The heart opened by suffering

By Roy Stetler
June 23, 2024

Job’s children have died in a storm, his wealth has been stolen and his servants killed, and finally his skin becomes covered with sores.  He grieves and talks about his grief with his friends, but finds no satisfaction as they offer their tidy explanations.  They insist that he has sinned.  (How many different ways can you say the same thing?)  Job knows his trouble is not a punishment.  Yet, Job seems full of bitterness and is passing judgment on the Almighty.  Finally, after one last “friend’s” attempt to explain Job’s suffering, God breaks into the conversation correcting companions and Job alike.  Wisely, the writer of Job does not put an answer to the mystery of suffering in God’s mouth.  The divine response is simply that Job will never understand the mystery and power of God.  Ever.  Job then confesses that his best response to God and suffering is honest, humble prayer (I repent in dust and ashes).

Likewise, Paul considers suffering—the apostles’—in their ministry to the Corinthians.  “Our heart is open wide to you. . .in return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.”

Paul makes a profound point.  Though so painful, suffering opens the heart.  An open heart allows for healing and communion.  By opening our hearts, we create space in our suffering for something new.

When a storm at sea finds Jesus sleeping on a cushion, he is awakened by frightened disciples and utters the words, “Peace, be still.”  And it is so.  He speaks to the storm, but is mostly speaking to the frightened disciples.  Then he says, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”

After his suffering death, Jesus becomes a healing presence to all who look to him.  He rises, not to take away all pain, but to reveal that there is always hope, even in miserable circumstances.  There is hope for something new.

After Christ is risen and the disciples have a mature faith, they come to trust that they have a part in something new.

How have you learned to open wide your heart in your suffering, to open wide your heart to others in their suffering, to make space for something new?  May it be so for all of us.