I offer this reflection not as an opinion definitively formed, but as an invitation for dialogue. Agree. Disagree. Let us, like the ancient characters – divine and human – debate together!
Job. A book in the bible that asks one of the oldest questions: Why do good people suffer?
In Western Christianity there are two feasts back to back that deal with triumph and sorrow, with suffering and victory. September 14 is the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. September 15 is the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. It is the foolishness of the Christian message, writes St. Paul, that the Cross of Christ is our rallying point. And how does one stand by and watch your son be crucified?
I don’t suppose the man working in the mines or the woman struggling to carry water every day for her family have a lot of time to consider the philosophical or theological implications of their lot in life. Job was a man of means. When his exemplary life crumbles in loss, destruction and pain of the most intense emotional and physical kind, he wonders: Where is God?
Christianity has been criticized for being something of a “downer” religion, with all our emphasis on suffering and dying and giving things up for Lent and going to confession. Some try to compensate for this – theirs is a religion of all joy, acceptance, peace and love. But the basic existential questions of life won’t let go. Are we alone? Is there a “god”? (Job never questions God’s existence, only God’s sense of justice and fair play.) Is there any meaning to suffering, especially that of the innocents? Is there anything I can do to protect myself against the evil that is present in the world?
God’s response to Job – Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
What? “Without knowledge”? How much “knowledge” does Job have to have! His children have been killed; his crops destroyed; his financial security ripped from beneath him – and this is a man who gave generously to the poor and offered countless sacrifices to God! This is a man whose body is covered with boils, an agony so intense it was difficult for him to even move! Who is it that is lacking knowledge in this situation?
The essence of God’s response to Job – and Job concurs in the end – is that Job is not in a position to understand. But this seems to me to be something of a “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” kind of response. When Job is talking to his friends he speaks his mind about his assessment of divine justice and fairness. When God shows up in the whirlwind, suddenly Job loses his nerve. God’s coming on to Job is in the vein of “shock and awe”, not dialogue or meaningful response. And so the book concludes with a kind of “happily ever after” ending – Job fathers more children; crops are restored; wealth is regained and all is well.
Perhaps what we are left with is not so much that Job isn’t wise enough to understand; perhaps God simply doesn’t have a good answer to Job’s question, but is too arrogant to admit it.