“Why did I not perish at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?” (Job 3:11)
Or why was I not buried away like an untimely birth, like babes that have never seen the light?” (Job 3:16)
Wherefore did the knees receive me? or why did I suck at the breasts?” (Job 3:12)
Many of us who carry the cross of chronic pain or illness or disability ask ourselves rhetorical questions. Most of them could fall into the “Why me?” category. The questions cited above come from our first reading for today’s liturgy.
We have skipped over the second chapter of the Book of Job. In it, Job’s troubles multiply. Finally, he sits on a dust or ash heap and scrapes his afflicted skin with a shard of pottery. His wife berates him. Three of his friends come and sit some distance from him and weep quietly, saying nothing. When chapter three opens, Job curses the day of his birth. However, he does not, as has been suggested by Satan, curse God.
Once again, let us remember that Job’s situation would lead his family and friends to believe that he had offended God in some way. That is simply not the case. Even if he had offended God, we know that God does not retaliate. God’s love for us in unconditional and is not dependent upon our behavior. One of the first things we learn as we study philosophy and theology in preparation for ordination is that God is “The Prime Mover.” That’s a fancy title. It means that God acts first. God does not react. If God reacted to our sins by retaliating, God would be engaged in changing that which is unchangeable. God is Love. Love does not retaliate.
We all know St. Paul’s dissertation on Love taken from I Corinthians, chapter thirteen.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (I Corinthians 13:4-8a).
We hear this description most often at celebrations of the Sacrament of Matrimony. In that setting we think of it as a recipe for married couples. However, it can also be read at St. Paul’s attempt to describe who God is. Everything that we read there goes directly against the kind of thinking that Job’s wife and his friends and contemporaries are thinking.
Suffering is not a punishment. When we come to realize that this is really our way to respond to the universal call to holiness, then we will be able to answer the questions that Job poses with no difficulty.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator