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God in the Foxhole

June 21, 2015 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

June 21, 2015
Job 38:1, 8-11
Fr. George Smiga

Kurt Vonnegut once commented, “There is a saying: There are no atheists in foxholes. Most people think this is a good argument against atheists, but (Vonnegut continued) I personally think that it is a much better argument against foxholes.” What Vonnegut’s comments imply is, if our faith is based on protecting ourselves—if we believe because we want to be safe as the bullets fly by and the bombs explode around us—that faith is incomplete and unworthy.

Now don’t get me wrong. God loves us and we believe that God cares for us. God often blesses us with health, family, and security. But if we believe in God only to receive those good things, if our faith becomes a kind of insurance policy to protect us in the foxhole, then that faith is flawed. Moreover, it doesn’t work. That was made painfully clear to us this week by the events in Charleston, South Carolina, when a young man pulled out a gun and killed nine people at a bible study group. The people who were killed were all believers. They had placed their lives in God’s hands and trusted in God’s care. Yet they were all gunned down in their own church building. If faith is an insurance policy against harm, those nine people should get their money back. Faith does not promise us to keep evil away.

So why, then, do we believe? What is faith about? This is the issue in the Book of Job from which today’s first reading comes. Job was a good, moral man who praised God and served his neighbor. Yet in his life he received only evil. His business failed, his loved ones died, and he was afflicted with serious diseases. Job cried out to God, “Why should I believe in you? Explain to me why I have received so much evil when I have been a good and faithful servant.” The startling thing about the Book of Job is that God never provides Job with an explanation. This is the bible’s way of telling us that there is no explanation for the presence of evil and we would be better served to admit that we do not know why evil exists rather than come up with phony ways of making sense of it. In other words, it is better for us to say that we do not know why bad things happen to good people than to suggest that they happen because people are not good enough or that they do no pray enough. It is better to say that evil is a mystery we do not understand than to say that evil is what God uses to teach us a lesson, or that evil is some good in disguise. None of these things explain evil and none of them are true. So when good things happen to us we immediately and rightly say that they are blessings from God. But when bad things happen to us, when evil strikes us, the Christian response is to simply admit we do not know why this happens.

In this light, the Book of Job tries to move our faith to a deeper level. It readily admits that believing in God will not protect us from evil. So why then should we believe? Today’s first reading poses a question: who made the sea and sets limits on it? The answer to the question is God did, because God is Creator and God is Savior. Therefore, God deserves our praise and glory even in a world where evil exists.

Believing in God is no insurance policy against harm. We believe because God is God, and God can be trusted. Now I know that trusting in God’s goodness in a world where we know that evil can touch us is not easy. It requires a mature faith. But the only alternative is to stay in the foxhole.

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