The Treasure Hidden in Suffering
Preparing to Study the Book of Job
In a few weeks, we are going to begin a study of the Book of Job. We would like to invite you to join with us in this important study. This book has brought comfort to millions of suffering people since it was written, and our prayer is that God will give us collective wisdom in dealing with suffering today. I say “collective wisdom” because no one person can fully understand the problem of suffering. We must share our insights and understanding, as we share our lives together in Christian community. But first, I would like to introduce a man who perhaps had a deeper understanding than most people of suffering, its depths of loneliness and hopelessness, but also its redemptive power.
Walter Ciszek (1904-1984) was a Polish-American Jesuit priest who spent twenty-three years in the Soviet prisons and labor camps of Siberia. Five of those years were in the infamous Lubianka prison, where he spent 24 hours of the day in solitude in a small whitewashed room with no furniture except an iron bed. He was permitted to leave only for a twenty minute exercise period and twice daily trips to the toilet. His time there was spent in absolute silence, except for the times of interrogation, some of which lasted 48 hours. The absolute silence drove many of the prisoners mad, overcome by the feeling of absolute hopelessness and powerlessness to overcome it. He survived, only to be sentenced to 15 more years of hard labor in the Siberian labor camps. Most of those who entered these salt mine labor camps did not come out alive. But Fr. Ciszek was miraculously freed in 1963 in a prisoner exchange.
How did he survive? How did he walk through the valley of the shadow of death and come out refined, as gold is refined in a furnace? How did he overcome his greatest fear, that of being separated from God forever? You can read his story in his book He Leadeth Me(Crown Publishing, New York, 1963).
As we begin our study of Job, we would like to know some of Fr. Ciszek’s secrets for not only surviving, but also of becoming transformed into a person who could bless the world in a greater way. What was the “hidden treasure” that he discovered in the midst of his unbearable anguish and torment? What did he discover about God’s will for his life?
A hidden treasure in suffering? We must be careful in studying the Book of Job, and not regard lightly the great pain and suffering of so many people today – people dying of a powerfully destructive virus; a sharp increase in the number of refugees and homeless people; people destroyed by financial ruin, cities overrun by violent rioting; severe illness that robs us of the joy of living. A result is severe anxiety that has reached into so many households and brought tragedy to so many people.
The Book of Job is the classic book that deals with suffering. There is no greater book that deals with suffering, especially the suffering of righteous people. Job was a righteous man, the greatest man who lived at the time. This was spoken by Job’s Creator – God. Yet he suffered more than most of us can imagine. He had friends, but none of his friends could explain to him why he was suffering. He asked the question of the ages: Why? It was not a bad question; we all want to know why we suffer when we have done nothing to deserve it.
And then Job found the answer. Perhaps we should say the Answer found Job. Job discovered that there was a treasure hidden inside his suffering. When he discovered that treasure, he finally was able to go beyond the question of “why.” He had no logical, rational answer to his problem. But he found the One who himself is the answer to all human suffering, sorrows and sin.
Fr. Ciszek discovered an important key that enabled him to retain his hope in the midst of his suffering. He began to understand the way he should pray. “Lord, teach us how to pray,” the disciples said. Jesus then taught them to pray what we today call “The Lord’s Prayer.” Let’s listen to how Fr. Ciszek described this prayer:
“Jesus begins by placing us in the presence of God: God the almighty, who has created all things out of nothingness and keeps them in existence lest they return to nothingness, who rules all things and governs all things in the heavens and on earth according to the designs of His own providence. And yet the same all-powerful God is our Father, who cherishes us and looks after us as His sons [and daughters], who provides for us in His own loving kindness, who guides us in His wisdom, who watches over us daily to shelter us from harm, to provide us food, and to receive us back with open arms when we, like the prodigal, have wasted our inheritance. Even as a father guards his children, He guards us from evil—because evil does exist in the world. And just as He can find it in His Father’s heart to pardon us, He expects us to imitate Him in pardoning His other sons and daughters, no matter what their offenses.
“The [Lord’s Prayer] is a prayer of praise and thanksgiving, a prayer of petition and of reparation . . . it is a prayer for all times, for every occasion. It is at once the most simple of prayers and the most profound . . . if one could only translate each of its phrases into the actions of his daily life, then he would indeed be perfect as His heavenly Father clearly wishes him to be. Truly, the Lord’s Prayer is the beginning and end of all prayers, the key to every other form of prayer.
“If we could constantly live in the realization that we are sons of a heavenly Father, that we are always in His sight and play in His creation, then all our thoughts and our every action would be a prayer . . . And every true prayer begins precisely here: placing oneself in the presence of God.”
Fr. Ciszek discovered that his severe suffering in the solitary confinement of Lubianka prison, when he felt totally rejected, forgotten by everyone, overcome with feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness, was actually a “school of prayer for me.” He confessed that he did not find it easy to pray – “weak from hunger, weary and pained after long hours of interrogation, distracted by doubts and growing fears for the future, overcome by anxieties induced by constant separation and loneliness, I had to learn to turn to God as best I could and when I could. I had to learn to find Him in the midst of trials as well as nerve-wracking silences, to discover Him and find Him behind all these happenings . . . and to ask at every moment for His constant, fatherly protection against the evils that seemed to surround me on all sides.”
An important lesson that we can learn from his experience is that we must do more than merely imagine God’s presence. God is always present with us; but we must put ourselves in God’s presence, turning to Him in faith, so that we can know that we are actually in the presence of a loving Father and not a cruel judge. This is exactly what the psalmist did. “I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:9)
This is exactly what Job did. He had great difficulty in overcoming his feelings of being rejected or punished by God. But he always focused on God. Even though he could not understand Him, he placed himself in His presence. In the end, God revealed Himself in all His glory to Job, as the loving Father who had continually worked greatly in him during his time of suffering, and who transformed him in the midst of suffering.
If you feel the need to understand what God is doing in the midst of your own personal suffering, as well as the suffering of millions of people in the world today, we invite you to join us in our study of the Book of Job. We will begin our online studies in a few weeks. In the meantime, please read the Book of Job carefully at least one time, preferably twice. This will help us understand what God is saying, for He always speaks to us through His Word. It will be helpful also to begin to pray the Lord’s Prayer as you begin each day.