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Evansville, Indiana
January 15, 1988     The Message
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January 15, 1988
 

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Faith Today Supplement, The Message, Catholic Diocese of Evansville, January 15, 1988 i: i   : ....  / 1 Faith Todav By Father John Castelot NC News Service he Israelites of old were quite content with the view presented by the Book of Deuteronomy. This stated quite simp- ly that fidelity to God's covenant brought success and happiness, while infidelity brought disaster. That principle turned out to be quite simplistic. It worked well on the national scale and was verified by the varying fortunes and misfortunes of the people. As long as the nation acted out its allegiance to God -- to Yahweh -- all went well. As soon as they l turned to other gods or engaged in practices which violated the terms of the covenant, the bottom dropped out of everything. However, as time went on, thoughtful people began to realize that what was valid on a.,national scale did not necessarily work out in individual lives. About the fourth century B.C. a keen observer of the human scene decided to confront this problem. He could not ignore the fact that many good people suffered and many evil people seemed to prosper in .every way. How could common human experience be squared with the view of Deuteronomy? He did not tackle the problem as a Greek philosopher would, in abstract, speculative fashion. Rather, he composed a dramatic dialogue with different characters defending different positions. He used as his mouthpiece a character widely known in ancient Mideastern folklore: Job. In the fictional prologue to the book, Job is portrayed as a wealthy sheik with a large and happy family, camels and cattle beyond coun- ting. And, of course, he is very faithful to God. [2D To get the action started the author introduces Satan, who ap- pears for the first time in the Bi- ble in this prologue. He is por- trayed as a sort of nagging pro- secuting attorney who suggests to God that Job wouldn't be so "religious" if he were deprived of some of his blessings. God accor- d!ngly gives the devil permission to make life miserable for Job. The poor man suffers one reverse after another. All of his livestock is rustled by marauders. The roof of the house where all Big questions "Job faced a difficult and perplexing question. Job struggled with that question .... why people suffer, especially why good people suffer," writes Father Castelot. Job's struggle is not an unfamiliar one. For "as people mature and face reality thoughtfully, a similar struggle to understand frequently ensues." And like Job, people may then find themselves engaged in a dialogue with God about life's very meaning. r '' A supplement to Catholic newspape published by NATIONAL CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE 1312 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Wa.ington, D.C. 20005. with grant assistance from The Cathohc Church It;' I EXTENSION so,ety 35 East Woake, Dr.. Chicago. IIIinas 60601 All contents copyflght1988 by NC News Sewlce. , his children are gathered for a party collapses and kills them. To top everything off, he himself is afflicted with an ugly skin disease and ends up in the city clump scraping his sores with pieces of broken pottery. The inevitable question is: "Why?" If he had done anything wrong he could understand. But he has been so faithful! Why? Three "friends" arrive to con- sole him, but they are not much consolation. The author uses them as spokesmen for the traditional view. They insist over and over that Job must have done something terrible to deserve this punishment. Just as vehemently, he insists on his innocence. At last the author introduces God himself, who tells them all to keep quiet and proceeds to give the answer. It is in the form of a question, following a magnificent description of the work of crea- tion: Do you think a God wise enough to create this marvelous and intricate universe would allow a just man to suffer without reason? The answer clearly is no. That is as far as the author gets. It doesn't seem to be much of an answer and, in fact, it is far from satisfying. Still, it marks an ad- vance. It frankly acknowledges the suffering of the innocent and indicates that such suffering is not pointless; it has a reason. What the reason is is not ex- plained, but it helps to know there is a reason. To suffer pointlessly is maddening. Know- ing that there is a reason, even if one doesn't understand it, makes the suffering at least bearable. Job faced a difficult and perplexing question. In fact, Job struggled with that question. It is a well-known question -- why people suffer, especially why good people suffer. Not only is the question well- known, however. Job's struggle itself is readily recognizable. As people mature and face reality thoughtfully, a similar struggle to understand frequently ensues. Like Job, people may then find themselves in a dialogue with God concerning life's very meaning. In the process faith grows, as Job attests. (Father Castelot is a professor of Scripture at St. John's Seminary, Plymouth, Mich.)