Father Mike Stubbs
In my 36 years as a priest, I have too often encountered persons who were inflicted with great suffering. It goes with the territory. They may reach out to me for help, for advice or just a sympathetic ear.
It’s interesting. Each person reacts in a different way to their suffering. In some cases, they bear it patiently. Others fall apart. Or maybe they respond with blind anger.
Sunday’s first reading — Jb 7:1-4, 6-7 — presents us with the classic example of a person who is greatly suffering: Job. We hear a portion of his complaint.
Sometimes, those who are enduring hardships believe that they are the only ones in that predicament, that somehow they got the bad end of the stick in comparison to others. However, Job appears to take the opposite approach. He generalizes from his situation, to claim that all humanity has been allotted misery: “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.” He recognizes that he is not the only one suffering.
In looking at his own life, Job seems to react to his sufferings in contradictory ways. On the one hand, he complains that time appears to have slowed down for him: “If in bed I say, ‘When shall I arise?’ then the night drags on; I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.”
On the other hand, he also complains that his life is speeding by, that it is too short: “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope. Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.”
Job cannot make up his mind on which it is. And that indecisiveness only adds to his misery.
Sunday’s reading is totally depressing. And yet, it is not the last word. Even the story of Job, after telling how he has worked through many hardships and trials and thoroughly exploring the question of suffering, ends on an upbeat.
In that way, we can learn from the story of Job. We may not have to put up with as many hardships as Job. But all human beings can expect to endure some suffering in their lives. In that respect, we can identify with Job. Despite his earlier complaints, he still manages to arrive at some happiness.
And that should offer us all hope.