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Home » Daily Readings, Old Testament, Wisdom

Silence

Submitted by on Friday, 3 October 2008No Comment
  • Reading I: Job 38:1-21; 43:3-5
  • Resp. Psalm: Psalm 139:1-14
  • Gospel Reading: Luke 10:13-16

 

silence

Behold, I am of little account; what can I answer you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
Though I have spoken once, I will not do so again;
though twice, I will do so no more.

The debates between Job and his friends end up in silence as God Himself rebukes them for their senselessness. It was as if He were saying "You with all your wisdom, what do you really know measured against MY wisdom!" After all, it is a constant theme in the Scriptures that God’s ways are far above what men can ever comprehend. So before the mysteries only fully understandable to God, human words fall to naught. Only silence should prevail.

The suffering of the innocent is one of these mysteries. And even those who suffer in their innocence shouldn’t oppose their words to God’s. To Job, especially, God’s words are not meant to console. "All this" He seems to say, "is my abode. What right have you to question any of these that you don’t understand?" He does not tell Job that what he is enduring is due to a test and that he has been doing fairly well despite the suffering. God does not praise — for He alone is worthy of praise — He simply rewards. And that is what he does to Job later on.

In the presence of mystery, the proper response is silence. Mary, in the face of what she cannot fully understand, "kept all these in her heart". The silence beneath the cross must have been deafening even as the noise of mockery around it was deafening as well.  It was a silence brought about by the incomprehensible, awesome majesty of  the God who loved so much that He gave up His Only Son.  Mary, Jesus’ mother, can only contemplate her son and weep.

God won a victory in Job.  Despite the nagging inconsistency that he perceived and felt in his flesh and in his heart, he did not curse God.  He did however come to close to murmurring against God and for this, God saves him with a rebuke.  As for his friends … well, they don’t get a reward like Job, nor do they fulfill the purpose of their visit, that is, to console him.   What they did however is to illustrate without doubt that the old conviction according to which all human suffering is due to sin of some sort,  is not entirely correct.  There is a suffering borne out of loyalty and fidelity such as that of Job .   John Paul II writes about this in Salvifici doloris:

Job … challenges the truth of the principle that identifies suffering with punishment for sin. And he does this on the basis of his own opinion. For he is aware that he has not deserved such punishment, and in fact he speaks of the good that he has done during his life. In the end, God himself reproves Job’s friends for their accusations and recognizes that Job is not guilty. His suffering is the suffering of someone who is innocent and it must be accepted as a mystery, which the individual is unable to penetrate completely by his own intelligence.

The Book of Job does not violate the foundations of the transcendent moral order, based upon justice, as they are set forth by the whole of Revelation, in both the Old and the New Covenants. At the same time, however, this Book shows with all firmness that the principles of this order cannot be applied in an exclusive and superficial way. While it is true that suffering has a meaning as punishment, when it is connected with a fault, it is not true that all suffering is a consequence of a fault and has the nature of a punishment. The figure of the just man Job is a special proof of this in the Old Testament. Revelation, which is the word of God himself, with complete frankness presents the problem of the suffering of an innocent man: suffering without guilt. Job has not been punished, there was no reason for inflicting a punishment on him, even if he has been subjected to a grievous trial. From the introduction of the Book it is apparent that God permitted this testing as a result of Satan’s provocation. For Satan had challenged before the Lord the righteousness of Job: "Does Job fear God for nought? … Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth thy hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse thee to thy face"(25). And if the Lord consents to test Job with suffering, he does it to demonstrate the latter’s righteousness. The suffering has the nature of a test.

The Book of Job is not the last word on this subject in Revelation. In a certain way it is a foretelling of the Passion of Christ. But already in itself it is sufficient argument why the answer to the question about the meaning of suffering is not to be unreservedly linked to the moral order, based on justice alone.  (SD, no. 11)

The last line from the above quote points to the fulness of the revelation of the mystrery of suffering on the cross.  But that would be the topic of another blog.  For now, however, it is well to remember that the silence that God imposes on Job and on his friends, is not different from the silence imposed by the prophets against those who murmur or are about to.  For before any word from God, human words must be quelched.

The LORD is in his holy temple; silence before him, all the earth! (!Habakkuk  2:20; also Zechariah 2:17)

Job 38:1-21; 43:3-5
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg LXX Hebrew
381Then the Lord answered Job out of a whirlwind, and said:
2Who is this that wrappeth up sentences in unskillful words?
3Gird up thy loins like a man: I will ask thee, and answer thou me.
4Where wast thou when I laid up the foundations of the earth? tell me if thou hast understanding.
5Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
6Upon what are its bases grounded? or who laid the corner stone thereof,
7When the morning stars praised me together, and all the sons of God made a joyful melody?
8Who shut up the sea with doors, when it broke forth as issuing out of the womb:
9When I made a cloud the garment thereof, and wrapped it in a mist as in swaddling bands?
10I set my bounds around it, and made it bars and doors:
11And I said: Hitherto thou shalt come, and shalt go no further, and here thou shalt break thy swelling waves.
12Didst thou since thy birth command the morning, and shew the dawning of the day its place?
13And didst thou hold the extremities of the earth shaking them, and hast thou shaken the ungodly out of it?
14The seal shall be restored as clay, and shall stand as a garment:
15From the wicked their light shall be taken away, and the high arm shall be broken.
16Hast thou entered into the depths of the sea, and walked in the lowest parts of the deep?
17Have the gates of death been opened to thee, and hast thou seen the darksome doors?
18Hast thou considered the breadth of the earth? tell me, if thou knowest all things?
19Where is the way where light dwelleth, and where is the place of darkness:
20That thou mayst bring every thing to its own bounds, and understand the paths of the house thereof.
21Didst thou know then that thou shouldst be born? and didst thou know the number of thy days?
Psalm 139:1-14
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg LXX Hebrew
1Lord, thou hast proved me, and known me:
2Thou hast know my sitting down, and my rising up.
3Thou hast understood my thoughts afar off: my path and my line thou hast searched out.
4And thou hast foreseen all my ways: for there is no speech in my tongue.
5Behold, O Lord, thou hast known all things, the last and those of old: thou hast formed me, and hast laid thy hand upon me.
6Thy knowledge is become wonderful to me: it is high, and I cannot reach to it.
7Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy face?
8If I ascend into heaven, thou art there: if I descend into hell, thou art present.
9If I take my wings early in the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea:
10Even there also shall thy hand lead me: and thy right hand shall hold me.
11And I said: Perhaps darkness shall cover me: and night shall be my light in my pleasures.
12But darkness shall not be dark to thee, and night shall be light as day: the darkness thereof, and the light thereof are alike to thee.
13For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast protected me from my mother's womb.
14I will praise thee, for thou art fearfully magnified: wonderful are thy works, and my soul knoweth right well.
Luke 10:13-16
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg Greek
13Woe to thee, Corozain, woe to thee, Bethsaida. For if in Tyre and Sidon had been wrought the mighty works that have been wrought in you, they would have done penance long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.
14But it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgement, than for you.
15And thou, Capharnaum, which art exalted unto heaven, thou shalt be thrust down to hell.
16He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me.

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