The Paradox of Suffering

“Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? Are not his days those of hirelings? He is a slave who longs for the shade, a hireling who waits for his wages.” In today’s first reading we hear Job lamenting his unbearable suffering despite his unquestionable faithfulness to God.

At times, we too feel like Job when our “nights drag on” and our “days end without hope.” In such times, we do not so much engage in big philosophical or theological questions like “Why do bad things happen to good people?” or “Why does not God prevent evil when he is all-powerful?” We simply grapple with real personal issues that cause us deep pain and leave us powerless. I personally have been through such experience which literally gave me sleepless nights and drained every confidence left in me. In the end, I found myself totally helpless with no other option but to throw myself in God’s hands.

I think this is the same predicament of those who were brought at Jesus’ feet in today’s gospel. “They brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons.”

I remember the extemporaneous homily of Pope Francis during his Mass for the victims of Yolanda at the airport of Tacloban City. “So many of you have lost everything. I don’t know what to say to you… Some of you have lost part of your families. All I can do is keep silence and walk with you all with my silent heart. Many of you have asked the Lord – why, Lord? And to each of you, to your heart, Christ responds with his heart from the cross. I have no more words for you. Let us look to Christ. He is the Lord. He understands us because he underwent all the trials that we, that you, have experienced.”

When we cannot make sense of our suffering and find no answer to our questions, let us look to Christ on the cross. He too tried to make sense of his condition and at the height of his suffering he cried, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46)

But in the end, he surrendered himself and called out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.” (Lk 23:46) The Father responded by raising him up on the third day. “Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, hand every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Suffering is a mystery, perhaps the greatest human mystery. We may never understand its full meaning, much less God’s own reason. But in the end, when everything passes, we can only join with the psalmist in today’s responsorial psalm, “Praise the Lord, who heals the broken hearted… who binds up their wounds… who rebuilds Jerusalem.”

At the end of the book, Job confesses to God, “By hearsay I had heard of you, but now my eye has seen you.” This is the paradox of human suffering. It is a darkness that allows us to see the light, as the star is visible only at night. Job has finally come to know God in his suffering.

It is in this light that Pope Francis asks us bishops and priests, who teach God to the people, to allow ourselves to be also taught by them, especially the poor. “They (the poor) have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need ourselves to be evangelized by them.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 198)

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