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July 20, 2018

CAN GOD BE UNFAIR?

Pastors corner with Fr Henry Ibe
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Can God be unfair? This could appear to be the case sometimes, especially when life is very rough or when good people are suffering unjustly. But we know that God is goodness personified and could not possibly be unfair, except that he loved us at the expense of his own Son. In the Book of Job, the man is complaining bitterly about his calamities and cannot understand why a righteous man like him should suffer so intolerably. He sought explanations from God. Job was sharing the sentiments of Qoheleth who said: “There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless” (Eccles. 8:14).

Job was influenced by the words of Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy (30:15-20) that the righteous will prosper and live while the wicked will suffer and die. This was a popular mindset among the Jews right up to the time of Jesus. We will remember the story of the blind man in chapter two of John’s Gospel, which goes thus: “As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.…” (John 9:1-3). Today, a great multitude of Christians share the view that suffering is not their “portion”. This is especially true of the Evangelical/Pentecostal groups who tend to believe that material wellbeing is a necessary manifestation of one’s faithfulness and spiritual vitality. These groups propagate the ‘gospel of prosperity’ whereby members are encouraged to “sow seeds”, which means prosperity for the preacher. But this is not a balanced understanding of the teachings of Christ, who said: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

So in our First Reading today, God teaches Job a lesson about divine wisdom, power and might. He speaks to Job from the heart of a storm, which is a symbol of his power and awesome grandeur. God reminds Job that he, the Lord is master of everything, including Job’s misfortunes. His response put a new light on Job’s problem and nullifies his rebellious argument. He asks Job some complex questions on the wonders of creation. These are meant to show Job that he had no grounds to complain against God, and also to prove to him that the Lord is Creator and Master of the universe, whose wisdom is infinitely greater than man’s. He could never be unfair. In the Old Testament, the ocean, owing to its mystery, power, and unpredictability, was often seen as a symbol for evil and chaos. But God tells Job that he has “set limits for it, and fastened the bar of its door.” In other words, he is in charge of our lives and all our circumstances.

Today’s Psalm takes up this same theme by poetically explaining how God “stilled the storm to a whisper” and brought the terrified sailors “to haven they desired”, even when everything seemed lost. The Gospel too gives us a close-up view of God’s effortless control of the seemingly most uncontrollable forces on earth: with just a word, Jesus makes the wind and the sea obey. The disciples, in their panic, had questioned his commitment to their wellbeing: “’Master, do you not care? We are going down!’ (Mark 4:38). Just like Job, they were beginning to question the Lord. But when he showed his power they were awe-stricken that: “Even the wind and the sea obey him” (Mark 5:41). The sea represents the earth and all that is below it while the wind symbolizes the sky and all that is above the earth. So Jesus is Lord of them all, as St Paul says to the Philippians: “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth…” (Philippians 2:10-11).

What about us? Does it seem like God is being unfair to us? Does it seem like Jesus is falling asleep in the midst of our storms of life? Sometimes it may appear to be so! It may be due to the long and painful sickness of a loved one, the death of a close relative or friend, the damage caused by a family member’s addictions and infidelities, domestic violence, the ravages of war, a debilitating natural disaster, financial ruin, or maybe just intense, heart-sickening loneliness. So why does an all-powerful God let these storms rage against us? It is all for his glory in the end. As the  Catechism #324 says: “The fact that God permits physical and even moral evil is a mystery that God illuminates by his Son Jesus Christ who died and rose to vanquish evil. Faith gives us the certainty that God would not permit an evil if he did not cause a good to come from that very evil, by ways that we shall fully know only in eternal life”.

It may help us to understand God’s plan for our lives. Our earthly journey is not meant to be of unlimited pleasure and unbroken comfort, rather the Lord wants us to attain the wisdom, courage, joy, and spiritual maturity. To prepare us for heaven, the Lord wants us to learn to rely on him more than on ourselves, because he is all-powerful and we are not. Thus, sometimes, God “goes to sleep” in our boats and lets the storm rage, so that we will come to know and accept the reality of our limitations and the truth of our dependence on him.

Therefore, as we approach the Eucharistic table today, let us pray for perseverance in faith, to hold on to the promises of the one who is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). Amen!

Readings: Job 38:1, 8-11; Psalms 107:23-24, 25-26, 28-29, ; Second Corinthians 5:14-17; Mark 4:35-41


 

 

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