By The Rt Rev. Stephen Andrews, PhD
‘I am sickened of life,’ laments Job. It is not just the calamities he has suffered that has brought him to this point. It is the senselessness of it all. The prophets marvel that God has fashioned us like a potter purposefully moulding his clay. But Job can’t understand why the divine purpose in his life would seem to be that he had been created for destruction.So, bitterly, he pours out his complaint.
Then a new figure emerges among Job’s so-called ‘friends’. Zopharthe Naamathite remonstrates with Job. He chides him for his insolence, saying that God in his mystery is inscrutable: ‘Can you fathom the perfection of the Almighty?’Zophar has a point. Indeed, it is a point that God himself will make to Job at the end of the story.
But Zophar speaks of God like a smug seminarian, rigidly applying his propositional truth. He should have stopped with his affirmation of God’s enigmatic ways before concluding that Job was being recompensed for some iniquity. Job understands this reasoning all too well, and yet the reality is that ‘those who provoke God live safe and sound’.
By contrast, St Paul urges the Corinthians to be generous in providing relief for the poor in Jerusalem. There is no meditation here on what the Jerusalem Christians might have done to deserve their poverty and no profound existential questions are asked. The emphasis is simply on imitating Christ’s generosity. He who was ‘rich for our sake became poor, so that through his poverty we might become rich.’ The proper Christian response to the suffering of others is not to rationalise it, but to enter into it. When we listen with empathy, devote ourselves to heartfelt prayer, and look for ways to alleviate need, even to the point of personal sacrifice, we become God’s agents in bringing light into a dark world.
In periods of personal trial and suffering, what sort of responses from others have helped you the most?
How does our generosity towards others bring benefit to ourselves?
Be pleased, O Lord, to use me in comforting and relieving those who suffer, that in my care they may come to know your healing love. Amen.
The Rt Rev. Stephen Andrews, PhD is the Bishop of the Diocese of Algoma in Ontario