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August 31, 2005

Faith In The Face Of Tragedy And Job

Disclaimer: This is a post i don't expect everyone to agree with.

Perhaps due to the ongoing disaster in the Gulf states, and some personal tragedies that have hit an alarming number of my blog friends recently, i've been seeing an unusual number of posts that deal with faith and tragedy.

It's the age old question. Why do bad things happen to good people? What does a person of faith do when tragedy strikes? How does one deal? What happens to a person's faith in an all-powerful and all-loving God when that God takes a loved one for no apparent reason?

One book of the Bible supposedly deals with this very question. It's the book of Job. Perhaps i'm not alone when i say that Job never really made me feel better for reading it. It's a strange book, and it's not a comfort at all, really. i read Job all the way through a few years ago. Let's just say i needed to read it at the time and leave it at that.

Basically, the gist of the story is this, as i recall. Job is a good and righteous man who's been blessed with a nice family and lots of money. One day, God makes a bet with the devil about whether or not Job will reject God if He lets the devil completely fuck with Job's life. So the devil kills all of Job's family, takes all his stuff, and gives Job boils on his skin.

Job gets pissed, but doesn't blame God at first. The devil continues to fuck him up, so Job asks a friend to talk to God for him. That ends up nowhere, and Job finally gets on the line with the Big Guy himself. Now God is pissed, and He says to Job (i'm paraphrasing) "Dude, why don't you create the entire universe in six days. Then you can come back here and pop off to me. Until then, shut your pie hole. I do what I want and you don't get to know the reason."

Now there are plenty of other parts in the Bible where one can go for real comfort in times of despair, but Job is not one of them. God doesn't come off looking very nice in Job, but that's not the point of the story. It's kind of the tough talk part of the Old Testament. We may not like the message, but we need to hear it at least once.

God's smackdown to Job, is one of the most awe inspiring and majestic passages of the Bible. It is hard reading when you're in trouble, though. You never thought God could be this sarcastic either:

From out of a storm,
the LORD said to Job:
Why do you talk so much
when you know so little?
Now get ready to face me!
Can you answer
the questions I ask?
How did I lay the foundation
for the earth?
Were you there?
Doubtless you know who decided
its length and width.
What supports the foundation?
Who placed the cornerstone,
while morning stars sang,
and angels rejoiced?
God goes on like this at some length. As they say, it ain't bragging if it's true.
Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
or walked in the recesses of the deep?

Have the gates of death been shown to you?
Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death?

Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
Tell me, if you know all this.

What is the way to the abode of light?
And where does darkness reside?

Can you take them to their places?
Do you know the paths to their dwellings?

Surely you know, for you were already born!
You have lived so many years!

Yah, so God is the Big Boss and we're just piss-ants. But He loves us anyway. Whether we know it, like it, believe it or want it, He still loves us because He created us.

My favorite holy day of obligation in the Catholic Church is the Feast of Christ the King. It's the last Holy Day of the liturgical year, and i think it's placed there for emphasis. It's a reminder to me that God is ruler over all. The universe is not a democracy, it is a monarchy and we are subjects of the King, not his equals.

Therefore i think it would be the height of arrogance for me to presume to know the mind of God. That's the lesson of the tower of Babel, and of the Book of Job. WTF, we humans can't even understand how light can act like both a particle and a wave. We don't know why neurons communicate across synapses. And every day, giant squid and great whales a hundred feet long fight death battles at the bottom of the sea that no man has ever witnessed. So for me to decide whether God is acting justly or unjustly, based on my own infinitely narrow vantage point on the universe, well it's the height of arrogance as i said.

i could choose to be pissed off at my own powerlessness, or i could find freedom in it. i never understand why so many people waste so much energy trying to reason God into or out of existence. Or trying to reason the nature of God. My knowledge that God exists was never based on reason. That knowledge is itself a gift from God and it remains in me as a result of my faith, not reason.

