Why is there evil in the world? Why does God let bad things happen to good people? These are common questions we hear in society, and yet even as believers in God, even as followers of Christ, we often feel inadequate to address these types of question. The fact is that we, humanity, have been struggling with these types of questions for millennia, and much has been written on the subject. Our readings this Sunday can give us some guidance…
Job 7:1-4, 6-7
Psalm 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23
We open with a passage from the Book of Job (pronounced with a long “o”). The story of Job is fairly well known in Biblical circles, yet we Catholics only hear from the Book of Job twice during our Sunday Liturgy… and both times in Cycle B, where we find ourselves this year. It’s difficult to get a good understanding of this book with so little exposure to it, yet it is one of the best didactic (teaching) tools we have to examine the subject of good and evil. To understand the story of Job, it helps to understand what Job is not. Job is not a prophet. Job is not a historical person nor is the book an account of historical events. The book of Job falls under the umbrella of “wisdom literature:” Books crafted to teach the faithful, or in the case of Job, an exploration of good and evil. Our passage this week comes from an earlier part of the book where Job is bemoaning his current condition… which the text makes clear, is not good. Who among us hasn’t felt like Job from time to time? That our lives are a “drudgery”?, that we will “not see happiness again”? Let’s not tear this reading apart, but take this as a starting point and see where our other readings take us…
Our responsorial Psalm sings “Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted.” After hearing the mournful cry of Job, we need to be reminded of God’s great goodness… that even as we struggle, we can cry out to God for his compassion.
This Psalm then bridges to our Gospel as we see God’s compassion, through Jesus, take action. We pickup our story where we left off last week, with Jesus now leaving the synagogue in Capernaum and going to the home of Simon and Andrew. Here Jesus heals Simon-Peter’s mother-in-law. News of this miracle gets out, and many others come to him for healing. After a long night, Jesus then decides he needs to continue teaching and healing by visiting other villages, demonstrating God’s wisdom and compassion.
Our second reading, though not directly related to our other readings, does add some wisdom and understanding to our situation. Continuing our study of Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians, Paul explains that he willingly has taken on this mission to spread the Gospel. Yet in that freedom, he also finds he has become a slave to his mission. The blessing and the curse of having the gift of free will. And that, brothers and sisters, is the thread that binds our readings together.
It’s easy for us to understand the nature of our own free will. We are free to follow God, or not. To help others or to help ourselves. But our own self-centeredness can make us forget that this free will extends not only to other people, but to all of God’s creation. And it is this free will that allows evil to enter. It is also that same free will that allows us to choose to accept it or reject it when we face it, and it is through following Christ that we can find the strength to defeat it.
So why do bad things happen to good people? Like so many things, there is no easy answer to this. The entire book of Job tries to tackle this issue and yet still leaves us hanging at the end, never really telling us why, but rather forces us to think it through for ourselves. There is no simple answer, and anyone who thinks they can give you a simple answer is being naive at best, and evil at worst. Evil exists, yet for all the evidence around us we still prefer not to talk about it, as if ignoring it will make it go away. We can’t. We shouldn’t. Instead we need to recognize it while ever clinging to the goodness of God within us, knowing that the Lord is on our side.