“Why is this happening?” Whenever you speak with someone who has suffered a tragedy or a mysterious illness, they want to know “Why did God let this happen to me?” That is an excellent question because it expresses trust in God. You don’t ask “Why did God let this happen?” unless you believe in God as good and caring. Yet, often in suffering we are left in the dark. God is silent. The darkness and silence are disturbing. We feel all alone.
Then, it’s important to remember the stories of faith. Today’s Scriptures from Genesis 15:5-18 and Luke 9:28-36 offer two valuable stories that help us in dark times. Abraham’s mysterious vision and Jesus’ glorious transfiguration give us hope in suffering. Both stories inspire us to trust God in the darkness of suffering.
Abe has no children, yet he trusts God who promises him descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky. God tells him, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so shall your descendants be.” Then, God ups the ante. He promises his descendants an enormous tract of land – even though Abraham is a foreigner.
The promises seem impossible! So Abraham asks, “How do I know this will happen?” Then he is given a vision of God’s fidelity. God tells him to take a heifer, a goat and a ram, and cut them in two. That was the way that people made business deals. They cut animals in two, then walked between them, shook hands and said, “If I break my promise, then let me die like these animals.”
The Hebrew words here could be translated literally, “cut a covenant.” We say “Let’s cut a deal.” God’s mysterious presence is seen as a smoking fire pot and flaming torch passed between the pieces. In a sense, God said to Abraham, “Let me be cut in two if I’m not faithful.”
This is not just Abraham’s story to assure him in his struggle. It is a story of faith handed on to us. God promises to be with you and me in the darkness of our journey. He promises that this difficult and dark path will lead to glory.
The Transfiguration is a similar story of glory in suffering. Immediately before this, Jesus told his disciples about his suffering and death. Now he is inviting them to trust that it will not merely be about suffering, but it will be an exodus – a path to glory and new life. Moses and Elijah spoke of “his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). As Jesus shines in glory, we get a glimpse of the resurrection. The Father teaches us to see Jesus’ suffering as a way to glory. And God encourages us to see our life as an exodus. We are on a journey that promises a share in his glory beyond our suffering.
The Father is with Jesus and will carry him through his passion and death. God cut a covenant with Abraham, but the cross is the biggest deal God ever cut. He promises to carry us through suffering, if only we listen to his Son.
Immediately before the Transfiguration Jesus told his disciples that he would “suffer grievously, be rejected . . . and be put to death . . . and be raised up on the third day” (Luke 9:22). Then he challenged the disciples to imitate this way to glory. He said, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me. Anyone who want to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, will save it” (Luke 9:23-25). The next passage is the Transfiguration, so these two texts should be read in tandem.
When God tells us “This is my chosen Son, listen to him,” we are being called to listen especially to those words — to take up the cross every day and to lose our life for his sake. If we do what he tells us, then we will share his transfiguration. Stay strong in trial every day. Trust God in suffering hour by hour. Lose your life for his sake. Instead of doing what feels good, do what is helpful to others. Serve selflessly. Pray for those who hurt you. Wash feet. Forgive as he forgave.
Several years ago, I was serving a small parish where a lady named Alice was suffering from cancer. She often did not feel well; yet, she came to Mass faithfully, even daily Mass. You could tell she was not well. She did not have good color in her face. She was thin. She had lost her hair. Sometimes I looked out and thought, “Alice, what are you doing here today.”
She probably wondered why this was happing to her. But the way she suffered with faith was inspiring to everyone in the parish. Her attitude was powerful. Her frail but faithful presence inspired everyone. God was using her for the good of others. She was losing her life for Jesus’ sake.
Often God uses our suffering for others. If we think of what meaning it has for our life alone, we will not see the fullest meaning. Remember Abraham never saw numerous descendants, nor did he inherit the land. The Israelites were be led to the promised land about 500 years later. His journey only makes sense when you see how he suffered for future generations.
Similarly, Jesus’ suffering as the innocent Son of God makes no sense for his life alone. Rather, God used his Son’s suffering to redeem the world. Our suffering should be seen in this perspective. We will not see the full meaning of our suffering in this life.
When you remember the stories of Abraham and Jesus, then you have the faith to live like Alice. We are called to be witnesses of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection by how we suffer for others, and by how we suffer with faith in the resurrection. With faith, our suffering is a gift for others.
Suffering itself is part of a longer journey to glory. Stay strong in trial every day. Trust God in suffering hour by hour. Lose your life for his sake. Instead of doing what feels good, do what is helpful to others. Be a gift for others in your suffering.