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spiritual fitness

Is God punishing me?
How do we deal with tragedy and pain in our lives?

by Father Bill Ashbaugh

Ever have a day where Murphy’s Law seemed to reign? Murphy’s Law says, “Whatever can go wrong, will!” It is like the pessimist’s dream come true. There are plenty of real-life stories around that tend to back up this view. Imagine coming home one day and finding that your house was bulldozed down by accident. It actually happened to an old lady in New York. Even worse tragedies afflict people daily. What can we make of it all in terms of our faith in God? Does God care? Is God faithful to us? Is God punishing us for our sins? Similar questions were asked a few thousand years ago. Just read the Book of Job.

If you are going through a hard time, the first few chapters will be comfortable terrain for you. In a quick series of events, Job loses all that he loves. His family and wealth are gone in a single day, and shortly thereafter, his health is taken. The book puts the blame on the devil. Satan tested Job and taunted God, saying that Job only loved God because Job was so blessed. Take away his blessings, and “surely he will blaspheme you to your face.” (Job 1:11)

That can happen.

When tragedy strikes, various temptations present themselves. One is to blame God, and blame leads to anger or even blasphemy. Another temptation is to lose faith in God, or to interpret the tragedy as Job’s friends did - they blamed Job’s predicament on the sins he committed. Most of us can think of sins we have committed and “gotten away” with. But as people of faith, we know that is never true. Sin always has its own punishment, and so when tragedy strikes, we often think that our punishment has just caught up to us. Often, we indeed can see a direct connection between the suffering we are going through and a bad choice - a sin we committed. But what about when that is not apparent?

At the end of Chapter 2, Job is sitting in ashes, covered head to foot in boils. His own wife, who ironically was not taken from him (probably some Jewish humor there), yells at him, “Are you still holding to your innocence? Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9) Wow. His soul-mate and life partner turns against him. It does not get much worse than that.

Amazingly, Job does not lose faith. He also does not accept the words of his friends who are trying to make him responsible for his misery. Job really has tried to live a righteous life so he does not accept their explanation that he is to blame for his woes and wants to hear directly from God.

Well, God answers. Job experiences God and is humbled, and surrenders in trust to God. The book ends with God raising Job back to life. He is given back all his possessions, children and health in more abundance than before. God is faithful to Job.

The book never fully answers the reason for Job’s suffering. In his case, it is apparent that it was not a result of anything he did. If anything, Job’s suffering was due to the envy of Satan. However, the book encourages us to trust fully in God, no matter why or what we are suffering or what happens to us in life.

This is the path Jesus walked all the way to Calvary. He was perfectly innocent; yet we see how much he suffered.

The same holds for us as well. Tragedy and suffering are under God’s loving providence. I call them “God’s strange rope of grace!” Strange, because they are not the normal means of grace we experience in the sacraments. Nonetheless, they are charged with God’s help. Many times I have heard someone say, “Father, I do not completely understand this, but I think my suffering is a blessing!” They go on and tell me why - “It has brought me closer to God, and my family,” or “It has helped me see what is really important in life.” In their suffering, they meet Jesus Christ on the cross. God remains faithful to them and does not abandon them.

God is faithful and never abandons any of us, especially in our times of suffering and trial. The cross always leads to the resurrection!

Email your questions and comments to:

Father Bill Ashbaugh

Spiritual Exercises

This month, we are going to focus on the faithfulness of God and our response to that faithfulness.
There are so many trials we must face: accident, injury, serious illness, loss of loved ones, loss of job and many others. Consider your own trials and then read some of the trials of St. Paul as expressed in 2 Cor 11:16-12:10. Ask yourself the question: “With all these trials, how could Paul believe God was faithful to him? Think about it. Then read Philippians 3:7-21 to see how God has helped Paul understand his sufferings with respect to the cross.

Pray this prayer while you meditate on God’s faithfulness:

Eternal Father, ever faithful, ever true. May I be faithful to you.
You have promised never to leave me. May I never leave you.
You sent your only beloved Son to save me. Draw me close to him.
You have forgiven my sins by the offering of Jesus, the unblemished lamb.
Open my heart to your mercy.
You have given your love to me in Christ. Inflame my heart with love for you.
You have shown me the way I must walk. Keep me true to your commandments.
You have given me new birth by water and the Holy Spirit.
May I rejoice in being your child.
You have fed me with heavenly bread. Increase my hunger for you.
You have given me to drink of the cup of life. Inebriate my soul.
You have poured your Spirit out on me. Make me a sacrifice of praise.
You have raised me from death to life. May I live for you alone.
You have stretched forth your hand and saved me. Hide me in your wounds.
You have set my feet on the rock.
May my life’s foundation be Jesus, your saving word.
You have destroyed the power of sin. Strengthen my resolve to flee from sin.
You have swallowed death in victory.
May I not be afraid.
You have broken the powers of hell. Deliver me from all evil.
You have opened the gates of paradise. Flood my soul with hope.
You have invited me to the marriage banquet. Join my whole self to yours.
You have held nothing back from me. May I hold nothing back from you.
You have … (Add a phrase specific to your life.)
O God, you are faithful and true.
May I be faithful to you in what I say and in what I do. Amen.