Hamptons Soul: The Storm of Tragedy and Crisis
Rabbi Josh Franklin
No biblical figure endures as much trauma and suffering as Job. All his life Job was upright and prosperous, and in an instant, he loses everything. Job’s wealth, children and physical health are all taken from him, and in his misery, he wrestles to understand why.
Through chapter after chapter, Job wrestles with questions of theodicy, that is how a benevolent God could permit the injustice of his own suffering.
Finally, after chapters and chapters of Job struggling to understand it all, “God answers Job from the tempest” (Job 38:1). “Why a tempest?” ask the ancient rabbis, because “it is with a tempest that God strikes us, and with a tempest that God heals us” (Midrash Tanchuma, Beshalach 23).
I struggled for a long time to understand how the very same storm that strikes us might just be the very same storm that heals us. It all started to make sense to me when one of my congregants was stricken with cancer. He endured grueling bouts of chemotherapy and radiation that left him weak and barely able to take care of himself.
When his estranged son heard that he was suffering, he put aside their differences and came to the aid of his father. The son visited the father just about every single day during his treatments. They repaired their relationship during these visits, and again became close.
The father commented to me: “If I had the choice of never having had cancer, I would choose the cancer. It was all worth it to heal my relationship with my son.”
The same tempest that caused him so much suffering and pain, healed a part of him that needed repair.
In William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, the character Trinculo finds himself in the midst of raging thunder. He takes refuge under the cloak of Caliban, a deformed islander, as the two huddle together.
“Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows,” writes Shakespeare. In other words, when the storm approaches, our fears and vulnerability incubate opportunities of connection and healing with others.
At some point, all of us will find ourselves in the tempest. After the storm passes, we might ask ourselves: “How can I use this brokenness as an opportunity to make other parts of our lives whole?”
Father Constantine Lazarakis
In my years as a pastor, I’ve noticed a fascinating phenomenon that relates to the coloration between external circumstances and a person’s spiritual condition. I have encountered people who endure profound suffering, and yet seem to have an indefatigable cheerfulness — a stubborn optimism — a persistent disposition of kindness.
Sometimes, you find someone who has every reason to be bitter, and yet, they radiate joy. Conversely, I’ve encountered people who, from the outside, appear to have every reason to be happy, and yet are embittered at every turn.
Suffering and adversity are unavoidable aspects of life on the planet. And certainly, it seems that some people inexplicably endure more than their fair share of difficulty. The question of “why?” is one of the enduring quandaries of philosophers, theologians and poets throughout the ages. And while there are many good answers to be found, personally, I’ve yet to find one that completely satisfies me.
Perhaps rather than asking why we suffer, we are better off to ask what we should do while we suffer. It may be that God has allowed us to suffer that we might find some inner strength. It may be that our suffering has been heaped upon us by unfair and ungodly forces against God’s will.
It may be that we have brought suffering upon ourselves through our own mistakes and misdeeds. But whatever the case may be, we can be certain that God has not abandoned us in our suffering.
How is it that some endure suffering with an underlying sense of joy and gratitude, while others are embittered even amid good fortune and abundant blessings.
I believe it is a matter of disposition. If we can cultivate within ourselves a disposition of gratitude and trust in God, perhaps even our most painful experiences can bring about profound blessings.
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