So i go on believing whether or not God's plan appears fair to me. i don't get to know the plan. Is that a cop-out? i don't think so. i think it's the essence of faith. If my faith were dependent on things like reason or observation or argument, it would be a very weak faith indeed. Yes, even my own mind, smart as i am, was created by Him.

Who endowed the heart with wisdom
or gave understanding to the mind?
There are no easy answers. When i see tragedies like what's going on in the Southeast right now, it saddens me and i want to ask why, God, why. But i also know that i can never really answer that question. He may choose to reveal the answer to me in His time. But then again He may not, and how can i ever know. Bad things might happen to good people for no fucking reason simply because i'm not supposed to be in the loop. i tend to mistrust people when they presume to know God's plan, even if what they're saying comes from a compassionate heart.

So what does that mean? What about God's love that we hear so much about. Where does that fit into a universe that may or may not be cruel in a completely arbitrary way. Job asked:

from my deep despair,
I complain to you, my God.
Don't just condemn me!
Point out my sin.
Why do you take such delight
in destroying those you created
and in smiling on sinners?
Do you look at things
the way we humans do?
Is your life as short as ours?
Is that why you are so quick
to find fault with me?
You know I am innocent,
but who can defend me
against you?
It's not that i'm some kind of Deist who believes that God acts arbitrarily. i believe He has a plan, i just don't believe i can know it. Similarly, i have experienced miracles in my own life and i know from whom they came. God has taken very good care of me, and i don't know why.

It's the knowledge of my own inferior wisdom that has enabled me to never have a crisis of faith, even in times of despair. My spiritual weakness is one of devoutness, not doubt. i have crises of apathy, not belief. i'm going through one now, as a matter of fact. But God's love for this world is obvious to me every time i hear the Gospel. And that's what overcomes the pain i see at times too often to ignore.

Posted by annika, Aug. 31, 2005 | TrackBack (3)
Rubric: Faith


That's some good paraphrasing, in my estimation.

Posted by: d-rod on Aug. 31, 2005

Well said. It's like a Sunday School lesson, only with more cursing.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."

Isaiah 55:8-9.

Posted by: James on Aug. 31, 2005

Annika, I can't say that I've ever felt a great deal of sympathy for your political views. And I think that your taste in verse is woefully deficient. But that was one of the most moving expressions of faith and conviction in the face of adversity that I have ever read. And I am not even a Christian.

Posted by: kennteoh on Sep. 1, 2005

If you don't mind humouring me, did you lift those passages of the Bible from the King James version?

Posted by: kennteoh on Sep. 1, 2005

It's funny how people can take away different things from the same story. In the story of Job, God and the Devil decide to "completely fuck with Job's life" for no apparent reason then their own amusement, much like the Dukes do to Louis in "Trading Places." Like many Old Testament stories I think it portrays a spiteful, vengeful God and I can not find in the story where it shows His "love for this world." I'm an agnostic but the times when I do believe or pray to God it is not one that would do what was done to poor Job.

Posted by: Shug on Sep. 1, 2005

Another stellar example of why you are on my daily read list. God has indeed blessed you with intelligence, wit and beauty. We are all the richer for it. Thank you.

Posted by: Phil on Sep. 1, 2005

i agree with you Shug. The Gospels are the counterpoint to that whole Old Testament thing, which is the central thesis of Christianity, i guess. But that's a whole 'nother blog post and one i may not be equipped to write.

Thank you kennteoh. That was not the KJV. It was a combination of the Contemporary English and New International versions.

Posted by: annika on Sep. 1, 2005

Thank you, Annika, for your essay here. I really do appreciate your insight. I wish I could write as well as you!

As you pointed out, we are His creations, so He can do whatever He wants to with us. We can never measure up to His standards, His Perfection. Yet, He truly loves us and wants to help us live up to His Ideal. And that is pretty awesome, if you ask me!

Thank you for sharing with us.

Posted by: Dave on Sep. 1, 2005

Don't forget that Job got off light in comparison to the first set of so-called "friends." After God goes through the entire "Who are YOU?" thing, he then goes to the friends and says, "You'd better have Job pray for you."

