One of the great mysteries that theologians and philosophers have to address in every generation is the presence of evil in the world, especially when bad things happen to good people. If God exists, and is all good and all powerful, why does He allow His servants to suffer?
The “quick and easy” answer to that question is that God allows bad things to happen when there is a greater good that can come about as a consequence. As with any quick and easy answer to tough questions, it is something of an oversimplification that could use some explanation and clarification. However, I think we can see the principle at work in the readings today, and that can be helpful.
In the first reading, the Israelites were trusting in the Lord’s presence in the Ark of the Covenant to help them win a battle against the Philistines. We aren’t told why God allowed them to lose, but a few possibilities come to mind. Maybe they were expecting God to do all the work, and needed to learn that God expected them to do their very best too; His grace perfects, but does not supplant, our human efforts. But also, when the Philistines took the Ark, they were struck by one disaster after another until they gave the Ark back to the Israelites. They learned to fear the Lord, even if they didn’t follow Him. Also, this loss on the battlefield started a chain of events that helped lead to the establishment of the kingdom of Israel and the reign of King David, from whom Christ was descended.
Then, In the Gospel, we read of a man who had leprosy. He must have been suffering terribly, both from the physical effects of the disease and the complete social rejection that came with it. He was an outcast, doomed to a miserable life and a slow death. But this terrible misfortune was also the cause of his encounter with Jesus, which resulted in his healing and his conversion. He became an undeniable witness to Christ, whose testimony led many people to the Savior.
May God help us to face adversity in our own lives with faith and courage, and enlighten us to discover whatever lessons can be learned from it, trusting that God can and will turn all things to the advantage of those who love the Lord.