by Sue Westhorp
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The Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil’ (Job 1:8).
In my work as a hospital chaplain, one of the most common questions I hear from patients is ‘why?’. Why me? What have I done to deserve this? Why now? I’ve just retired and now I’ve been told I only have three months to live. Where is God in any of this?
When suffering enters our lives, it is very normal to ask these questions, to try to make sense out of our experience.
Today’s reading introduces us to Job, a ‘blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil’. ‘The satan’ (which literally translates to ‘the accuser’) is a member of the heavenly court who makes a bet with God that if God destroys all of Job’s blessings, then Job will curse him to his face. There follows a story of suffering, innocent suffering, that hasn’t been caused by Job’s behaviour or his choices.
From the beginning of the story, where bad news and loss after loss cascade onto Job, to the end of the story where God restores Job’s fortunes. This book of the Bible gives us an example of how to live through crisis and tragedy. The majority of the book is taken up with Job’s response to his suffering – his bitter complaint and lament. And yet, he continues to trust God even though he is never given a reason for his suffering. How often do we see suffering in this world that has no logical rhyme or reason? And we know that being a Christian does not protect us from suffering or help us to fully understand why we suffer. We are called to live in this tension and still trust our God. And, it is difficult.
The book of Job also guides us on how to be present with others in their suffering. Job’s friends start well. For seven days, they sit there with him, silently acknowledging the depth of his grief and pain. But then the need to ‘do something’ prompts them to start offering unhelpful advice. We’re not great at sitting with our own feelings of helplessness, are we? I know I like to think I can offer words of wisdom that might help ease another’s suffering. I also know that often this is not the result. Just as God sits with us in our suffering, we are called to come alongside others, to be a companion to them in their suffering and questions.
Loving God, in the midst of suffering, remind us of your constant presence with us. Give us patience and empathy to sit with the suffering of others. Amen.