“Most of us regard good luck as our right, and bad luck as a betrayal of that right.” ~ William Feather
We embark upon the story of Job in today’s 1st Reading (Job 1:6-22) he who was a holy man, “blessed and upright,” (Job 1:6) who was in turn abundantly blessed by God. His world however would soon be turned upside down, rather quickly I might add, courtesy of the evil one.
“Have you not surrounded him and his family and all that he has with your protection?” Satan protests to God regarding Job’s charmed life. He goes on to point out “You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock are spread over the land. But now put forth your hand and touch anything that he has, and surely he will blaspheme you to your face.” God in turn essentially hands the keys to Job’s world ~ but not his life ~ over to Satan, who is convinced that Job will fold in the face of tragedy.
One by one, in rapid-fire succession, tragedy does indeed befall Job. First his oxen and donkeys are carried off in a raid, his herdsmen executed by way of the sword. Lightning then takes his entire flock of sheep as well as his shepherds. His camels were the next to fall victim to Satan’s diabolical plan, they too being whisked away in a raid. But all of this would pale in comparison to what would happen next. A strong wind stirred up, causing the house where his children were gathered to collapse upon them. There were no survivors. Overcome with grief, Job makes the following proclamation:
”Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back again. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!”
Job’s pragmatic and faith-filled response in the face of heartbreak and disaster reminds us that everything is a gift from God. The only thing we own is our sinfulness. One of the main reasons that people abandon their faith is in response to misfortune or calamity in their lives. They simply cannot understand how an all-loving God can allow terrible, at times disastrous things to happen to them, their family, their friends, or the world in general.
Our response to suffering is the strongest argument for the truth of the Catholic faith. We put suffering at the center of human experience, which is why we have a crucifix in the center of our churches. The crucified Christ is the statement that God Himself knows that suffering is part of the human condition, and he is willing to bear it along with us. Not just put up with it mind you, but to use it to help us to become the people he intended us to be. Suffering is there as the gateway to the fullness of life, abundant life, glorified life. We endure it through the personal work of our redeemer, never losing our identity in this process, but instead becoming more of who God made us to be.
So yes, Christianity is a religion of paradox. We follow a God who became man. We embrace the cross to obtain glory. We humble ourselves to be like God. There is virtue in “suffering well.” It’s OK to respectfully and reverently come to God. “God, this hurts”. “God, please let this cup pass, but not my will be done but yours.” These were after all Jesus’ own words.
But as we grow in the sanctifying grace of Jesus, who suffered everything we have and then some, we can go from “why me?” to “why not me?” For as Saint Paul said in his prolific Letter to the Romans (8:17), “And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.”