Category Archives: suffering

Suffering God

Readings
Job 42.1–6, 10–17
Mark 10.46–52

 

Those with whom the crucified Jesus is identified in his abandoned death are both the godless, who experience their own turning from God as God’s abandonment of them, and the godforsaken, who experience their suffering as God’s abandonment of them. — Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, Kindle ed’n, loc.182

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When Karen and I lived in West End in the 1980s, we got to know a Greek neighbour. A devout member of the Greek Orthodox Church, he had come to Australia many years before to grow tobacco in Central Queensland. He wasn’t prepared for the climate out here though; after some years of working to make his farm succeed, a series of droughts broke him. He walked off the farm with his family and came to West End. By the time we met him, he was no longer an Orthodox Christian. No, he was an atheist. For him, there was no God.

Suffering can pan out in different ways. In particular, it can deepen a person’s faith, or destroy it. 

Another story. Karen and I were visiting relatives in England a few years ago. My uncle had seen a lot of injustice in the slums of Sheffield when he was growing up. He said to me out of the blue, ‘Thi’s no God, lad.’ He couldn’t reconcile any belief in God because of the way ordinary people were made to suffer.

The Book of Job contains the model scriptural story of suffering. But it doesn’t answer the one question everyone asks: Why? Why do people suffer? Why me? Or, the ‘what’ question: What did I do to deserve this?

In this book, Job loses almost everything. In the terms of his day back in ancient times, he was a squillionaire. We read this about his wealth: 

There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. (1.2–3)

Job loses the lot. His children die in a freak storm, his servants are killed, his animals are carried off by marauders.

What does Job do? He

arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped. He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ (2.21)

Soon afterwards, Job himself is inflicted with ‘loathsome sores…from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head’.

Soon, three friends come to visit. Visiting sick and grieving people is good, right?

Because it’s an ancient tale, they have ancient names: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. Job was so disfigured, his friends didn’t recognise him at first. So they wept and wailed and tore their clothes and threw dust on their heads and they sat with Job in silence for seven days and nights; ‘and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great’. 

Wow, that was a good thing to do. It shows their hearts were in the right place. But Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar have a bad reputation, you know? If folk talk about someone being a ‘Job’s Comforter’, it’s not a compliment. It means they made things worse.

What did Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar do that was so bad? They started talking.

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Suffering is not a problem (Year B, 4 October, 2015)

Readings
Job 1.1; 2.1–10
Mark 10.2–16

Like a weaned child on its mother,
like the weaned child on me is my soul…        Psalm 131.2

When I was a chaplain at The Wesley Hospital, we noticed something quite concerning. We chaplains saw the way a number of young couples responded when they were confronted with a stillborn child.

These young couples were absolutely floored, of course. They suffered terrible grief, as you would expect. It was something they would never forget. That is the natural reaction to an unnatural situation.

That’s not what concerned us. Our anxiety was because it was obvious that these largely middle class couples had never before come across a problem that couldn’t be fixed.

Even more than that, to them any setback at all was a problem to be fixed. If you or your dad couldn’t fix it, you paid a professional or a tradie to do it for you.

They asked the question common to nearly all people: Why me, why us? But they also asked, Why couldn’t our technology solve the problem?

For some couples, this was the very first time they had been confronted by something huge that just couldn’t be fixed. Their usual way of coping with things just didn’t help.

What they found hard to grasp is that in losing a baby they were not being confronted by a problem. They were being unwillingly plunged into an encounter with loss, with grief, with suffering too deep for words. They couldn’t fix it, solve it, or manage it.

What could they do?

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Filed under Church & world, Grief and loss, RCL, sermon, suffering