Job cries out to Yahweh as a good man assailed by a fate he does not understand: “When I looked for good, then evil came unto me: and when I waited for light, there came darkness. My bowels boiled, and rested not: the days of affliction prevented me. I went mourning without the sun.”* His children have been killed by Yahweh’s permission and his body turned into a nest of bleeding sores. His life destroyed, Job wants to know why all this harm has been visited upon him, a man even Yahweh acknowledges as “perfect and upright.”***
The Lord Answers Job Out of the Whirlwind by William Blake
The Lord, His voice roaring out of a whirlwind, finally answers Job in an extended catalog of all the wonders of the universe He has created, but He never explains why Job was made to suffer. In response, Job repents his questioning. He will believe because the Lord is infinitely wiser and more powerful. His faithfulness is rewarded with “fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she-asses” … and new children, “seven sons and three daughters”^ who will replace those who had been erased in a moment.
I keep thinking about his other children, the sons and daughters who are dead. Were their lives not cherished, irreplaceable?
Christian doctrine states that God’s will is sovereign, all encompassing, aware on a subatomic level of every action and every thought of every person, and of the infinite chains of infinite causes and effects that began with creation and extend to this moment. HE is the First Cause, the Judge, the Sire who made everything that has been, is and will be. Borges imagined HIM as able to remember and trace the physical path of each person’s life, each step, from first stumbles to last. HE is the keeper of all secrets, especially the one that answers some variation of these questions: Why is justice so rare, mercy so fleeting? Why must children suffer? Why is murder allowed? Why may the most loathsome among us commit hideous crimes?
One day’s news alone might dispel any faith in God’s eternal wisdom and in His personal care for each of us — children annihilated by fanatics, women treated as things to be used daily until they die, the most brutal and stupid of human beings given the keys to kingdoms.
In classes and from pulpits I have been told again and again that God will reveal all in the next life and that we are merely human — how can we understand the majestic complexity of His actions?
However, cut down to its most troubling, one fact is inescapable: children who have harmed no one suffer grievously; children are murdered. Am I to accept the logic that their wholly undeserved anguish is justified by a larger plan, that their terror and pain has a noble purpose?
I will not accept this.
In the Central African Republic, “Father Bernard Kinvi helps run a Catholic mission and hospital in the town of Bossemptle. More than a thousand Muslim refugees, mostly women and children, live under his protection.” ^^ His mission has achieved a balance of existence in territory disputed by Muslim and Christian fighters, both of whom have murdered indiscriminately according to religion, each side seeking blood vengeance, that perpetual cycle. Father Bernard survives precariously because he treats the wounded of both and pays them off with money and cattle. He has walked next to killers searching house to house and been given a kind of mocking permission to rescue any wounded he could carry. He walked away with “a disabled teen-age girl on his back.”^^ On another occasion Christian fighters “wanted to kill the [Muslim] wounded after an attack, and [Kinvi] had to say, ‘No, you will have to kill us first.”^^ His “efforts have created a small area of safety.”^^
Father Bernard@ is one of many who decide to step forward out of faith and who display the virtues of humility, endurance and courage.# For me, they have become the cleft where I fasten on to belief. In the most fundamental, paradoxical sense I believe in spite of my disbelief and do so by keeping my eyes on those who pray even as they act to confront the earthly devils men can become. In some ineradicable part of me, I see them as the agents of the Divine and therefore that I do not have the right to slip away as long as they go on.
*from the Book of Job: 30: 26-28. The King James version.
***from the Book of Job: 1: 8. The King James version
^from the Book of Job: 42: 12-13. The King James version
^^from “The Mission” by Jon Lee Anderson. The New Yorker, October 20, 2014
#Addendum: There are many who are not religious who do good based on universal moral standards. Empathy does not begin with baptism. Goodness is not dependent upon predestination, selection, the Bible, being saved or any one person’s permission.
Not for several years now, but in the past, the volume of bombast, fanaticism, misogyny and dogmatism I have listened to in churches has been maddening. Faith should never be a vehicle for arrogance. Shame on me for listening as long as I did. I have heard vain, smug pastors and priests draw tiny circles of doctrine, conjure them into hoops and then instruct their congregations that these are Divine Hoops and only by tumbling through them can they be Saved. Never_ again.