blessed be the name of God."

This is an incredible man. It would be natural for him to start cursing everybody and everything. We would understand it. What kind of a man was this man Job? Is he crazy or possessed by some kind of religious fanaticism? But a real breaking point came when he himself was hit by a terrible decease. Very soon after all those calamity hit Job, he became seriously ill and his body was covered with loathsome sores from head to toes, some kind of skin infection that is still prevalent in the Middle East. He was so itchy all the time that he had to sit in ashes. Scratching with his own finger nails was not enough to sooth itchiness. He had to use pieces of broken pottery to scratch himself until he bled.

He was miserable. He cursed the day he was born. However, he did not curse God even though he was beginning to show the signs of bewilderment as to why such calamity befell on him. In other words, he still trusted God, but he did not understand why God was allowing such pain and suffering to happen to him. Not only was he miserable himself, but also he must have been a sorry sight to watch. His wife, who had so far shared his misfortune as bravely as Job, could not stand to watch her husband”s pain any longer. She said, "Why are you insisting to keep your integrity? I don”t understand you. God has been so cruel to you. Isn”t it easier to curse God and die? You will at least be free of your misery." She must have loved him very much. There must have been enough trust between them to suggest such a terrible act.

Do you remember the case of Jean Brush? She was recently found not-guilty of mercy killing of her husband, who was degenerating into a vegetable state because of Alzheimer”s decease. For her, not-guilty verdict was somewhat irrelevant, because she loved him so much that she was ready to sacrifice her integrity and ready to be condemned as a murderer. St. Paul also said, "For the love of my people, I would willingly give up my salvation." I know I am on a thin ice here. I don”t want you to hear me as someone advocating mercy killing. I can not give answer to that tricky question, because I don”t have an answer. I am simply saying that it took courage and true love to suggest what Job”s wife did to save her husband of his misery.

But Job did not curse God nor did he take his own life. He stubbornly kept questioning God, "Why, why, why? What did I do to deserve this?" It”s like a dog with a bone in his jaws, Job did not let go. We don”t normally do this. We give up too easily, and lose hope, become depressed or get drunk. This dogged, obstinate persistence can only be the result of genuine trust. We give up often too easily, because we don”t love enough. For Job, God can not be wrong. So he kept on asking, "Why?" Children can be trying for parents at times. I am sure that the children will say the same thing, about their parents. But what divides successful relationship from not-successful one is, a true love relationship never gives up asking questions. This is because, love trusts and never gives up. So we keep asking why, though the answer does not come easy.

Job was visited by his friends who had easy answers. Three good friends came to comfort him. But seeing how desperately miserable Job was, they just stayed away from him for seven days while remaining within the sight of him. They did not know what to say. So they kept silence. They must have been good friends, because they did not go away. Only answer they could find was: Suffering is a result of guilt. Job is being punished for his wrong doing. He should admit his guilt and repent. Then he will be saved from his misery. So they started to suggest to Job that he should renounce sin and repent. They were desperate to save their friend from suffering. In retrospect, it would have been better if they stayed silent, and stayed with Job. Often a simple act of being with your friend in silence is much more comforting than an easy but inappropriate answer.

Job was not ready to accept such an easy answer. "So far as I know, I have not done anything wrong. How can I renounce what I don”t know." Besides, Job asked, "if what you say is true, how come the wicked people often prosper better than the honest people. What did I do wrong? Tell me about my wrong doing, and then I will repent." Friends could not find any guilt in Job, because he was a righteous man. So after long hours of argument, they fell silent. Then there appeared another friend, who was older and wiser than the previous three. He started to expound a theory that suffering is God”s way of testing and educating people. We learn something every time we encounter suffering. Job could not accept this easy answer either, because his suffering and pain are too great for a mere lesson.

At the end of the story, God finally spoke to Job directly, and that was enough for him. He now understood that God”s greatness was one that surpassed all understanding. Furthermore, he was satisfied that God did not abandaned him. So he said, "I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes have seen you." For an ordinary mortal like me, the story has no conclusion. We learn and admire the persistence of Job to go after God. We Christians believe that in the resurrection of Jesus, we have seen the solution to the problem of suffering. Love wins. Resurrection of Jesus proved that.

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