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The Problem of Suffering

The Problem of Suffering

Today we begin to read from the most profound and, for some, the most important of all the Wisdom Literature.  This book examines a question that still plagues us today: How can God allow a good and innocent person to suffer?  The Book of Job is forty-two chapters long.  However, we will only get a taste of it this week as we read a few selections from it. 

The story is set up in the reading which we encounter today.  Job, a wealthy man is also known for his righteousness.  He is in right relationship with God.  “In the land of Uz there was a blameless and upright man named Job, who feared God and avoided evil” (Job 1:1).  As we read on, we learn that Satan goads God into taking his family, his wealth and his health away from him.  Satan is sure that Job will turn away from God once God’s favor is withdrawn. 

Some Scripture scholars look at this story as the antithesis of the creation story in the Book of Genesis.  When tempted by the serpent, Adam and Eve disobey God’s commandment and are expelled from the Garden of Eden, losing access to God.  This version of the story finds Satan employing another devious tactic in order to tempt God’s beloved Job.  Unlike Adam and Eve, Job refuses to curse God and also refuses to believe that his suffering is the result of some sin that he has committed.  This flies directly in the face of the theology of reciprocity that we find in most of the Hebrew Scriptures.

During the next three days, we will hear three of Job’s friends and his wife try to convince him that he needs to confess his guilt in order to win God’s favor again.  So while the story does speak about human suffering, hanging in the background is the notion that God will forgive if Job repents.  However, Job contends that he has no need of repentance.  This notion of innocence further backs up the idea that this story is related to that of Adam and Eve. 

Suffering, disease, and even death are blamed on the sin of Adam and Eve.  However, three individuals in the Scriptures seem to contradict that notion.  Job, the Blessed Mother, and Jesus himself all suffer.  Yet in each instance we know that they are blameless, even sinless.  If these three - and in particular if the last two in the last - are blameless, why does God permit them to suffer.

The answer is really quite simple.  Suffering, disease, disability, all of the various evils that can befall us human beings have nothing to do with our guilt or innocence.  God is not capricious – loving one moment and punishing the next.  Suffering or all kinds are simply part of who we are as human beings.  We are limited.  We are weak.  We are the creature. In contrast, God is the creator.  God is strong.  God is unlimited. 

The Book of Exodus tells us that the Hebrew people spent forty years wandering in a desert before God led them through the Jordan River and into the Promised Land.  I have long believed that this story is a metaphor for human life.  We are in the desert.  We are headed for the Promised Land. 

Of course, unlike Job, we are not innocent.  We are sinners all.  However, our sins do not cause our suffering.  Suffering is inherent for human life.  It takes many forms – physical, mental, emotional, and social.  Our world – the planet we live upon – is, like us, limited, and fraught with natural dangers and disasters.  They are not tests to see if we will be faithful.  They are simply part of who we are.  Who we will be depends upon how we live as we carry the cross that has been selected for us.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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