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God's Word on Sunday: Looking for answers to our suffering

  • June 13, 2021

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 20 (Year B) Job 38:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 107; 2 Corinthains 5:14-17; Mark 4:35-41

So much of our anguish stems from our limited vision and understanding. Facing the challenges of life, we make agonized attempts to figure things out.

We are all familiar with Job’s many trials — the loss of family, health and property — and his legendary patience through it all. But Job had a problem: He knew in his heart he was innocent of any wrongdoing and he refused to back down. His “friends” hauled out all the usual arguments to explain suffering and tragedy. You must have done something — think harder.

God does not visit this sort of punishment on people for nothing. Others theorized that God was testing Job so that he could receive a greater reward. Their advice only made Job feel even worse.

When confronted with the suffering of others, the last thing we should do is try to explain it for them. Unfortunately, much of the advice and “comfort” we offer to others in these situations is no comfort at all.

Throughout all of his sufferings, Job was convinced he would be vindicated. He was partially right. When God finally spoke to Job out of the whirlwind, it was more of a divine put-down and command to silence. God not only created the entire cosmos but set all the limits, paths and boundaries for the heavenly bodies, waters and winds.

After reviewing all of the divine activity, God asked Job a very pointed question. Were you there when I did all these things? Did you witness or take part in them? Job was stunned into silence and vowed to shut his mouth and ask no more questions.

Poor Job never got an answer to the reason for his suffering. It is just as well — he might not have appreciated that it was all to settle a wager between God and Satan. Job received back many times all that he had lost.

The Book of Job is an ancient wisdom story and a reflection on human suffering — we need not search for the historical Job, and there are several versions of this story in the ancient traditions. The takeaway is that we do not always have answers to our suffering, nor should we be quick to provide answers for others. And looking for someone to blame is usually not helpful.

The fact that we or someone else experiences misfortune is not necessarily evidence of sinfulness. Job’s response was the correct one —perseverance, fidelity, courage and faith.

Paul was no stranger to suffering and struggle, but he was able to look beyond his own situation. A vital part of faith commitment to Jesus is the ability to lose oneself in serving the Lord and others. To be able to live for Christ rather than for oneself gives us new eyes and a new heart — the new creation proclaimed by Paul. The world remains the same, but we are different, so we experience it in a totally different way.

This was brought home forcefully in the account of the storm experienced by Jesus and the apostles on the sea of Galilee. The apostles were terrified and certain they were about to meet their doom. Adding to their fear was shock and perhaps anger that Jesus seemed completely unperturbed by their predicament — in fact, He was blissfully asleep.

How often people direct that accusing question to the Lord: Don’t you even care about my situation? Jesus quickly dispatched the storm with a rebuke and command. All was calm and still. But then He had a question for them: why were you so afraid? Where is your faith after all you have seen Me do?

Throughout Mark’s Gospel, He insists that faith is everything — it enables healings and miracles and can move mountains. Without it, little is possible. The amazed apostles ask who this can be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him? That question is directed to the reader, and we call to mind Genesis, the various psalms and the voice from the whirlwind in Job 38.

All creation obeys the commands of its Creator, who sets the boundaries and limits for wind and sea. This story is a revelation of the divine status and authority of Jesus. Why are we still afraid and why is faith at times so difficult?

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