By Father Thomas Esposito
Special to The Texas Catholic
I stumbled upon a question during Holy Week, one that moved quite gracefully from a thought-experiment to prayer: how would Job respond to the suffering of Christ on the cross?
Job’s experience of God, who emphatically reduces the suffering man to silence by refusing to answer his demand for a reasonable explanation, does not seem to square with the infinite compassion of the One who emptied Himself on the cross for love of us. God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind, the terrifying grandeur of a storm (see Job 38-41); “in these last days,” God spoke to us through His Son (Hebrews 1:2). What do these two vastly different conceptions of the relationship between God and man have in common?
This question touches the heart of our experience of the mystery of God. We cannot fully know the divine mercy manifest in Christ without a corresponding knowledge of the God revealed to Job in the whirlwind. We must hold together the two presentations, just as the Church has always held together the Old and New Testaments as one single revelation. The God who appears to be annoyed with Job and bellows at him out of the storm cloud is the same God who so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son to share our flesh, our life, and our death.
The created world, charged with the grandeur of God, gives us scattered glimpses of the immense and majestic, but also heart-rending and bone-pulverizing power of its Maker, whose fingerprints are visible in the expanse of the sky, the vast might of the ocean, and the splendor, at once frightening and fascinating, of the lightning bolt. In the face of this created glory, Job is puny; his logic fails because it reeks of mortality and frailty. Face-to-face with the utterly sublime Author of all things, the only appropriate response is silence.
But that experience of God hardly exhausts the divine mystery. For equally baffling to our limited logos is the fact that Being itself, greater than which nothing can be thought, should willingly empty itself into a frail human vessel to conquer the forces of sin and death. That is the beautiful enigma of the Incarnation, the ultimate unveiling of God’s love extended to such an end as Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. The fruits of that love flow to us from the heart of Jesus through the life of the Church – the water and blood gushing from his side on the cross have always been interpreted as symbols of the life-giving sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. Our prayer, then, must also incorporate the awesome gift of the sacraments as we praise the Lord for the wonderful things He has done.
The mystery of God spans a tension that we perceive, at times, as unbearable — as the darkness or silence of God when we crave a ray of light or a comforting voice. But we must take consolation in knowing that both Job and Jesus endured the same. Job himself, who speaks for all of us in our confusion, sadness, and anger, expresses his confidence that his suffering is not the period punctuating the sentence of his life: “As for me, I know that my redeemer lives, and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust, and from my flesh I will see God” (Job 19:25-26).
Job is not aware that the song of resurrection, the triumph of divinity over dust, will break forth after the silence of Golgotha yields to the empty tomb. What, then, would he say upon seeing the infinite God human and humbled, racked with pain as he was? Perhaps he would be more awestruck by the crucified Christ than by the majestic whirlwind, perceiving at last the inscrutable love that wrested mercy out of misery. In asserting that his own eyes would see God, Job expressed an obscure hope that his prayer and wounds (for prayers are often nothing more than our bleeding wounds entrusted to God) would burst open the heart of divine mercy. He sensed, even in the dimness of a pre-Christian morning, that his suffering would yield to a luminous sight: the vision of God. Job’s final, faltering words in response to the whirlwind, “I had heard of you by hearsay, but now my eye has seen you” (Job 42:5), acquire a radiant beauty when read as the prelude to his blessed silence. For Job now has his answer as he gazes on the face of Christ risen from the tomb: the mystery remains ever inscrutable, but becomes even more awesome now that we know how low God has stooped to draw near to us.
Father Thomas Esposito, O.Cist., is a theologian and monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving. His column appears occasionally in The Texas Catholic.