We are always in God's hands

  • June 12, 2009
12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) June 21 (Job 38:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 107; 2 Corinthians 5:14-17; Mark 4:35-41)

The source of much human misery lies in our desire to play God. The universe runs quite well when we allow God to drive the bus — it is only when we think that we can do a better job that everything begins to go wrong.

Job has been struggling with the suffering that has been visited upon him as a result of a wager between Satan and God. Satan is convinced that Job’s piety, devotion and righteousness will evaporate the minute he experiences adversity and want. Job has remained steadfast through all of his suffering, even the suffering of having to listen to his friends offer pious and glib explanations for his suffering. As he asserts once again his innocence before God, Job demands an answer: why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve it? Only then does God appear out of the whirlwind to give Job a “non-answer.”

God challenges Job by asking where he was when the Earth was created. For two very long and poetic chapters God enumerates the many divine powers that were manifested in creation and repeatedly taunts Job with the question, where were you? God insists that Job is not capable of understanding divine things or of seeing the big picture. God ends the long interrogation by basically telling Job that it is none of his business.

The question of the suffering of the innocent is one of the oldest philosophical and religious questions in the world and there are no satisfying answers. Even the greatest attempts to explain suffering in the end seem rather lame and leave one with a nagging feeling that something is not quite right. Think of the suffering in Darfur or the child victims of war. Think of a quarter of a million people swept away in a tsunami. Think of innocent victims of crime or children dying of leukemia. There are no easy answers but we can avoid two extremes. The first is cynicism and atheism while the second consists of mouthing pious platitudes or revelling in suffering in the mistaken idea that it is somehow pleasing to God. We can change what we can and accept those things that we cannot change. And above all, we can strive to meet all suffering — our own and others’ — with compassion, faith, patience and courage. In the end that is a more satisfying solution than endless speculation.

Paul describes his new spiritual vision with joy and wonder — everything and everyone seem completely new to him. How do we no longer see others from a human point of view? When we encounter and understand how God’s love was expressed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus a new mental and spiritual world opens up. When we see ourselves and others as being part of Christ and being loved by God we can no longer see them, ourselves or the world in the same way. The world is alive with God’s grace. Everything is indeed new, for this same grace has enlightened and renewed our spiritual consciousness.

Doubt and pessimism is often expressed by a heavenward wail of “Don’t you care that we are suffering?” As the disciples struggle with the violent storm on the Sea of Galilee, their fear is intensified and mixed with a bit of anger at Jesus’ apparent indifference to their plight. The words of peace and rebuke uttered by Jesus rapidly mend the situation but now He addresses a devastating question to them: Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?  They are more or less the same questions that were addressed to Job. The disciples never receive an explanation and the sudden miracle leaves them speculating about the identity of Jesus. They do not make the immediate connection between Jesus and the powers over nature that only God can exercise.

We cannot always or even often expect a spectacular and immediate miraculous solution as in this story. But the essential message is not to fear and to have faith, for regardless of what happens to us we are always in God’s hands. Faith does not promise us an easy life without struggles or suffering but the commands of the Lord are meant for us: “Peace!” and “Be still!”