The paradox of suffering

Painting by William Blake, Job and his family restored to prosperity.

This pandemic situation has now become a concrete reality for all of us, who find ourselves fragile and sometimes disoriented. These days, man needs more than ever the founding values of our religion: fidelity to God, love for our brothers and sisters, altruism, commitment to the common good, solidarity with the most needy, mercy for all. The virus caught us unawares, confining us to our homes, but it also made us realise, and I would even say touch, that we are all part of the one human family. This message is still valid not only for believers but for all people of good will. Today we are all called to row together, to comfort and support one another.

Even the biblical world of wisdom, represented by the book of Job, wondered about the meaning of the suffering of the man called Job. We all feel a bit like Job, especially in this time of pandemic.

The book of Job is a reflection on the mystery of suffering that affects the innocent. There, the response of Job’s friends, who would like to console him by pushing him to acknowledge a guilt that does not really exist, does not hold water. Job does not receive any explanation of the mystery of pain, of the reason for evil, which in the Jewish context was always understood as a punishment, a consequence of personal wickedness, but he nevertheless manages to raise his eyes to God. Even in the immeasurability of the drama that has shaken his existence, Job perceives that God holds the reins of his existence. This is precisely what we, in these days, must be able to communicate to those who are overwhelmed by grief, or crushed by the loss of a loved one, or even simply lost in the face of events for which they were not prepared.

Faced with the mystery of grief and death, reasons suggested by reason are of little use. Nor is it any comfort to think that everyone is jointly responsible, at least in part, for their own destiny.

In the Old Testament, natural events, catastrophes and wars, like every other adverse event, were attributed to God’s punishing will, and the people, even the individual, had to search their own lives and those of their families for the reason for the misfortune. It was an interpretative key that seems simplistic to us today, but which allowed the Israelites to give order to existence, recognising precise responsibilities, and also allowed them to passively undergo, without protest, the punishment, understood as a means of purification. It also allowed the unfortunate man, even more importantly, to turn back, to change his ways, returning to the Lord. In this perspective, the trials of the exodus, the defeats of war, the destruction of Jerusalem and the loss of the land could be understood as the manifestation of God’s justice and mercy.

This way of thinking does not convince people today because it contrasts with the image of a God who is more pleasing to us as merciful and infinitely patient. Now is the time to ask ourselves whether the suffering we have to face does not also have a meaning of purification, from an approach to life marked by egocentricity or even self-referentiality. God, in fact, cannot allow the death of those who have remained faithful to his covenant. He has different times from the times of man, and so, in God’s time, the righteous will receive the reward for his righteousness, and the wicked will understand the extent of his errors and sins, to use another term that has fallen out of fashion today. Whoever believes and trusts in Him knows that death does not have the last word because through death life is not taken from us but is transformed.

Fr. Gabriel Witaszek, C.Ss.R.

courtesy: Alphonsian Academy Blog, original is in Italian

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