Job 7: 1-4, 6,7
1 Corinthians 9: 16-19, 22-23
Mark 1: 29-39
My brother Terry became seriously ill at 16 months of age, in September 1961. His inexplicable illness resulted in ongoing mental and physical challenges. Unfortunately, some people felt Terry’s illness was easily explained through God’s will or, more sadly, that God must have been angry because of my parents’ past transgressions. None of these explanations made my parents feel any better, nor did they make God feel any closer.
The theology of the first half of the 20th century, up until the early 1960s, had more to do with God’s wrath and God’s punishment than it did with God’s mercy and love. We’ve greatly progressed in our thinking about God since then. The Second Vatican Council, initiated by St. Pope John XXIII, introduced us to a different side of the church and to a different side of God — a church capable of change and a God of mercy. Successive popes kept up with this “new” God. Pope Paul VI kept the spirit of Vatican II alive. St. Pope John Paul II continually spoke of a God not to be feared, and Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), was remarkably comforting and healing. Pope Francis’ wide embrace and acceptance of all people is a reflection of the wide embrace and acceptance of God.
Have we completely accepted this radically new way of relating to God? For the most part, we’ve come a long way. However, there still exists a mindset that bad things are the result of God’s will. As well, the expression, “God doesn’t give us any more than we can handle,” is false. It offers no consolation. Is it any wonder that people have difficulty relating to a God who, they feel, inflicts suffering?
In the first reading, Job shares a commonality with those who believe suffering is God’s will. Job endured much suffering in his life. He lamented to God about the misfortune that continually plagued him. His feelings about life were rather gloomy. “Does not the human being have a hard service on earth, and are not their days like the days of a labourer? I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me.”
When tragedy strikes, it is easy to blame God. The tragic loss of loved ones can bring years of emptiness and misery. It takes a great deal of faith to understand or to even feel that God is present throughout all of the pain we experience. God does not will pain and despair, and even Jesus, when he walked the earth, sought to change the mindset of the people through his healing touch, comforting words, strengthening presence and his accessibility.
In the psalm we sing, “The Lord heals the broken-hearted, and binds up their wounds.” Jesus identified with the powerless and the oppressed, he associated with the sinners, the sick and the suffering, and he welcomed the strangers and the marginalized. Jesus’ association with the undesirables of society, and his healing touch, brought people back into the community again.
Though “Jesus cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons,” he never idealized suffering. Instead, Jesus used suffering as an opportunity to reveal the face, compassion and love of God. Our experiences of suffering reflect a common characteristic. They all provide opportunities for individuals and the larger community to step forward and offer support and assistance. That is what it means to be Jesus to one another. “Whatsoever you do” is a responsibility the community has in order to extend the boundaries of the kingdom, and to share the love, mercy, compassion and healing touch of God.
Suffering is not God’s fault, nor is it God’s will. Suffering is a way that God becomes a part of our lives. It is “God’s will” that we help and support others as they walk through their dark valleys in life. It is “God’s will” that we minister to those who long for love in their lives. It is “God’s will” that we help carry the crosses of those who shoulder heavy loads, and it is “God’s will” that we reveal God’s mercy and compassion to all we meet on our journeys throughout life.
Saretsky is a teacher and chaplain at Bishop Mahoney school in Saskatoon. He and his wife Norma have two children.