21 Jun 2015
“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind …” (Job 38:1) In the name …
Job is a peculiar book that I have some difficulty processing. The meat of the story is Job and his purported friends arguing over why he is suffering unjustly. The argument goes back and forth, chapter after chapter, as they try to speak about the methods and motives of God, but they never reach any real satisfactory conclusion. There are always more questions especially when it comes to unjust suffering. And in this sense, Job is a very honest book because this reflects the reality of faith. There will always be more questions. Sometimes we are just left to wonder “why?” and no answer seems sufficient. Then suddenly all of this discussion in the Book of Job ends at chapter 38 with the verse I just shared with you. God speaks, and discussion ends. The all-powerful God challenges these mere mortals: “‘I will [now] question you, and you shall declare to me.’” (38:3) Since they cannot respond to any of God’s questions about the wonders and marvels of creation, Job and his companions are left in silent awe before God the Father. The Book of Job’s answer to the question of unjust suffering, of that perpetual “why?”, seems to be that there is no answer that we can handle as mortals, that only God can ever know why. This is why I am torn by this biblical book. It is extremely honest in its discussion, but I don’t get much out of the answer that after a book length series of trying to understand how God and suffering fit together, that we are then left with the only answer being that we shouldn’t even ask the question in the first place.
Then why write the Book of Job? They why include it in the Bible? And that got me to thinking. You don’t write 30 some odd chapters of dialogue, consider it inspired by God, and then throw it all away when you write the conclusion. Maybe the purpose of all the back and forth bickering of Job and his companions over the question of “why?” is to point us away from that question. Maybe it’s not that we are unable to comprehend the answer. Maybe there is no answer to “why?”. Maybe accidents happen for no logical reason. Maybe sickness and disease are random? Maybe the whole set of questions like: “Why did God do this to me?” or “How could God allow this to happen to me?” are misdirected.
If this is a possible reading of the Book of Job, then are we left alone in an uncaring universe, one in which it would even dare to rain and threaten thunder and lighting on Father’s Day of all days, a day on which we hoped to be outdoors for this morning’s Mass? This is the conclusion of a lot of science writers and also a lot of people who have not found comfort or answers in the practice of their faith, who find no consolation in the answer that God’s reasoning is too grand for us to even begin to comprehend. But I think Job has something more to offer than a seemingly overbearing and hardhearted God who would play capriciously with the lives of humans and then get upset when they dare to ask Him why. And I think the key to understanding the Book of Job isn’t God’s harshly worded demand: “‘I will question you, and you shall declare to me,’” but rather the words: “Then the Lord answered Job …” Throughout his ordeal, Job and his companions were really trying to figure out if God was there. The basis behind the question of unjustified suffering is can God really be there if this is happening. When God speaks at the end of the Book of Job, it’s not so much to answer the question of why – that’s because He doesn’t. It’s to let Job know that God has listened, that God has not forgotten him, that God has been there through it all. Accidents and sickness are not planned; they happen. And the comfort of faith is never going to be found in a reason why they happened. The comfort of faith is being able to believe that God the Father is there with us through it all.
Today is Father’s Day across the land. One of the greatest tributes paid to the idea of fatherhood is that we associate it with the nature of God. And there’s much to be said for the blessing of just being there like God in the Book of Job. A father can’t make a child’s cold go away, but a father can be there. A father can’t make all of the trials of growing-up and adolescence disappear, but I hope it helps just to be there. I’m 55 and this is my first Father’s Day without my father, and I think what I miss the most is his just being there. God can’t protect us from every possible accident or disease and still let us be intelligent and free human beings. He would have to control everything, including us, to prevent anything unplanned from happening, and that would destroy the whole reason for creation itself. But God can be there when bad things happen, and that may be the most healing message of all.
Think about this in the context of Jesus in the storm-swept boat on the Sea of Galilee. Mark is the only Gospel that tells us of many boats out on the water as the storm descends. I can see in my mind’s eye all of these terrified and frantic people. In the other boats, there may be men, women and children, families that had followed Jesus to hear His word and share in His miracles. These families and even Jesus’ disciples are terrified, but Jesus sleeps. And He slept through everything, the rolling boat, the cries for help, the thunder. Jesus sleeps. Finally they awaken Him saying, “‘Don’t you care?’” (4:38) He stands up and orders the storm: “‘Peace, be still,’” and the storm listens. But I latch on to the story of Jesus sleeping. He sleeps the rest of the assurance that God is there. Once the storm is quieted, He just turns to His followers and asks, “‘Why are you afraid?’” Jesus trusts that God is there and it makes all the difference in the world. So sometimes when you think your fathers are sleeping on the couch or out in the hammock, or as I like to say, “I’m going to go meditate,” it has nothing to do with taking it easy. They’re just showing their trust that God is there, and sometimes a father’s faith is the key to a child’s faith. So especially on Father’s Day, let them have their afternoon nap. What else you going to do on a rainy Father’s Day? But let us also thank those men who take fatherhood seriously enough to be there for their families no matter what their family logistics may be, because in being there, they imitate the very Fatherhood of God. For all our fathers do, let us pray for them this morning in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo