The character of Job figures prominently in the coming week. Reading his responses to the “friends” who come to visit him places us squarely in the middle of a problem that every child of Israel had to confront; namely, borrowing the words of Rabbi Harold Kushner, how do we explain when bad things happen to good people. Rabbi Kushner wrote about the experience from the perspective of a parent who was forced to deal with the diagnosis of a degenerative disease for his three year old son. The doctors told him that his son would not live beyond his teenage years. I would not be at all surprised if CUSANS have grappled with the problem from time to time.
Job, like all of his contemporaries, was schooled in the theology of reciprocity. To state it succinctly, God rewarded the virtuous and punished the sinners. Because they did not believe in any sort of “after life,” rewards and punishments were part of the human experience. The Book of Job deals with the problem by stating that God allows bad things to happen but that he doesn’t cause them to happen. In some instances, this is the response that one still hears when posing the question of why we suffer.
However, the real answer to the question is found in the person of Jesus himself. Jesus the Just One suffered a cruel death at the hands of his enemies. We know from the writings of the first century that the followers of Jesus grappled with the ramifications of this event for many years. They simply could not come to accept that God would actually visit suffering and death on His only-begotten Son who was without sin. By the end of the first century, the Church had come to recognize that God was, in fact, refuting the theology of reciprocity through the life of Jesus. As St. Paul writes in his Letter to the Philippians, God bestowed honor upon Jesus, making him Lord of heaven and earth, because of his obedience, because of his willingness to suffer and to do so without complaint. St. Paul, and indeed all of the apostles, began to realize that when they suffered they had been deemed worthy. Those chosen to suffer rejoiced that they were granted the privilege of suffering like Jesus had suffered.
None of us seeks out suffering. Yet when it comes we are presented with the opportunity to embrace our suffering just as Jesus embraced the cross. Just as he died for others, we can offer our own sufferings for others. Bad things happen to good people. Good people turn suffering into an opportunity to be united with Jesus, our crucified Savior.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator