Weekly Reflections for June 25, 2023

Finding God in Suffering

One of the most overlooked books of the Bible is the Book of Lamentations.  It is composed of five stand-alone poems describing the horrors that the Chosen People experienced during the complete destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC.

In each poem, the reader is presented with graphic depictions of the death and carnage that accompanied the sacking of their homeland. A sense of utter hopelessness fills each poem, and the rare verse expressing hope is completely drowned out by the many surrounding cries of despair.

Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of these poems is this: the people cry out to God in their anguish, and He does not answer.  The final verse of the final poem demonstrates the degree to which the Jews’ spirit has been overwhelmed by God’s silence:

For now, you have indeed rejected us and utterly turned your wrath against us.

Likewise, many people going through great suffering feel abandoned by God, or even worse, feel as though God has turned his anger upon them.  Claims from well-meaning family and friends that “there is meaning in suffering” and that “Christ is with you in all this” are unhelpful despite the truth underlying those thoughts.  How does one going through anguish and affliction, whether it be physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual… how does one persevere, how does one find and keep God with them?

This is where reflecting on the Book of Lamentations may help.  We can look at the Jewish people, who called out to God and, while acknowledging their sins, accused God of abandoning them, punishing them far more severely than their crimes warranted.  Even at this point of deepest despair, the Jewish people could not turn away from God.  Their relationship with Him was so strong that, despite their feelings of abandonment, they had the confidence to cry out to Him knowing that any hope that their torment might end could only come from Him.

Although God did not respond to the cries of his people within the Book of Lamentations itself, we know as Catholic Christians that He did ultimately offer his reply in an unfathomable way.  As we reflect on our own sufferings and on the faith-in-hopeless of the Jewish people in Lamentations, we can also reflect on the image of the Incarnate Son of God hanging on the cross on Good Friday and on the empty tomb of Easter morning, the Father’s transcendent answers to the cries of suffering peoples in all places and all times.

– Bill Merlock

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