If by patience we mean resigned endurance in suffering, Job was not a very patient man! Here is the story of a righteous man who lost everything – children, servants, flocks, property and wealth. Festering sores cover his body. He is so disfigured that even friends find it hard to look at him. Literally he is stripped naked.
His friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar come forward to comfort him. He refuses their standard conventional wisdom. Suffering is not so neatly packaged.
You reap what you sow, one of them tells him. “If you are pure and upright, surely then He will rouse himself for you and restore to you your rightful place.” You must have done something wrong and so now you are getting back what you deserve. Job knows this is false.
The other gives details how that Job will come out stronger after all these ordeals. This experience will lead to a greater piety and in the end everything will be alright. “Your life will be brighter than noonday; its darkness will be like the morning.” But Job does not buy into this neither.
He is simply outraged at the injustice. “The tents of robbers prosper, and they that provoke God are secure.” But as for him, “when I looked for good, evil came. When I expected light, darkness came.”
Livid, he curses the day he was born. He wants to die. “For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be.” Above all, he wants it known that “God has wronged me” – and that God should respond. He takes God to court on a charge of unprofessional conduct! Why would God rain so much suffering on one of his most devoted followers? Why do bad things happen to good people?
At the end, after a string of speeches by Job of extraordinary power and eloquence, God does appear. In the longest speech by God in the Bible, Job receives his response – and it is a non-answer. God simply invokes sheer power and superior knowledge: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have the understanding.”
Iniquity is a mystery, it is beyond explanation. God is and will always remain inscrutable, always further than our puny mind.
The only healthy attitude in life when confronted by suffering is simply to accept that we cannot understand. St. John of the Cross says, “To go where you don’t know, you must pass where you don’t know”. God has his plans, ‘plans of prosperity’ says the prophet, that we are not able to figure out. We can’t even imagine where the Lord is taking us. The only sensible approach in life is to let Him lead us to where we do not know, trusting.
After all, we do not go to Church to bargain with Jesus Christ, but to obey him. The difficulty is that our reason is the only god we accept. When a moment arrives in which the reality isn’t in agreement with our way of understanding, we dig in our heels and say, “That’s too much!”
That’s why Jesus Christ says, “Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” The man of faith knows that God carries his life in the palm of His hands. He knows that all events that happen to him are allowed by God for His own good.
He understands the wisdom of Paul when he states “We know that by turning everything to their good, God co-operates with all those who love him.” He is fully cognizant of the underlying truth behind Jesus Christ avowals, “Why, every hair on your head has been counted… and not even a leaf can fall from a tree without the consent of your Father.” He can live relaxed, even in moments of deep darkness because he is convinced God will deliver him.
Job is a man that has been struck by God with very strong events. He could have remained all his life protesting and finish up a raving lunatic!
Instead the events forced him to transcend his reason. He realized that God is not as he wants him to be but as He wants to be. Better. Smarter. More loving. “God is a refiner, not an arsonist!”
After this experience, Job himself is even wiser. “Lord, I knew of you by hearsay, but now my eyes saw you”.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.