How to deal with suffering

The story of Job was a huge challenge to the accepted moral outlook of the Old Testament people: namely, that suffering was God’s way of punishing the sinner. Yet, Job was convinced of his innocence and was not afraid to bemoan his lot, complaining to God, despite his friends’ admonitions that he must be guilty.

 

I doubt whether, at times, there is anyone who is unable to identify with Job’s sentiments. For example, the times when we have cried out, at least internally: Is not … life on earth nothing more than pressed service, … time no better than lived drudgery?… Like the slave, sighing for the shade… months of delusion I have assigned to me… nothing for my own but nights of grief. Lying in bed I wonder, “When will it be day?” Risen I think, “How slowly evening comes!”

 

Job, possibly more than anyone else in the Scriptures, is the one who cries out on behalf of all those who want an explanation for the suffering of the innocent.

 

In every generation people yearn to be released from their pain and suffering, yearn for a messianic figure to transform their lives. The Old Testament people were convinced that when that day came, there would be an end to the suffering, which was why they did not recognise Jesus as the one. As we listen to how Jesus reached out to all those who came to him for healing or for release from the enslavement of the devil, we can glimpse how we are to deal with suffering.

 

Jesus entered into the pain and suffering of our world, identified himself with those who were suffering and would eventually endure his own passion and death. In entrusting his mission to the disciples, he tried to prepare them, not only for his passion and death, but also for their own. Paul, who originally thought that his mission was to persecute the early Christians, came late to discipleship, but his encounter with Jesus taught him that in fact he needed liberating from his enslavement.

 

Accordingly, he was able to proclaim: So though I am not a slave of any man I have made myself the slave of everyone so as to win as many as I could. For the weak I made myself weak. I made myself all things to all men in order to save some at any cost; and I still do this, for the sake of the gospel, to have a share in its blessings.

 

Our age is no different to any other, except perhaps that, as we discover more and more ways of alleviating the suffering that accompanies so many of our ailments, we seem less able to conquer the evil spirit that sows the seeds of discord and division, leading to ever greater violence and conflict. The call to discipleship for you and me is undoubtedly to seek every possible means to bring Christ’s peace and healing to our broken world. What are we waiting for?

 

Timothy J Buckley CSsR

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