How To Suffer

I was at mass Monday morning at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Moses Lake, sitting listening to one of the readings for the day when something hit me that I’d never considered before.

This, as an aside, is why scripture should be listened to and not just read. It’s a different experience, this listening, and different meanings come across. It’s how most early Christians got scripture, by listening to it recited.

By listening to the stories told, and the letters read. Out loud. In the assembly.

At any rate, the reading was from the first chapter of Job:

6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 8 And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” 9 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. (Job 1:6–12 ESV)

He will curse you to your face. Such are the words of Satan, the adversary, to God in the assembly. And it came to me that Job is not so much an intellectual discourse on the meaning of suffering as it a guide, a how to suffer.

Job doesn’t curse God, at least not initially — “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord,” he says (1:21), and then he rebukes his wife later, saying “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10)

Later in the book, he does lament about his hopeless state, he does wonder where God is, even as he confesses his hope in his eventual redemption, he speaks words of despair and hopelessness, and the book ends with no real answer to Job’s suffering, save that God is inscrutable and who are we to question?

Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?

This is, I think (without doing a further study on the whole of the book, which I’m not doing here), a guide, how to think about and live into suffering — earned and unearned. Blessing and curse are both the gift and promise of God. Job speaks as one who had much, and thanks to the ministrations of Satan, has lost everything save for his life.

In this, it is perfectly acceptable to lament. To wail. To groan. To cry out. To wonder what the point of life is, and wouldn’t it have been better had I never been born? Where is God, and why is God silent? To even accuse God, as Job does, of working against what God in his goodness has willed into being.

All of this is acceptable. It is faith.

But Job never gives in to his despair. He never surrenders. He may wish he’d never been born (in this, I am reminded of a young woman who recently told me she wish her neighbor had actually killed her when he pointed a gun at her and threatened to do so), but he persists in living. Even as he breathes death.

That persistence in the face of a harsh, pointless struggle, is what matters here. It is Jacob, wrestling all night, not letting go, fighting so intensely that God has to play dirty to make it stop.

God here plays dirty too. “Who are you to even question me?” God asks Job. It’s a cop out, a lousy answer, one delivered from on high, spoken from impenetrable and unknowable authority. But it’s also true.

The point here, however, is not about God. It’s about us. It’s about tenacity. It’s about living. It’s about grabbing hold and not letting go. Even if nothing makes any sense.

Even if there seems no point, no relief, no salvation, from any of it.

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