The Father William Most Collection
Suffering to God's Children
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
The Book of Job is concerned with the problem of suffering. Only part of the truth had been revealed at that time. Before, people had tended to think suffering was a punishment for sin. It sometimes is that, but not always. Yet that belief persisted even into the time of Christ. Cf. the question: "who has sinned" This man or his parents? (Jn 9. 2-3).
Job will make a degree of progress, namely, that it comes out clearly that not always is suffering a punishment for sin. Yet the positive value of suffering remained to be made clear by Jesus.
There is however a problem: We know we are adopted children of God. Children, precisely because they are children, have a claim to be in their Father's house, which is heaven.
The Council of Trent (DS 1532 and 1582) taught three things: 1) that we receive justification with no merit at all. Justification means the first reception of sanctifying grace, which in turn means that the indwelling of the Holy Trinity in our souls makes us sharers in the divine nature (2. Peter 1. 4) and adopted children of God. 2) So we have a claim to go to our Father's house. A claim can be called a merit. Yet it is a different kind of merit. Although it is as it were a ticket to heaven, it is a ticket we get for free, without at all earning it. 3) Once we have this status of children, sharing in the very nature of the Father, any good we do has a special added dignity, which makes it suitable that He increase our ability to know Him face to face. Since that vision is infinite, but we are finite receptacles, our capability to receive could grow indefinitely, for it will never reach the infinite. That growth is what we call growth in sanctifying grace. And even though the first grace-the basic ticket itself - is not at all earned, there is a sense in which additions to the ability to see face to face can be earned. Yet we do not earn these as individuals. It is only inasmuch as we are a)members of Christ and b) like Him, that we get in on the claim which HE established.
In this sense we could say what one student once said in a class about salvation: "You can't earn it, but you can blow it". That is, children do not have to earn the love and care of their parents. Yet they could earn to lose it.
So now we have focused our problem. We can rightly say: All we have to do it to keep from earning to lose this ticket.
How then does this fit in with this such texts as:
Romans 8. 17: "We are heirs of God, fellow heirs with Christ, PROVIDED THAT we suffer with Him, so we may also be glorified with Him"? Similarly Jesus Himself said that He is the vine, and we the branches (John 15. 1-6). The Father will prune a fruitful branch, to make it bear still more fruit. Again, the Epistle to the Hebrews (12. 5-13) quotes the Old Testament (Proverbs 3. 11-12) saying that the Father disciplines us as children. That is a sign He cares for us, loves us.
The solution is really easy: If we remained always perfectly innocent children, there would be no need at all for purification. But the problem is that we all do sin (1 John 1. 8).
Therefore: a) The Holiness of our Father wants His children clean enough to enter His house. Some sin so gravely as to even lose divine sonship. Others do not lose it, but become dirty children, who need a cleanup.
We could explain it this way: The scales of the objective order need to be rebalanced if we, His children, have put it even somewhat out of order by our personal sins. The sinner takes from one pan of a two pan scales something he has no right to have. It might he so grave as to cause him to lose divine sonship--mortal sin. But it can be something lesser, which while it does not cause us to lose that sonship, yet it does mean we are bad, we might say, dirty children. We need to be cleaned up. The essential, the infinite work of rebalancing the scales is done by Jesus, our Brother, with whom He are heirs as Romans 8. 17 says. Yet the same line, Romans 8. 17 also says we are heirs "provided that we suffer with Him."
As we indicated, by mortal sin we could even lose our status as sons of the Father and brothers and sisters of Jesus. Yet even lesser, venial sins, make us not clean enough to get in without some clean up or polishing. So that needs to be done. In other words, each one of us has an obligation to rebalance, by suffering, for the imbalance even smaller sins have caused.
b) Just as a really good Father trains His children by discipline to make them grow up and be what they should be, so our Father in heaven, disciplines us for the same purpose, as we said above, citing Hebrews and Proverbs.
c) If we really love our Father, we will want to see that He gets the pleasure of giving to all those whom He wants to be His children. But some of them have even forfeited that position, while others are somewhat soiled. In either case, in order that He may be able to give His favors to them, they need to be open. But many of them do little or nothing towards rebalancing the scales for their own sins. So that they may be put in the condition to receive, we can by taking on difficult things, make up for them. This is love for them - it is also love of the Father, for it gives Him the opening to give to them, while at the same time it gives them the openness they need to receive. (So we see in passing: love of God and love of neighbor are found in one and the same action). Hence St. Paul said, in Colossians 1. 24: "I fill up the things that are lacking to the sufferings of Christ in my flesh, for His body, which is the Church." Of course, nothing is lacking to the sufferings of Christ considered as an individual. But the whole Christ, Head and members, can be deficient. Paul wants to do what we just said, to make up for the a lack of opening in other members of Christ.
We gather, there is triple reason for suffering. It cleans up the tarnished image of the Father and of Christ in us; it helps us grow to spiritual maturity; it helps give the Father the pleasure of being able to give to other, deficient children.
What was known of this beautiful picture at the tome of Job? As we said, many, such as Job's so-called friends, insisted that all suffering comes from sin. The book makes it finally clear that not always does suffering come from sin. But clearly, Job did not see the full expanses of the splendid picture we have just unfolded.
Could they have reached at least part of this picture? There were grounds for doing that. First, they knew God is our Father-- cf. Isaiah 63. 16: "Even if Abraham were not to know us or Israel to acknowledge us, You , Lord, are our Father." And Hosea 11. 1: "Out of Egypt I have called my son", that is, the whole people of Israel. Cf. also Jer 31. 9. But they did not know in how full a sense that is true. They knew He had made them, yet. But they did not know that He gave them a share in His own divine nature. Further, they knew that sin is a debt - that truth stands out all over the OT, the Intertestamental literature of the Jews, the New Testament and the writings of the Rabbis and the Fathers (on this cf. the appendix to Wm. Most, The Thought of St. Paul, pp. 289-301). They knew further the atoning power of suffering for others. This came out specially strongly in the fourth Servant Song in Isaiah 53. It was found also elsewhere in the Scriptures, cf. 2 Mac 7. 37; Dan 3. 35 & 40; Job 42. 7-8. .
Yet, even though the grounds, we might say premises, for reaching these conclusions were present and were known, they did not draw the implications from them. Similarly, Jesus confuted the Sadducees who denied the resurrection by citing for them the text of Exodus 3. 6: "'I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. ' He is not the God of the dead but of the living". - Yet, did most Jews draw that deduction from those early words? We doubt it very much. Similarly, although they had, as we said, the premises to reach much of the picture we have painted, yet they did not really reach nearly all of it. Instead in the conclusion to Job, the solution seems to be merely that God would give back more than what He had taken away, but do it in this life.