Faith impels us

by Mary McGlone

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Kurt Vonnegut is quoted as saying, "People say there are no atheists in foxholes. A lot of people think this is a good argument against atheism. Personally, I think it's a much better argument against foxholes."

That thought might offer a good start for us as we meditate on the question of a good God and suffering, an underlying theme of today's readings.

CEL_June212015.jpgBefore studying today's selection from the Book of Job, it's good to recall what brought God to speak to him in the first place.

Twelfth Sunday in
Ordinary Time
Job 38:1, 8-11
Psalm 107
2 Corinthians 5:14-17
Mark 4:35-41

What was going on in Job's life was more than just a storm; it was a tragedy. He was an upright, faithful man who felt blessed with great fortune. Then the devil bet against his goodness, wagering that Job's faith would prove unequal to the loss of the good life.

As Job's circumstances got progressively worse, "friendly theologians" tried to help him assume the blame. Certain that they understood the ways of God, they kept reminding him that good is rewarded and evil brings punishment, so it was time for him to repent. Job would have none of it. He knew he didn't deserve his misfortune, so he called on God to justify the turn of events.

The disciples onboard the rocking boat with Jesus had a belief system similar to that of Job and his so-called friends: Jesus should have been their safety net. Thus, the storm's increasing hostility was matched by their growing fear and frustration with an unresponsive Jesus. Where was God when everything was going wrong?

Both of these readings pose that question to realign our faith. Job's God doesn't stoop to the level of the theologians by defending divine justice in human terms. Jesus, fully awake to all that is happening, ignores the disciples' accusation that he doesn't care about them, and after overpowering the storm, he questions their lack of faith.

The questionable faith depicted in both of these readings rests on the assumption that God's duty is to provide health and wealth to everyone who deserves it.

That theology is very handy for the fortunate few of our world. It plays the double role of affirming the idea that their well-being is proof of their worthiness, while simultaneously getting them off the hook of responsibility for the masses of people who suffer. It also covers the poor, the victims, the innocent casualties of war and, yes, even martyrs, with a robe of culpability for their own fate.

The theology that paints faith like a good insurance policy is foxhole theology, the kind of religion the German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke of when he wrote:

Men go to God when they are
   sore bestead,
Pray to him for succor ...
All men do so, Christian and

But Bonhoeffer held Christians to a different standard. The second verse of this poem says:

Men go to God when he is sore
Find him poor and scorned ...
Whelmed under the weight of
   the wicked ...
Christians stand by God in his
   hour of grieving.

In that poem from his Letters and Papers From Prison, Bonhoeffer suggests that while need can bring people to their knees, Christian faith leads people beyond self-concern to recognize and respond to God's presence in everyone in need.

Our reading from Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians proclaims that Bonhoeffer's approach is possible because we are part of a new creation in Christ. Paul is utterly convinced that Christ's life in us changes everything so much that Christ's love actually "impels us" to live no longer for ourselves but for Christ.

Paul is trying to point out that because we are one with Christ, death can harm us no more than it can harm Christ. Note, Paul didn't say we won't suffer and eventually die, but suffering takes on a new meaning.

Now we are talking about faith that goes beyond foxholes and insurance policies. This is the faith Jesus hoped to find in his disciples as they went through the storm. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis teaches that faith provides an "interior certainty, a conviction that God is able to act in every situation."

Faith, he says, "means believing in God, believing that he truly loves us, that he is alive, that he is mysteriously capable of intervening, that he does not abandon us and that he brings good out of evil by his power and his infinite creativity."

Francis goes on to say that the fruitfulness of that sort of faith is "often invisible, elusive and unquantifiable. We can know quite well that our lives will be fruitful, without claiming to know how, or where, or when"

Today's readings invite us to evaluate our faith, asking not what it promises us, but to what it impels us.

[Mary M. McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. She is a freelance writer and executive director of FUVIRESE USA.]

A version of this story appeared in the June 5-18, 2015 print issue under the headline: Faith impels us.

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