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The voice of illness, part 5: Who is the sufferer?

December 29, 2011
Yesterday we looked at the work of deacons, in the context of the voice of illness.
Yesterday was the Feast of the Holy Innocents. These were the baby boys that were massacred by King Herod when the Magi did not return to him to tell him the whereabouts of the newborn Messiah (Matthew 2:13-18). It made me think of how the Bible is full of suffering. And also full of innocent sufferers.
But perhaps it is Job who is the epitome of the innocent sufferer. He loses everything and still remains faithful to God. However, he does make a case for his innocence. He pleads with God to hear him out. Most of the book is a long 'where are you God?' His three friends go to him to give him sympathy and comfort and first they cry for him and then sit with him in silence for seven days for “they saw how great was his suffering”( Job 2:11-13). I found in reading Job, a comfort in that, while we may seek for a reason for our suffering, we may never find it and that’s OK. This is why the voice of illness does not cry out, 'why?' but, 'where are you God?' God does speak to Job, He makes himself present to Job, but he never explains why Job is suffering. He only makes it clear that He is God. He answers 'where is God,' by showing 'who is God.' We need not seek the why of our suffering. It seems to be a part of life. And it is so often in our suffering that we can encounter God.
The Book of Job led me to Isaiah’s suffering servant. Christians believe that Isaiah is speaking about the Messiah, the Christ. He portrays this servant as oppressed and condemned, like a lamb led to the slaughter (Is 53:7-8) and even though he will be highly exalted, his look will be so marred (Is 52:13):
He was spurned and avoided by men,
a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity,
One of those from whom men hide their faces,
spurned, and we held him in no esteem. (Is 53:3)
Isaiah continues by saying that “this silent servant” will bear our infirmities and endure our sufferings: “He was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins”( Is 53:4). This is the Christ whom Stephen and Philip professed. The Christ whom we profess: The Christ who takes away our infirmities and bears our diseases (Is 53:4 and Mt. 8:17) and through whose own suffering shall justify many (Is 53:11).
Verse 2 of Psalm 22 says, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why so far from my call of help, from my cries of anguish?” It continues,
But I am but a worm, hardly human;
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they curl their lips and jeer; they shake their heads at me. (Psalm 22:7-8)
This is Isaiah’s suffering servant, whom we believe is the Christ, our God, who takes away our suffering; who is our comfort and our healing. These examples from Job, Isaiah and Psalm 22 remind me that I may not be able to explain the suffering of those mothers who lost their babies around the time of Jesus' birth. Yet, although we may not be able to explain suffering, or while God doesn’t always take away our suffering, we believe in a God who suffers with us. Just one look at the Cross is enough reminder of the kind of God we believe in.
At the same time, it is this servant that Isaiah describes, who will come “to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness”( Is 42:7). In a later chapter he adds, “to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to the prisoners” and “to comfort those who mourn” (Is 61:1-3). In the Gospel of Luke Jesus reads from those same passages from Isaiah and adds: “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:16-21) asserting that He is the one about whom Isaiah was writing. It’s also clear to me that this suffering Christ, who takes on our infirmities and who suffers with us, also takes away our suffering, brings good news to the poor, lets prisoners free, comforts the afflicted and gives sight to the blind. It is He to whom we must go with our afflictions. He is our comfort, our healing, and our salvation.
Read all the posts of The voice of illness: part one, part two, part three, part fourpart six, part seven.
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Credit: CNS photo
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