We mortals face a moment of truth when it comes to professing belief in an immortal being: “If He exists, why does God let bad things happen to good people?” It’s a question even evangelicals struggle to answer when challenged about their faith. Some get out their Bible and open it to the ancient Book of Job. Here is the patron saint of Poor Souls. The book introduces Job as one with many blessings: property, riches and a big family that celebrated their lot in life. Then Satan enters the picture and challenges God: “You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock are spread over the land. But now put forth your hand and touch all that he has, and surely he will curse you to your face.”
Situational faithfulness has always been one of humanity’s greatest weaknesses. While everything’s going our way, life is beautiful and God is good. But when life gets challenging, we start to doubt a loving God’s existence—and maybe even aim our complaints at fellow sufferers and convince each other that this is as good as it gets—so why bother following the imaginary rules of an imaginary God? Some even use this imagined abandonment by a supreme being as reason to disavow any notion of purpose in life. The only strategies that make sense are survival of the fittest and do unto others before they do unto you.
This Sunday’s mass readings start with Job’s tortured complaints to God (which go on and on for more than 40 chapters). Yet, unlike most faith-challenged people of our modern world, at least Job never stops talking to God. The height of his complaints is our entry point for this Sunday’s readings (Jb 7:1-4, 6-7), all of which have something to do with how we answer God’s calling for our lives.
“Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?,” Job asks. “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.”
How many of us with 9 to 5 jobs can’t relate to Job? I see no hands. Yet as the chapters of our lives go on, eventually we come to a point—as Job did—where we can let ourselves see purpose and realize that our lives are meant to be visual scriptures. We are free to disown God, sure, but we are also free to learn from the lives of the saints whose trials in life put our complaining hearts to shame. St. Paul’s letters document his approach to turning his struggles into examples of service to others—especially this Sunday’s second reading from his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23):
Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible. To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.
Jesus himself became a slave for our sake. Although he could have harnessed the power of his miracles to become the kind of King who enjoys the spoils of an earthly kingdom at his subjects’ expense, he subjected himself to the kind of daily drudgery all working stiffs can appreciate. In this Sunday’s gospel reading (Mk 1:29-39), after miraculously curing Simon Peter’s’ mother-in-law of her fever, he becomes a local hero whose services are in high demand. Rather than stay and soak in the acclaim, he follows his call of duty—and moves on to the next town of struggling strangers.
Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.” He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.”
Do you buy that? For many of us, belief in Christ’s mission comes down to buying into the three qualities of His gospel: goodness, truth and beauty. But as Bishop Robert Barron, one of the Catholic Church’s most powerful evangelical writers and speakers likes to say, proclaiming what’s good and true is not as effective for opening hearts as revealing what’s beautiful about Christ’s message. That’s done by living it beautifully as a full-time Job.
Let’s conclude with Bishop Barron’s brief commentary on goodness, truth and beauty: