This week and next, the daily reading in the Divine Office is from the book of Job. It is a challenging book, which is supposed somehow to say something about the problem of suffering, but which for many may leave as questions unanswered. I confess I have sometimes found myself sympathizing with one of Job's friends, Bildad the Shuhite, when he challenges Job for we are but of yesterday, and we know nothing, for our days on earth are but a shadow (Job 8:9).
I think Thomas Merton got it right, when he wrote in his Journal (September 3, 1949): "the Book of Job does not solve the problem of suffering, in the abstract. It shows us that one man, Job, received a concrete answer to the problem, and that answer was found in God Himself. If we are to have Job’s answer, we must have Job’s vision of God.”
But, back to Job's friends. I find it intriguing that Satan was able to strip job of almost everything we value in life - family, possessions, health - but that he still had friends. His friends didn't really have much to contribute to resolving Job's theological conundrum. But at least they were there. They cared enough to come. And what a blessing that had to have been! No one would want to be Job, of course, But, if everything is falling down around you, it helps to know that at least somebody cares. Even modestly stressful situations seem that much more livable when shared with someone else! As Aristotle wisely noted, "without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods ... And in poverty and in other misfortunes men think friends are the only refuge." (Nicomachean Ethics, 8).
Which brings us to the terrible plight of those who increasingly find themselves going through life alone. As the family and other traditional social institutions deteriorate due to the corrosive forces of modernity and post-modernity, as the constraints that bound us together with one another in mutual networks of common concern continue to decline, more and more people find themselves left alone with fewer resources and hardly anyone else to rely on. And "social media," which in theory ought to be linking us together more and more, may be doing precisely the opposite 0 isolating people from one another, cheating people of the fundamental humane experience of direct inter-personal encounter.
Is it any wonder, in this world of increasingly friendless isolation, that our politics is such a mess?