Know then that God has dealt unfairly with me. Job 19:6
My mother died of breast cancer 36 years ago this month. She was only 58. We took her for treatment to M.D. Anderson Cancer Clinic in Houston, Texas. For more than three and a half years, she endured radiotherapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy to no avail. We were willing to do whatever we could to help her, but we drew the line when the only option left was radiation on the brain after her cancer had spread there.
When she died, with all of us but one standing around her bed, it was a bitter lesson on just how unfair life can be for so many people. She was a simple woman who worked very hard all her life. She raised seven children, cooked, cleaned, raised a huge garden, canned, took her turn cleaning the church and ironing altar linens, and reached out to her extended families on both sides, as well as her neighbors and friends.
With the finish line in sight, with all her kids raised, with a Social Security check only a few years away, she was diagnosed with cancer and died. It all seemed so unfair then and it still seems unfair even now.
Throughout a priest’s life, he is called on so many times to walk with people who are trying to deal with the unfairness of life — a young man left totally paralyzed as the result of a motorcycle accident, an elderly couple left penniless after being scammed out of their life savings by an unscrupulous investment counselor, the starvation of abused and neglected children by drug addicted parents, a home burned to the ground after a lapsed insurance policy, the tragic death of a car load of teenagers on prom night, the betrayal of a dedicated spouse by a philandering husband, the sudden and mysterious death of a longed-for infant child or the untimely death of a seven-week ordained young priest hit by a speeding car in an intersection. The list goes on and on.
The Book of Job has as its central point the unfairness of life, especially when bad things happen to good people. Even though Job’s life was the epitome of righteous living, God took away his family, his wealth and his health. His response to his “unfairness” is memorable. “We accept good things from God; should we not accept evil?” He could not explain the evil around him, but it says that “through it all, he never said anything sinful.”
The unfairness of life can actually be funny some times. One of my parishioners told me once about being in the Army during World War II. He bought two matching decorated platters to send home to his wife and mother. When they arrived at his mother’s house, his mother and wife stood side-by-side as the package was opened. When the mother noticed that one of the two matching platters was broken, she gasped to his wife, “Oh, honey, your platter is broken.”