Vol 39 No 1
God does care!
JOB AND THE TSUNAMI
INNOCENT SUFFERING AND THE CHRISTIAN GOD: SOME PHILOSOPHICAL REFLECTIONS
SIXTY YEARS AFTER AUSCHWITZ: WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY?
Idris Edward Cassidy
CATHOLIC DEVOTION AND THE UNITY OF CHRISTIANS
THE UKRAINIAN GREEK-CATHOLIC CHURCH IN AUSTRALIA AND THE FILIOQUE: A RETURN
TO EASTERN CHRISTIAN TRADITION
IN FEAR AND GREAT JOY: FORTY YEARS OF FEMINIST BIBLICAL SCHOLARSHIP
NEW RELIGIOUS BOOKS BY AUSTRALASIAN AUTHORS
and the tsunami
THERE IS PERHAPS a streak of fatalism in us all. I always feel uneasy
when well-meaning people choose as a text for liturgical celebrations,
whether weddings or funerals, those fatalistic musings of poor dyspeptic
Qoheleth that begin, For everything there is a season, and a time
for every matter under heaven. I could fall victim to that streak
when pondering the recurrence of disasters on particular days; Florence,
that beautiful city of priceless art treasures, has been flooded three
times in recent history since the days of the Medici, and always on November
Now it is the turn of Boxing Day. Though the term is associated with gift-giving,
the day itself is coming to take on a sombre hue for me. First the bushfires
of 2001, when seven homes along our little street were lost (the
street of ashen dreams, in the purple prose of one journo),
not to mention many other homes and lives not far away. And now the Asian
earthquake and resulting Tsunami that have caused such loss of life, suffering
and desolation in our own region. Its fate, commentators declare.
My time wasnt up, someone just back from Phuket told me yesterday.
Unfortunately, there are always those who want to put a face on fate,
from Qoheleth, whose meditation on the futility of life led him to conclude
that we are pawns in Gods hands, to local religious leaders reading
into the tsunami the lesson that disasters are part of his warning
that judgement is coming. It was a rabbi who wrote the book Why
bad things happen to good people; and then of course theres the
book about Job, who like many of the tsunami victims lost all his children
and his possessions (but not his wife, who advised him that all he could
do was to curse God).
Job, we know, did not accept his wifes adviceat least, as
far as the opening chapter or two goand has been quoted endlessly
for his alternative response to cataclysmic disasters, The Lord
gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
We may disagree as to whether this analysis does better justice to the
deity from religious leaders and writers than the Tsunami as divine warning
or AIDS as divine retribution.
A recent such interpretation of Jobs God given in my hearing was
at the funeral of a young professional man, weighed down with pressure
at work, who came home one night, snatched a glimpse of his newborn daughter,
and went up and put his head on the train line. At his obsequies, after
the celebrant had offered us the comfort of the stoic Job of chapter two,
the young widow rose, and with immense courage simply read to us the devastating
poem Carrion Comfort of that tortured soul Gerard Manley Hopkins,
for whom No worse there is none. No pious platitudes for her,
or for Hopkins; disaster and desolation and bereavement should be seen
for what they are, not candied over.
And, of course, the real Job knew that, tooand curse God he did:
Let the day perish on which I was born, let that day be darkness,
may God above not seek it, or light shine on it (3:3-4). It wasnt
fair, he didnt deserve it; and right through the book he wants his
day in court, with God in the dock, no matter what platitudes his friends
come up with about bad things not happening to good people. Everyone knows
they do, the real Job insists (not the plaster-cast puppet of the opening
folk tale), so what has God to say for himself? Hopkins wanted just that
response, as did the grieving widow.
The Old Testament, of course, could raise the question, but not supply
the answer. It may be one reason why we do not have many commentaries
on Job from the early Church Fathers. St John Chrysostom left us one in
the fourth century, and he clearly has problems with a querulous Job arguing
the toss with a God who afflicts the just and lets robbers rest peacefully
in their own tents (12:6). Job eventually does get his day in court, but
is left speechless before a God who, while conceding that it is right
to challenge the platitudes of old Wisdom about only good things happening
to good people, rebukes Job for questioning the wisdom of the one who
laid the foundation of the earth and shut in the sea with
doors (38:4, 8).
To Chrysostom and his Antioch congregation, close to the shores of the
Mediterranean (mare internum) and the Black Sea, euphemistically known
as the Friendly Sea (pontus euxinus), seas respect their limits,
as the crea- tor reminded Job as an index of his irrefutable wisdom. Chrysostom,
like the Fathers generally (and that cleric today citing the stoic Jobs
untroubled acceptance of his fate), could not question the history of
a biblical text that begins with a paradigm of stoicism and shortly subjects
that very paradigm to severe questioning; so he cannot quite grasp the
sapiential authors purpose. Hence he is happy to have God lecture
Job on divine wisdom, counting on the experience of his congregation that
the sea everywhere throughout the world shows that unless it were
held in check, the water would be likely to pour out everywhere,
but that happily in the designs of a providential God it is incapable
of exceeding its limit of height or breadth.
We now know that is not always true, though it may not invalidate the
authors argument about divine wisdom visible in created nature.
Chrysostom, too, came to know that seas are not always compliant and friendly,
especially the Black Sea. Exiled to its shores by clerical and imperial
leaders, he understood why even in antiquity people like Ovid had found
it was rather an unfriendly sea when likewise exiled there.
Chrysostom finally fell victim to it; he had found that bad things could
indeed happen to good people, though his last words are reputed to have
been, Glory be to God for all things. It must have been hard
to say that in Comana in Pontus on September 13 in 407or in Aceh,
Phuket and the Maldives on Boxing Day 2004. Would that have been Jobs
Charles Hill lives in the Blue Mountains.
He teaches and writes on the Bible, theology and the Fathers.