We often have the same response to terrible news: Were they wearing seatbelts? Had she been drinking? Did he smoke? The questions came from an instinctive desire: to understand, to blame, and to point to a reason for violent or premature death. If we can know the reason, then we can act to avoid the consequence.
So how do we explain the deaths of the good, the holy, and the innocent? We can’t. We can thank our Byzantine brothers and sisters for reminding us that today is the feast of St. Job, the Old Testament figure whose story of unwarranted and inexplicable suffering continues to confound and challenge and comfort us, just as it did for the ancient Hebrews.
Scripture says Job “was a blameless and upright man…who feared God and avoided evil.” Yet he loses his entire family, three sons and three daughters, as well as all he owns. He is left bereft and destitute. Then he contracts a disease that leaves him covered with sores. Job’s wife and his friends insist that he has sinned, bringing God’s wrath upon him. Job cries, “mockers surround me.” (Job 17:2a) Job knows he has not sinned against God. He does not know why this pain and loss has laid him low, but he knows it is not his payment for evildoing.
Job’s story is familiar. A bomb kills a small boy cheering with his family at the finish line of the Boston marathon. A young bride in Afghanistan is killed by a drone strike. Doctors bringing medical care in war zones are shot. An entire family dies in a house fire or is swept away by a tsunami. We are confused and disturbed by our inability to find some reason for the deaths, some one thing the victims could have done to avoid their deaths.
We are left speechless before the truth: When Adam and Eve sinned, they released sin into the world and sin is like an airborne virus. It is in the very air we breathe and it affects us all. Good people don’t avoid the cold or flu virus, while wrongdoers fall ill. We catch colds and flu because we are human. When Job says both the innocent and the wicked are destroyed (Job 9:22b) he speaks the hard truth.
If you haven’t read Job’s story, consider reading, or re-reading it, this month. Remember when a family member, neighbor or friend is struck down.
And let us all give thanks for Job’s steadfastness, Job, who cries, in the midst of horror, “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives.” (Job 19: 25a)