Job: Faith amid calamity


Catholic News Service
Except for the Crucifixion itself, the saying “Bad things happen to good people” was never exemplified more than in dear old Job, whose trials and tribulations forever brought new meaning to “the suffering of the innocent.”
A “blameless and upright” man (Jb 1:1), Job was used by God (and the devil) as sort of a test case for faith. Without warning, his children die, his livelihood vanishes — and yet he refuses to blame God.
“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away,” he surmises (1:21). “Blessed be the name of the Lord!” When his wife demands he “curse God and die,” Job responds, without rancor, “We accept good things from God; should we not accept evil?” (2: 9-10).
Even so, Job is not without confusion, frustration and even anger at what has befallen him. “Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?” he laments (3:11). “I have no rest, for trouble has come!” (3:26).
In Job’s time — and in ours, in some cases — it was assumed that God “paid you back” for some sort of misdeed (i.e., sin). Several of Job’s friends, in fact, insist that he must have done something to warrant such calamity, and plead with him to remember and repent.
Job, however, doubts such “logic.” Wicked men, he notes, grow old and “become mighty in power” (21:7). Clearly, he needs a better explanation than tit for tat.
Above all, even amid his immense suffering, Job believes in God and trusts that, somehow, God has his best interests at heart and will not let him down.
“If he tested me, I should come forth like gold,” Job declares (23:10-11). “My foot has always walked in his steps; I have kept his way and not turned aside.”
In the end, God speaks directly to Job and gives him, if not a clear explanation for what has happened, a new perspective with which to evaluate his life and his faith — namely, the incomprehensible wonder of creation itself.
“Have you comprehended the breadth of the earth?” God asks. “Tell me, if you know it all” (38:18).
In other words, there is a lot more to life with God than Job, or any of us who have come after him, can ever realize or appreciate. Our role, ultimately, is to trust in God, that somehow, even amid the turmoil, we will come out on the other side of it OK.
Which, for Job, is what happened. “The Lord showed favor to Job” (42:9), restoring his family and his livelihood, and he lived to an old age.
What Job’s experience shows us, all too clearly (and, yes, painfully), is that life with God is not a series of rewards and punishments based on our conduct. It’s complicated and sometimes messy, but in the end, it is about faith and trust, in good times and bad, not just hoping but believing — like Job — that we, too, will “come forth like gold.”
Catholic journalist Mike Nelson writes from Southern California.
• • •
Does suffering have meaning?
For Christians, the answer resolutely is yes. St. John Paul II explains how in his apostolic letter “Savifici Doloris,” (“The Christian Meaning of Human Suffering”).
Christ, writes St. John Paul, “suffered in place of man and for man” and “every man has his own share in the redemption.” Even more so, man is “called to share in that suffering” of the redemption.
In this way, Christ has elevated human suffering to the level of the redemption, the pope continues.
“Christ has opened his suffering to man” who becomes “a sharer in all human sufferings,” writes St. John Paul. By participating in the redemptive suffering of Christ, man rediscovers through faith his own sufferings, “enriched with a new content and a new meaning.”
The pope quotes St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians: “For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow” (1:5).
If man shares in Christ’s sufferings, then man, too, shares in his resurrection. St. Paul writes: “For his (Christ’s) sake I have accepted the loss of all things … to know him and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings … if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the death” (Phil 3:10-11).