Sermon 4: “Job’s Question”

“[Man] is meant to be God’s throne and the place of his Word; he lives from the goodness of creation and of him who made it. Man is God’s image—and only man” (2nd edition: p. 59 [1st edition: p. 49])

Man is capable of both worship and of mercy, which in the final analysis become one thing in the Heavenly Kingdom. Already in the first creation account (Genesis 1), all of creation is presented as moving towards its fulfillment in the last day: the Sabbath. Man, created on the sixth day, exists on the threshold between the work of the world and the perfection of the world in communion with God. When we worship and when we show mercy, we practice living in that intended end.[1]

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“Thanks be to God, there is a transparency to God through people. But our experience is much more strongly marked by the opposite” (p. 60 [p. 50])

In the exercise of mercy—which is charity in the face of suffering—the character and movement of God is made apparent. Charity is a testimony of faith. Cruelty and violence, therefore, are forms of blasphemy: these are never simply a denial of the dignity of other persons, but indeed of the truth of creation itself and ultimately of who “God is”.

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“[Job] counters the wonderful song of the confidence that knows it is kept safe in the ubiquitous presence of God (Ps 139[138]) with the opposite experience” (p. 61 [p. 51])

This homily will end with the person at the heart of all these homilies about “God”: Jesus Christ, whose sacrificial death has transformed the meaning of suffering, even giving it a positive meaning when offered out of love. As Ratzinger turns here with complete sobriety and seriousness to the lamentation of Job in juxtaposition to the elation of the psalmist who is enraptured in the confidence of being known, he is sketching out the dimensions of humanity that the Word of God has taken on in Jesus Christ. From the highest of heights to the deepest of depths, from indescribable joy to abject misery, the Word of God has taken on the flesh of the whole of man, such as he is. The question that follows at the end of the following paragraph—“Where are you, God?”—is the pointed and direct question of theodicy: the question about God in full recognition of the horrendousness of human suffering, especially innocent suffering. The God who speaks to his creation personally in the words Ratzinger echoed earlier—“I am the one who saves you” (24)—will be shown, in Jesus Christ, as the one who enters into suffering itself, isolation itself, sin itself, so as to meet those who are cutoff from life and unite them to God in his own body. Indeed, the Word of God says to the psalmist and to Job and to all who stand in between: “I am the one who saves you.” This is what everyone wants to hear, in whatever condition they find themselves, especially when the condition is dark, heavy, and seemingly hopeless. It is the plea of the psalmist elsewhere (Psalm 35:3), whom Augustine joins in begging God: “Say to my soul, I am your salvation. Say it so I can hear it.”[2] How do you hear it? When God himself says it in precisely the condition you yourself are in. Then you hear it, as you are.

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“It is a striking fact that the accusation against God hardly ever comes from the lips of those who suffer in this world. It is almost always pronounced by the well-fed onlookers, who themselves have never suffered. … In this world, the hymn of God’s praise ascends from the furnaces of those who suffer… ” (p. 62 [p. 52])

When those who suffer do release their laments, their cries tend to be far more precise than the generalized theories or plaintive arguments of those who purport to speak on their behalf, arguing against the existence of God for them. The most direct rebuttal to the complaints of the well-fed onlookers is always the expressions of hope, the declarations of faith against all odds, that arise from those who suffer most. It is far from a universal phenomenon that those who suffer profess trust in God from the depths of their suffering, but here Ratzinger does want to focus our attention on the always surprising prevalence of these pleas of trust coming from those whom, by the world’s standards, seem least likely to offer such trust.

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“God’s answer is not an explanation but an action” (p. 62 [p. 52])

This statement arises from Ratzinger’s Christology and, as it were, his theodicy. When God hears the cries of the Israelites from under the bondage in Egypt (see Exod. 2:23–25), the response is not an explanation as to why they suffer but rather the movement of an address: God hears, remembers, and draws near. That movement leads to the election of Moses at the burning bush, the disclosure of the divine name, the action of liberation, and, in the end, the construction of the tabernacle to grant a place for the Lord’s dwelling among the people. The response to Israel’s suffering is God’s dwelling with his people. The whole movement of the Exodus prefigures the Incarnation and is already its beginning. The answer to all human suffering, all creaturely need, all darkness and desperation comes in the single, complete action of the God: And the Word became flesh and dwelt [tabernacled] among us (John 1:14, RSV). As a pastor, Ratzinger preaches to those who suffer: do not ask why, but instead ask “Where are you, Lord?” The answer will always be, “I AM, here.” The only “proof” for this is the only proof that matters, that will ever be persuasive: the passion of Christ.

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“We must take one further step. The Cross was not God’s last word in Jesus Christ. The tomb did not hold him fast: he is risen, and God speaks to us through the Risen One” (p. 63 [p. 53]).

In and through his suffering, Christ’s weakness becomes the glorious power of God. Suffering is united to God in Christ, and whatever is united to God shall live. Again, here is the one you can trust.

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“Man is the image of God, but this image looks at us only in multiple distortions. This affirmation, in the pure sense, is true only of Jesus Christ, who is the restored image of God. But what God do we see in him?” (p. 64 [p. 54])

In the words of St. Paul, in Christ we see the God in whom power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9, RSV). What kind of power is that? It is truly divine power: the power not to overwhelm, the power not to control, the power not to dominate, but rather the power to wait with, to suffer for, to love unto the end. This divine power is the undoing of all the worldly illusions of power: true power is the power to absorb the cost of another’s freedom and life. The fullness of this power is in the weakness of Christ, who, again according to the testimony of St. Paul, became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:8, RSV). For a spectacular meditation on the unlikely power of God, see the conclusion of the section on “Jesus’ Resurrection from the Dead” in Ratzinger’s Jesus of Nazareth (Vol. 2, quoted at length in the introduction to this text), where he eventually writes that this is the truly divine way, “not to overwhelm with external power, but to give freedom, to offer and elicit love.”[3]

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“For the God of Israel, human sacrifice is an abomination; Moloch, the god of human sacrifices, is the embodiment of the false god who is opposed by faith in Yahweh” (p. 64 [p. 54]).

Reaching back to what Ratzinger has said in the preceding homilies, we find here the final note of his comprehensive claim: whenever man makes his own meaning, that meaning will bend to serve the needs and desires of the powerful at the expense of those without power. The exploitation of those who have-not at the hands of those who have is a form of human sacrifice. It is idolatry—the worship of a false god. The God of Israel abhors human sacrifice; instead, he himself clings to what he loves, suffering even what his beloved creation suffers in order to save it from itself. If you are a Marcionite, though, you cannot see this gift because you are all too willing to cut loose the fallen creation that is the “happy fault that won for us so glorious a Redeemer,” as the Church sings during the night in which Easter’s light breaks.

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“Since [the Lord’s Cross], a new form of suffering has existed: suffering, not as a curse, but as a love that transforms the world” (p. 65 [p. 55])

What is true worship? To suffer for another out of love: that you love one another, even as I have loved you (John 13:34, RSV).


endNotes to Commentary on Sermon 4

[1] For more on the connection between worship and mercy—or, more precisely, “almsgiving”—see Gary Anderson, Charity: The Place of the Poor in the Biblical Tradition (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2013).

[2] Augustine, The Confessions, 6 [I.5.5].

[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Part II: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (Ignatius Press, 2011), especially 276.

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