One thing that just about all of us struggle with is the problem of suffering. Why do good people suffer? Most people are good, yet just about everyone suffers. Working with the sick I often heard people saying to me, ‘Why has this happened to me, I never did anyone any harm?’ It is the age old problem that comes up for us, where we wonder whether sickness and suffering are a punishment for something we have done wrong.
The readings today give an interesting kind of answer to this question. The first reading from the book of Job doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense on its own, but the background to it is this: Job is the just man, he represents all those who are just and try to do what it right, but then unexpectedly everything begins to go wrong for him. He loses all his property and money and even his children, and then he becomes physically ill himself. Then some friends come to console him and begin a big discussion with him. They say to him, ‘You must have done something wrong and this is the punishment’. But he stands firm and says he hasn’t done anything wrong. This is how most of us react when things start to go badly wrong. We say, ‘Why is this happening to me? What have I done wrong?’ God so often seems to be unfair.
Eventually Job challenges God and says ‘You are in the wrong and You shouldn’t be doing this to me.’ At the end of the book, God answers Job. And the answer that He gives Job is basically this: He says, ‘Who are you to question me?’ He says to Job, ‘Were you there when I created the universe? Can you understand all the mysteries of creation?’ What God is saying to us through this book is this: We cannot understand these things, because they are beyond us, but the Lord asks us to trust him.
Often God 'tests' us through suffering, not in the sense of seeing if we are good enough, but in the sense of making us stronger in our faith, just as you would push an athlete in training to make him or her stronger, or indeed the way you encourage your children to do something better, even though they may resist at first. You are helping them to grow. God is also helping us to grow.
It is interesting that at the end of the book God also restores to Job everything that He had lost and gives him back much more than he had initially. It is a way of calling us to trust in God and reminding us that God is just and will not let us down, but we must hang on.
The Gospel relates to this too. When Jesus stands up and orders the wind and the sea to be calm, to the astonishment of the disciples, the forces of nature obey him. He is showing them and us that He is master of all things, even the forces of nature. The Lord knows what He is doing. All things are subject to God and so the Lord continually asks us to trust him. That is why He says, ‘Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?’ God is saying, ‘Of course I know what is going on, but you must trust me.’ None of these events happened by accident. All of them teach us something.
We often can’t explain the things that happen to us and we often won’t have good answers for those cynical, but it doesn’t matter. What we have to do is trust and believe that the Lord is with us and knows what He is doing.
‘Who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him.’