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Suffering, Mystery, and the Book of Job

During my senior year of college, I took on the intimidating task of studying the book of Job. This will be great, I thought to myself, I’ll figure out everything I need to know about the toughest life questions. Unexplainable suffering, tragedy, the mysteries of God’s will? It’s all here. This will revolutionize my spiritual life! 

Two months later, I read the final verse of the Old Testament book and closed my Bible in exasperation. How on earth had Job earned the reputation for being the go-to source for human suffering? Sure, there’s more than enough to go around for Job and his poor family, but I thought there would be some solid answers, too. As it was, I didn’t understand suffering any better than I did before I started the study ten weeks prior! At the end of the story, I couldn’t deny that Job seemed satisfied with God in a way I wasn’t.

It’s been nearly a decade and a half since I wrestled through that study and while I’m not sure I have better answers now about unnecessary suffering, I have lived a lot of life and have witnessed more of it myself. God’s mysterious—and sometimes seemingly impersonal—responses to Job still don’t satisfy my thirst for rational explanations, but they do ring truer now than they did all those years ago. Because what I’ve learned is that much of life is simply a mystery, and sometimes being a Christian means being willing to sit in the tension of a loving God and horrendous events.

I’m not sure I’m on board with the popular adage, “everything happens for a reason,” but I do believe that something redemptive can come from event the most devastating loss, and I believe Divine love is nearest to us in our suffering. The dialogue between Job and God might always frustrate me, but perhaps not. Perhaps it will resonate with me in another two decades way more than it does today.

By now, I know better than to presume to understand the sufferings of life. But day by day I am slowly learning to stand in awe of divine Mystery. Here, I demand fewer answers. Here, I replace questions with wonder. Here, I believe that Love is the most powerful force in the world and that one day, only goodness will remain.

Here, I believe that Love is the most powerful force in the world and that one day, only goodness will remain. Click To Tweet

How can you experience less isolation in your suffering, sister? Turn to a friend, confessor, small group. Allow your community to remind you that God is with you, and we are, too.

Shannon Evans is a Protestant missionary turned Catholic convert who lived to tell the tale. She is an author, essayist, and speaker, but potty training four boys will be the achievement on her epitaph. Shannon and her family make their home in central Iowa, where they seek to live out the social teachings of the Church in their small and ordinary days. You can find out more about her here. She is the author of our 2018 Advent Study, forthcoming and Blessed Conversations: The Our Father study found here.

8 Comments

  • Reply
    Jenn
    October 5, 2018 at 11:04 am

    Thank you Shannon for the reminder of the divine Mystery and the closeness of God in our suffering. So grateful for a faith that has redemptive meaning for my and the whole church’s suffering.

    • Reply
      Shannon Evans
      October 5, 2018 at 3:46 pm

      Yes and amen, Jenn!

  • Reply
    Rocio
    October 5, 2018 at 11:15 am

    Amen! Beautifully written. May we not be afraid to “sit in the tension of a loving God and horrendous events”. Romans 8:28 is my consolation when it comes to this question of evil and suffering: God makes all things work for good.

    • Reply
      Shannon Evans
      October 5, 2018 at 3:46 pm

      Yes, that passage is beautiful.

  • Reply
    Pasc
    October 5, 2018 at 11:25 am

    Yes, I agree that “Divine love is nearest to us in our suffering”. I have been experiencing this in my own life; and while it doesn’t make the suffering itself good, there is a beauty, richness, and goodness that comes out of it. I have been drawn closer to Jesus and learned of His love for me as never before. I doubt I’ll ever be thankful for the circumstances that caused my suffering, but I am grateful for all that God has brought out of it for me so far (not over yet).

    • Reply
      Shannon Evans
      October 5, 2018 at 3:46 pm

      You have so much wisdom. Thank you for sharing!

  • Reply
    Kathy Delgado
    October 5, 2018 at 12:58 pm

    Shannon, I too have studied Job for decades and each year something new is unveiled. Just before my 49th birthday I was diagnosed with breast cancer, prior to that I had spent the past four years recovering from a spine injury. I had seen suffering that I would not wish upon anyone however, Gods grace transformed me spiritually in ways that I can’t even put into words but I can say I wouldn’t have missed this journey for the world. I am so grateful for this conversion of heart and understand Job just a tab by trusting that God is in control and wants what is best for us. Learning to surrender and yet holding on to our faith in the darkest moments makes the light of Christ transform us. Any way I hope this tiny piece of my life brings someone hope and encouragement. Blessing to you.

    • Reply
      Shannon Evans
      October 5, 2018 at 3:47 pm

      This is beautiful, Kathy. Thank you.

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