Thursday, September 01, 2005

Katrina, Suffering, Job and God

I think most of us are thinking about the same things: this awful hurricane that struck, down south, the slow, unfolding misery; and perhaps, in all this, we ask why, and where is God?

I think my answers are not any better, really, than anyone elses, but if they help, well of course I should share them.

Tomorrow, I'll have Mass with the fourth- through eighth-graders, and I'm going to tackle this question head-on. I'll post my homily, here, tomorrow; I would do it tonite, except its on the computer in the office, not my laptop, here at home. My Sunday homily also talks about the hurricane, and I'll post it Sunday; sorry, but my dear parishioners get it first!

Over at Amy Wellborn's busy website, there's been some discussion of Job, from Scripture. I think that's an apt contribution, but it calls to mind the wonderful class I had, in the seminary, with Father Tim Schehr, who is a gem of our Archdiocese, not least because he is genuinely humble about his brilliance -- and that is an admirable quality in anyone, certainly in a priest.

I won't -- if only because I can't! -- summarize adequately his course on Job; but I guess I would offer this tidbit (oh, and by the way: members of the public can sign up to take these courses; I don't know what they cost, but if you love Scripture, and have some money in your pocket, pay it to have Fr. Schehr's courses. It will be a feast for mind and soul!).

Anyway, here's the "tidbit": While Job was innocent, it is not quite accurate to say the suffering he endured had no meaning. That, I think, is the most common error made in reading Job: that, in the end, after Job asks, "Why?", its argued that the Almighty's response is, "Don't ask!" I think that is not right; and its problematic because it's so close to being right.

The key is to know who the "satan," in the first two chapters, really is. When translators and editors of Sacred Scripture capitalize that word -- why, we all assume we know who that is! It's the Devil!

But if you lower-case the word, and know it means "adversary" or "accuser," then other options become possible -- especially when you look at the text, closely.

The "satan" comes into the story along with the rest of the Court of Heaven. What is the implacable enemy of God and man doing there? This is especially noteworthy when you consider that the Old Testament, almost always rejects any sort of dualism, and simply focuses on the power and sovereignty of YHWH, the Lord God. Given this very consistent feature of Hebrew Scripture, the idea that the enemy would be there, is very odd indeed; without precedent, really. (Yes, I am thinking, as well, of Genesis.)

Fr. Schehr offered this solution: what if "satan," in this context, is not a proper name, but a more generic title? What if this figure is not the enemy of God and man, but one of God's servants -- whose job is something like a prosecuting attorney: to examine, to probe, and to be (to use a very anachronistic term), a "devil's advocate"?

Then, the reason he does what he does becomes clear: he's not saying Job is sinful; he's not! But rather, Job's approach to God is not founded on the right basis. Job approaches God, out of fear that he may lose what God give him; he offers sacrifices, "just in case" his children sinned, even though there's no evidence they did: he's trying buy God's favor. He worries that if he's not good enough, if he doesn't do everything just right, he will lose grace. Thus, the accuser says: if he loses all his good things, he will go sour.

God says, No -- but then why does YHWH allow the test anyway? Since God is all-knowing, one reason is not, that the "test" will show up the accuser; but rather, that it will bring Job to a new level of faith. I.e., the satan may be right in his insight; maybe Job's foundation isn't well-dug; his faith needs to be disconnected from the good things YHWH has given him.

Thus, the trials of Job are not without meaning or purpose. They serve to secure Job's salvation in the only way it can be: in YHWH himself, and nothing else. And that is why, when YHWH appears to Job, at the end, Job has no further words. He has all he needs, and he falls silent.

As C.S. Lewis said so profoundly: Jesus is the answer before whom all questions die away.

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