Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Self-giving love

ONE of the great tests of the human spirit and character is the ability to give thanks even when life is tough and testing.

The Book of Job in the Old Testament, a curious tale, illustrates this point very well.

Job is a fine man, blameless and upright, who lived his life in the fear of the Lord and who completely turned away from evil.

God praises Job and the Devil asks God a very interesting question: “Does Job fear, or respect, God for no reward?” In other words, does Job love and obey God freely, without any thought for what he might get out of the relationship?

The Devil went on: “Let us put this to the test. I bet, if you systematically remove all that Job has, he will curse you to your face.”

Little by little the whole fabric of Job’s life is torn away and destroyed and at significant moments he is asked by those involved: “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God, and die.”

But Job would not curse God. At every stage he tries, with his human goodness and wisdom, to understand the terrible things that are happening to him. He is cursed with sores from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. He is brought very low indeed and cries out: “Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night which said, ‘A man-child is conceived’.”

The book of Job wrestles with the age-old problem of suffering and does so with startling honesty. There are no pat answers, no simplistic attempts to explain the inexplicable.

Instead, and rather surprisingly for a religious text, there is the blunt admission that some things in life are beyond our comprehension. Another response to suffering is to meet it with self-giving love; the sort we have seen from the emergency services and so many others during this difficult time.

Today (August 14) is the commemoration day for St Maxmilian Kolbe. In July 1941 Kolbe, a Polish Roman Catholic priest, was being held in Auschwitz Concentration Camp for the production of an anti-Nazi newspaper.

He offered his life in place of a man condemned to die with nine others as a punishment in response to a supposed escape from the camp: “I am a Catholic Priest. Let me take his place. I am old. He has a wife and children.”

The exchange was accepted and Kolbe was thrown into a cell with the others, without food or water. One of only three to survive after two weeks, he was finally killed with an injection of carbolic acid. His life saved a life.

We are not left entirely high and dry. Despite the traumas he endured, Job ultimately found his faith deepened and his awareness of God enriched. The journey was very painful but he emerged stronger and wiser for it.

The mystery is not fully resolved yet some sense is made of it. God’s wisdom is not our wisdom. Some things are just not clear yet — and perhaps only become clear in the light of God’s own suffering in Christ.

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