February 7, 2021
In the Book of Job, Job is screaming out his pain and confusion: how can God permit this? It leads us into the unfathomable mystery of God’s loving Providence and human suffering. Fr. John Mary’s homily discusses the book of Job and the realization that God’s goodness and justice are an infinite mystery to us. Like Job, we may not get an explanation for our sufferings and trials, but by following God in trust, we too will receive peace.
- The whole book of Job is touching on life’s darkest problem; the unjust suffering of many, the suffering of the just.
- Peter Kreeft speaks of five layers in the book of Job. 1) will; 2) conflict between faith and experience; 3) the meaning and purpose of life; 4) Job’s identity; 5) understanding God.
- The book of Job is an infinite mystery of God’s goodness and His justice.
- Job didn’t get an explanation for his suffering, but through the presence of God and His manifestations, Job receives peace.
- God was not listening to the words of Job, but to the heart of Job who is faithful to God. God knew the goodness of Job’s heart.
- God doesn’t respond to human suffering by an explanation, He responds by a call to FOLLOW ME.
In the book of Job, we see the example of Job suffering. It was hard for Job’s friends to understand this. Yet there’s this verse where God says to the friends of Job, “My wrath is kindled against you, for you have not spoken rightly of Me, as My servant Job has done.” As Peter Kreeft says, that doesn’t seem to make any sense because Job, by his own admission, has uttered wild words of challenge to God, full of mistakes and even heresies yet, God is saying that Job spoke rightly of Him. And Job’s three friends, as Peter Keefe said, didn’t say anything but pious orthodoxies and God is saying they do not speak rightly. God is not listening so much to the words of Job as He’s listening to the heart of Job.
Job is suffering, not because he is so bad, but because he is so good. There’s no easy answer to this great mystery except what we see in the Gospel is a God who Himself suffers and suffers with us and suffers more than us. God doesn’t respond to human suffering by an explanation, He responds by a call to follow Me. Follow Me means that He Himself, even more than us, is walking this path, this difficult path of redemptive suffering.
“Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? Are not his days those of hirelings? He is a slave who longs for the shade, a hireling who waits for his wages. So I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me. If in bed I say, ‘When shall I arise?’ then the night drags on; I am filled with restlessness until the dawn. My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope. Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.” My days come to an end, without hope. I shall not see happiness again. This passage we have today from the book of Job; the whole book of Job; is touching on life’s darkest problem, the unjust suffering of many, the suffering of the just. Job believes in God has been faithful to God. So he can understand why he’s suffering so much. He doesn’t realize how Satan has been allowed to attack him. And one of the things this passage in his whole book of Job shows is that the Bible is not trying to pretend that everything is fine, easy, rosy. Job is speaking of the pain, the sadness, the bitterness, the anger. He feels betrayed. Job is on the edge of despair. You can hear my sense, coming to an end without hope. And this whole book of Job is in a sense, an honoring of Job, or recognizing of what Job is going through. And all of us in different ways face this, whether it’s in our own lives or the lives of those we love. And I know a lot of people, especially today, are struggling with this. And so I thought it might be good in a little bit of time, we have today to look at this book of Job to try to look at the whole book of Job in an overview. I’ll be quoting and using a good bit of commentary from a well-known Catholic philosopher named Peter Kreeft. So, a lot of this is from him. He talks about the many layers in the book of Job and he speaks of five layers in particular. He says, first there’s the problem of evil. How can a good God, let bad things happen to good people? Then there’s the conflict between faith and experience. Job’s faith tells him to expect rewards, just rewards. But his experience shows him undeserved suffering. So, Job’s experience seems to be saying that God is not trustworthy. Then third, there’s the problem of the meaning and the purpose of life. As when Job says to God, “why did you bring me forth from the womb? Why did you let me live?” Job feels it would have been much better for him not to have lived. Then there’s a problem of his identity. When Job’s friends come to comfort him, they can’t even recognize him at first so disfigured he is sitting on a dung heap covered with sores. This was the Job who formally sat in the city gates, solving everyone’s problem, and respected and shining forth as an example of the just and rewards of the just. So it seems like Job has lost his identity. His suffering seems to crush his dignity, his worth, his goodness. And actually, it will turn out that, on the contrary, this suffering is actually revealing Job’s deepest identity. The fifth, and the deepest of all these problems is the problem of God. Job doesn’t deny the God exists, but he is struggling to understand, what is God doing, why would God let this happen? How can God be faithful in this? And so Job’s friends come. They’re trying to be faithful to their beliefs. And so the only conclusion they can come to is that if this is happening, since God is just, it must be that Job has committed evil. This must be because of some great evil that Job has committed. So that’s very helpful for Job to have that from his friends. So, the great question is why? Why does God permit