Job 9:1–12, 14–16; Luke 9:57–62
Why do bad things happen to good people? That question seems to be at the forefront of Job’s story. There’s a whole branch of theology that we refer to as theodicy dedicated to this question and the question of God’s divine attributes. Job seems to be an early student of this mystery.
Job’s story is one that doesn’t really fit with the rest of the Hebrew canon. And that makes sense because it’s not originally a Hebrew story. It seems to be pre-Mosaic: it originated prior to the Exodus and contains early and late Hebrew vocabulary, makes no mention of a priesthood, and doesn’t refer to God as Adonai or Elohim, nor does it use the Tetragrammaton typical of the other Hebrew books—what many people pronounce incorrectly as Yahweh or Jehovah.[i] The story takes place before the days of the Abrahamic patriarchs.
It seems a bit cruel that El—which is the word for God—allows Satan to try Job in this way, but notice what God says and what He doesn’t say. He doesn’t say, “Do your worst.” He says, “All he has is in your power, only do not touch him.” So let me suggest this reading. He is not tempting Satan to test Job but reminding Satan that he’s the power on earth because of mankind’s fall, and He, the Lord, forbids him to hurt Job directly. He permits the evil that Satan plans, but does not allow Satan to attack Job physically.
Job seems to understand that the trial is not tied to his worthiness, but he admits his inability to understand why he is allowed to suffer, and that is our own dilemma, isn’t it? Why do faithful people suffer? Why do those who love and serve God suffer? So our question and Job’s is as old as recorded history. How do we understand suffering in the face of God’s justice and goodness?
So why do we suffer? Notice that Job’s suffering is induced by his loss of family and possessions, but we do realize that these things are transient, right? We will always lose these things for the simple reason that people die and material gains decrease. Is it worse to lose them at once or incrementally? Well, I think most of us would agree that sudden loss is worse than a slow, incremental loss because we think and experience our world in the manner of time. But the ultimate end is a loss of all material possessions and all of our loved ones in this temporal world. As Qoheleth wrote in Ecclesiastes, “All things are vanity.”
In the Gospel of Luke, we’re given no reprieve. Jesus is telling us to let it go now. So you want to follow me? You know that I own less than the beasts in the field, don’t you?” He was countering those who sought to follow out of a desire to gain power. You need to bury your past? The past belongs to the past. You want to do my work but need to turn your attention to home? How can you do your work if you are constantly looking over shoulder?
Is Jesus really saying, don’t bury your dead and don’t say good bye to your family? Of course not. Simple charity requires such things. Our Catholic tradition requires such corporal works. But what He is saying is what He said to Mary Magdalene in the Gospel of John: “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father.” He is talking about clinging to what is here and now. Do not cling to security. Do not cling to the past. Do not cling to the things of the present. All of this will pass away.
And that includes our pain and suffering. We may not understand its purpose, but if we cling to the pain, we will never discover its purpose. If we cling, we cannot be healed, and we cannot be redeemed. It was only through death that Christ brought about our redemption, and death to ourselves and our clinging is what allows us to be joined with Christ, to be Divinized and made one with Him.