Homily for September 30th, 2016: Job 38:1,12-21; 40:3-5.
Why do bad things happen to good people? That is the central question of the Old Testament Book of Job, which we have been hearing at Mass all this week. The book introduces us to a devout and God-fearing man, Job, whom God has blessed with a wonderful large family and earthly riches in abundance. Within the space of hours, he loses everything. Why?
Job’s so-called Comforters visit him to tell him that it all makes sense, if only he will think about it. Their pat and comfortable arguments are typical of the answers given throughout history, and still today, by the self-appointed Defenders of the Faith who look out upon a black-and-white world, in which there are no mysteries. Job rejects all their arguments, and demands, again and again, a one-on-one confrontation with God, who has at least permitted, if not caused, all the tragedies which have befallen him.
In today’s first reading Job finally receives what he has been demanding. God speaks to him directly. He gives Job, however, not what he has been has been asking for – an answer to what is called the Problem of Evil – but rather a series of challenging questions. ‘Where were you, Job, when I was creating the earth, the sea, and everything that is?’ God’s questions shock Job into realizing that he cannot dispute with God. God lives on an infinitely higher plane. “Behold, I am of little account,” Job acknowledges. “What can I answer you?” Tomorrow we shall hear more of Job’s response: “I have dealt with great things that I do not understand,” Job says; “things too wonderful for me to know. I had heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you. Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes.”
At the book’s end, God rewards Job for acknowledging mystery. And he rebukes Job’s Comforters for denying life’s mysteries. Those Comforters are still with us. It was 20 years ago, yet I remember it as if it were yesterday. A wonderful Catholic woman, mother of a large family, and active in the pro-life movement, was struck down at age 41 by cancer. The preacher at her funeral, a widely respected monsignor who has since gone home to God, addressed the question, Why? It was very simple, he told us. God decided she had lived long enough. Did that simple answer comfort her devastated husband? Did it console her heart-broken children?
God does not tell us why bad things happen to good people. He gives us instead something better: the strength to go on despite unmerited suffering and even the most terrible tragedy. That is what his divine Son did, when he said to the Good Thief on the cross next to him: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” He’ll say the same to each of us when he sends his angel to call us home, to be with Him forever.