I guess the message, if there is one, is that things such as pestilence and destruction and death, while painful in the present, are relatively meaningless in comparison to everything. I can understand how a secularist cannot be comforted by the message, but God was speaking to Job, not a secularist.

I've had some personal incidents (a relatively died recently), and combining this with Katrina and the upcoming anniversary of 9/11, your post was timely.

Posted by: Ontario Emperor on Sep. 1, 2005

I think the book of Job explores not so much the mystery of God as the mystery of faith. We'll never know why things are as they are. It's enough to know that they ARE, and that we're capable of responsible, compassionate action-- a fact that all of us, theist or atheist or nontheist or whatever, can agree on.

Good post, A.


Posted by: Kevin Kim on Sep. 1, 2005

I think you've hit one of the central messages about G-d that most people, Christian or not, totally miss. Everyone acts as if G-d should be here to fulfill their every wish, make sure nothing bad ever happens, and everything should be all happy go lucky. They miss the point that G-d originally planned for it to be that way, but it was our own decision to chase after sin which led the world into the state it is in.

As to what happened to Job, I usually find comfort in another verse, "it rains on the just and the unjust". Paraphrased, sometimes bad things happen to good people. In the old testament the Jews believed that if something bad happened to you, then you had obviously done something to deserve it. Jesus pointed out to them that sometimes the world is a random place where bad things happen for no apparent reason. Such as hurricanes. And sometimes bad things happen so that G-d can be glorified in the outcome. We never know which it is, but it's our duty to serve Him regardless.

Great post.

Posted by: Charlie Gordon on Sep. 1, 2005

Great post, Annika. Faith in a nutshell. Dave, I'd go one step further. Each of us CAN live up to his standards, every day...because He looks at us through the prism of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Posted by: DHammett on Sep. 1, 2005

Fantastic post, Annika! I'm working hard to link you but I haven't been able to post in several days. I'm in Munu hell.... :-/

Posted by: Pam on Sep. 1, 2005

"It saddens me and i want to ask why, God, why. But i also know that i can never really answer that question."

Perhaps you can know the answer. The answer is (I believe) that the entire earth and everything in it was designed so that humanity can experience all that there is.

Notice that there is hot and cold. Love and hate. Peace and war. Friends and enemies. Hard and soft. Up and down. Left and right. Work and play.

And safety and danger. Stability and chaos.

This is New Orleans's time of chaos, and our countries time to choose whether to be generous or not. Whether to help and pray for N.O. or not.

None of us were forced to take a human form, to take our parents and families and live where we live. Indeed, a God of love would hardly want or need to thrust us onto a planet to deal with challenges. We choose to do so. Why? Same reason grown men choose to play challenging sports knowing the risks; for the same reason young people go to law school: for the challenge, to know that in the face of a test, you overcame and you conquered.

New Orleans will overcome and it will conquer. It will take years, and the media will never cover it, but it will happen. For now darkness abounds, and things seem bleak. But we know that nothing lasts forever. Not even the worst hurricanes.

Posted by: Mark on Sep. 1, 2005

My dear Annie, I've been reading you for over two years; this is my favorite post you've ever put up. Little sister, it's brilliant; your last paragraph made me say (under my breath), "yes, yes, yes."

Posted by: Hugo on Sep. 1, 2005

I would echo the other posts that it was like a great Sunday School lesson with bad language. I similarly know there is a God, he loves us, we are here in this life for the purpose to become more like him. One of the purposes of this life is to experience trials and make correct choices. Job isn't a place to go (in my opinion) for comfort. Some of my favorites are the Psalms. Thanks for the essay.

Posted by: Drake Steel on Sep. 1, 2005


Posted by: Will on Sep. 2, 2005

You might consider "Putting God on Trial: The Biblical Book of Job".

Posted by: Robert Sutherland on Sep. 3, 2005