First Reading: Job 38:1, 8-11

The Justice of Suffering?

1 Then YHWH answered Job out of the whirlwind:

8 "Who shut up the sea with doors,
when it broke forth from the womb,
9 when I made clouds its garment,
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10 marked out for it my bound,
set bars and doors,
11 and said, "Here you may come, but no further.
Here your proud waves shall be stayed?'"

World English Bible

How have you responded to suffering? Did you get angry at God or others? Did you accept your plight and endure it? Did your suffering cause you to reflect on the limits of life or God's justice?

"What comes around, goes around." How many times have you heard that cliche? Normally, this phrase is attached to personal suffering. Sinners undergo trial because of their immorality. They suffer because they've made others suffer. This notion is called "retributive justice." God is paying sinners back for their acts, in this life, if not in the next.

But what happens when the sufferer is innocent? This is the question that stares humanity in the face, especially in times of vast suffering. Are hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes really God's vengeance upon a sin-filled humanity? Can genocide ever be justified? The book of Job posed this question. His plight was not a matter of "bad karma." His faith was tested by his circumstances.

The answer God finally gave Job did not completely satisfy, but it was realistic. Suffering, by its nature, robs us of the ability to see the big picture. Complaining to God only provides a temporary catharsis. Ultimately, we must accept God on his terms. Our condition is small compared to the workings of the cosmos. God is in charge. Despite our pain, our only acceptable response is trust.

In Job 38, the Lord addressed Job in the context of creation. Who controls the flow of water (the ultimate power to the desert dweller like the author of Job)? Implicitly, if we cannot manage our own personal suffering, how can we dare to question the Lord who brings water for the life of all things? This is a harsh, but sometimes, necessary outlook, for it puts suffering in context.

Like Job, we will all suffer despite our innocence or guilt. We cannot escape some tragedy in life. But, like Job, we need to suffering as a test of faith, not as divine retribution. As a test, we can endure. We can become stronger in character. We can grow closer to the Lord through our trial.

How have you endured tragedy in your life? How has God made you stronger through it? How is God helping you now, even in your times of trial?