Today’s Advent Reading:
USCCB – December 5th
“Deliverance is near to those who worship him,
so that glory may dwell in our land.
Love and faithfulness have come together;
justice and peace have embraced.
Faithfulness appears from earth
And justice looks down from heaven.
The Lord will grant prosperity,
And or land will yield its harvest.
Justice will go in front of him,
And peace on the path he treads.”
– Psalm 85:9-13
As I was reading the selected passages for today, I thought of a story my best friend once told me. Sometime in the mid-90’s on The Simpsons, a mysterious inland hurricane hit the town of Springfield and destroyed only the home of the Simpsons’ Bible-thumping southpaw neighbor Ned Flanders. Afterwards Ned tries to talk through his feelings about the tragedy he and his family have suffered with his sardonic pastor, and gets some hard answers:
Ned: Reverend Lovejoy, with all that’s happened to us today, I kinda feel like Job.
Reverend Lovejoy: Well, aren’t you being a tad melodramatic, Ned? Also, I believe Job was right-handed.
Ned: But, Reverend, I need to know. Is God punishing me?
Reverend Lovejoy: Oh, short answer, “yes” with an “if.” Long answer, “no” with a “but.”
In the gospel passage for today, Christ decides to help the crippled man after he “[sees] the faith” of his friends, and says at first that the man’s “sins are forgiven [him].” Although he cures the man to provide physical proof of his spiritual power and supernatural authority, this story still creates an uncomfortable connection between misfortune and sin, once you acknowledge that only God has control over doling out adversity and fortune, but He also has control over preserving justice by punishing (or forgiving) sin. So, wouldn’t it follow to believe that he deals out suffering and prosperity fairly? Wouldn’t everyone who suffers deserve it?
Like Reverend Lovejoy said: short answer, “yes” with an “if,” long answer, “no” with a “but.” As we see in the second reading, faithfulness and justice are in dialogue. The earth sends up faithfulness and love; peace and justice rain down together from heaven. We don’t know on what terms this dialogue is conducted (Catholics and Protestants can argue over what faithfulness means, for instance) but we know it is happening. Our faithfulness goes up, our fortune and our justice come down. So yes, Ned, if God sends it down it must be just. And no, Ned, but it isn’t within our power to judge (to see why this is the long answer, read the Book of Job).
This may seem like an odd selection of readings for the season: “Life hurts and that’s good but we don’t know why,” is neither a holly nor a jolly reflection. But while the problem of suffering may not put one in the mood to prepare for Christmas, it is an integral part of it. It is the reason for “the reason for the season.” The incarnation occurred to end the exchange of faithfulness upward and justice downward, to allow man to live forever with God in justice instead of living fleetingly in waiting for it. To borrow a neat phrase from the Orthodox, God became man so that man could become like God.
Isaiah says it best: “Be strong, fear not! Your God comes to save you, from his vengeance and his retribution.” Sometimes, we need to stop and think about retribution before we appreciate what being saved from it means.
Tess Fitzsimmons ’19 is a sophomore in Lowell House.