From Job to Jesus: a perspective on suffering
Reflection shared on 10/9/20 at Trinity Christian College chapel.
I would like to talk about two opposite realities that we all have to experience sooner or later: The universal longing of wellbeing vs the universal experience of suffering. To do this, I would like to bring your attention to the figure of Job and the Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the case of Job, we know that he sought his well being, and apparently, he was very successful in that. He had multiple people working for him, he had a beautiful family and he had wealth, but you know the story. The enemy was not happy with Job and asked God for permission to make him suffer, God allowed the experience of suffering in multiple ways. Regardless of the suffering Job tried to be faithful, he said “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD!” In all this Job did not sin, nor did he charge God with wrong (Job 1,21-22). But the suffering did not stop for Job and his way of seeing the trials at hand changed and he asked God: “Why have you made me your target? Why have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity?” (Job 7,20-21) Even after all the suffering and that understandable questions, God did not answer Job’s questions. Instead, He admonished him as saying “You don’t question me, you accept my will” (Job 38,1)
On the other hand, unlike Job, Jesus did not look for a comfortable life. He chose a life of poverty, asceticism, and suffering. He came to tell us not to get attached to this life and its goods but to pick up our cross and follow him. He didn’t ask for something that he was not willing to do, he showed us with his life and with his example that that is what we must do.
This allows us to see the cross from two different perspectives. The first option is the empty cross, the great sign of Jesus after conquering death and bringing salvation for all. The second option is the cross with Jesus bitten and hanging in agony and asking his father, similarly as Job did, "Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mat 27,46). Unlike Job, Jesus was not admonished for asking, instead, he received a profound silence.
Just like Job, all of us also look for a good life. We study, we work, we save money, we buy insurance, we plan our retirement and we look for pleasant vacations. However, we will also experience suffering, to a greater or lesser extent than Job (hopefully, it will be less than him) and we will also have questions to God. Today we see that with clarity, COVID-19 has caused us to lose our plans, some have lost their jobs, their incomes, their health, their loved ones. And many of us are wondering, “why are you God allowing all this to happen”. And sometimes we also get admonished just like Job did, sometimes He reminds us “who are you to question my plans”. And some other times we receive silence, a deep deafening silence, as Jesus did in the cross.
But suffering is not meaningless, if so, why would Jesus, being God, decide to have a life of poverty, asceticism, and the worst of the deaths: the death of the cross? Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that suffering is good, I am not doing apologetics of suffering, but I am saying that it is not meaningless, at least it is not if we join our suffering to the suffering of Jesus in the cross. It is not meaningless if we remember that it was the way that He chose to save us, that it is the way that we join in his salvific plan, that it is the way to deny ourselves, take our cross, and follow him (Luke 9, 23-25).
Job tried to be faithful to God in the midst of his suffering, but his humanity broke him in despair. However, God did not abandon him, after admonishing him He rewarded Job with more than what he previously had. Jesus was faithful, he did not break as Job did, and even though he experienced that deafening silence he knew that that was his Father's will, and then He was raised on a glorious body.
We can take courage in the person of Job and the person of our Savior Jesus Christ. We can see that even amid all this suffering, during the pandemic and the social and political turmoil that we are witnessing, God is here, He has not abandoned us, even if we cannot listen to Him. He is shaping us as individuals and as communities, he wants us to be closer to him to rely not only on science, technology, or the goods of this world but on Him and his salvific plan. We need to accept our cross, embrace it, and live according to His will. That way, we might see as Job and Jesus did, the day that we will be also rewarded with His eternal presence.
So, let us not lose hope, and let us remember that “the darkness is not darkness to Him, the night is bright as the day; for darkness is as light with Him” (Psalm 139, 12) and that “Naked we came forth from our mother’s womb, and naked shall we go back there” (Job 1,21)