this? Why does Job have to go through this long, agonizing dark night of the soul? Jesus says in the Gospel, “seek and you will find”, but for a long time Job is seeking and not finding. As Peter Kreeft says, the problem of evil, of suffering, of injustice in a world ruled by an all-powerful and all just God. There’s no easy answer to that. Peter Kreeft says, “the answer is we do not know the answer.” The Book of Job gives us, Peter Kreeft says, no clear solution, no philosophical formula, no bright little concept, but rather an infinite mystery. Not a nice, clear answer, but an infinite mystery. The mystery that God’s goodness, and God’s justice are much more mysterious than we realize. And the vocation that God calls us to, is much more mysterious than we realize. There’s something much greater than we realize. There’s a friend of mine who would often say in the midst of a very difficult situation, something that seemed very simple, but I think was very wise and very helpful, very practical. She would say, “God knows why”. God knows why. I’ve often come back to accepting what’s been said in that phrase. It’s been said that I don’t understand. And I accept to not understand. And I trust that God has a reason for this. God knows why. The turning point in the book of Job is not an explanation. But it’s a manifestation of God. Job says, I have heard of you. But now my eyes see you. God manifests Himself to Job. And it’s this presence of God and His manifestation that brings peace to Job. So, it’s not an explanation, but it’s God’s presence. It’s not an idea about God, it’s God Himself. Peter Kreeft says, God carved out a great hollow place for Himself in Job through all these sufferings. But the whole made no sense until God came and filled it as a lock makes no sense until the key comes. And one of the points that Peter Kreeft highlights is at the very end, there’s this verse where God says to the friends of Job. He says, “My wrath is kindled against you, for you have not spoken rightly of Me, as My servant Job has done.” And Peter Kreeft says, that doesn’t seem to make any sense. Because Job, by his own admission, has uttered wild words of challenge to God, full of mistakes and even heresies. For instance, Job saying that God isn’t just, and yet God is saying that Job spoke rightly of Him. And Job’s three friends, as Peter Keefe said, didn’t say anything but pious orthodoxies and God is saying they do not speak rightly. But everything that they say can be found in the rest of the Bible. How can this be wrong? So how are we supposed to make sense of God’s saying that Job’s friends did not speak rightly, and Job did? I think this is a very important point. We can take the words of God even words of Scripture, their words of God, but we can use them wrongly, applying them at the wrong time. And especially, we need to be careful when someone is suffering greatly. For instance, we could use words of condemnation, when, like Job’s friends are doing, but what Job needs are words of consolation and trust. And there’s another point, I think, which is very important; that God is not listening so much to the words of Job as He’s listening to the heart of Job, what is really in Job’s heart. A lot of what Job says, is caused by the terrible pain that he is going through. But his heart is still faithful to God. And God is listening to the heart, more than to the words; and that’s very important. Sometimes we’re listening more to the words, and we can trap a person in their words. God is listening to the heart. And so He knows the goodness, that is in the heart of Job, even if his words are words of pain. One of the points here is that, and through the whole book of Job, is to not be afraid to speak frankly to God, about our pain, and our confusion, and our struggles and our doubts. And not to be like the friends of Job, if we encounter someone who’s going through great suffering; maybe suffering that we ourselves have never experienced and cannot fully understand. Job is suffering, not because he is so bad, but because he is so good. That’s part of this mystery, suffering not because he is so bad, but because he is so good. Not because he’s forgotten by God, but because he is especially cherished by God. There’s no easy answer to the great mystery, except what we see in the Gospel is a God who Himself suffers and suffers with us and suffers more than us. St. John Paul in his great encyclical on human suffering comes back to this point. He says that God doesn’t respond to human suffering by an explanation, He responds by a call to follow Me. Follow Me means that He Himself, even more than us, is walking this path, this difficult path of redemptive suffering. When Jesus was dying on the cross, it didn’t seem to be doing any good. It seemed useless. But God knows why. And so as we celebrate this Mass, remember that Mass is not just Holy Communion, but it’s also the Holy Sacrifice. Communion has become especially difficult in this time with the COVID, but the Holy Sacrifice, Mass, has become evermore the Holy Sacrifice, which we unite our sacrifice, to His sacrifice. In COVID, with all the extra sacrifices of this time that we’re living, everything that’s going on in our country, is a time where the Holy Sacrifice of Jesus and our sacrifice is ever more crucial. With our Blessed Mother, we gather all that we’re going through and that so many are going through, with our scandal, our pain, our struggles, our difficulties, to continue to believe and to continue to hope. We bring our sacrifices and the sacrifices of so many, to unite them to Jesus, and this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, for the saving of souls, for the destruction of Satan’s power, and this great war of spirits that we’re going through right now. And it’s been manifested in so many ways to bring about the great reconquest and the triumph of God’s Kingdom. Amen.