Job 3: Where is God When Life Hurts?
|Job has grieving for seven days. Three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar have joined him, but have thus far said nothing (2:13). There are times when words fail. There are times when silence is the best therapy.
But then comes chapter 3! Here we encounter a darkness of the soul that will shock some who read it. “Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth” (3:1).
What is this? Can a child of God really do this? Is this something that Old Testament believers found themselves doing because they lacked the fullness of New Testament revelation on Jesus Christ? Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote a poem in which he said,
Does our understanding of what a Christian is include such feelings as these? Before we answer, we need to recall that Jeremiah used almost identical language to depict his own Dark Night of the Soul in Jeremiah 20:14-18. And some of the Psalms, especially Psalm 88 paints as gloomy a picture as Job does here. As Hopkins suggests, those “who ne’er hung there” may well judge Job (and Jeremiah and the Psalmist) harshly. They may find it difficult to believe that Christians can speak like this.
Calvin once wrote about the Psalms that they contained “an anatomy of the parts of the soul.” The human soul is capable of a variety of moods and responses, including the dark and somber tones of this chapter. Denial of this will lead to a distorted view of humanity; but, more importantly, it will lead to a distorted view of the gospel which ministers to such responses.
Job is giving vent to how he feels and before we rush in and condemn, we need to listen to him. We need to ask ourselves, have we felt like this? We need to note the patience of God in dealing with His servant (1:8; 2:3).
As we examine this chapter, several things emerge that call for some comment.
1. Certain things happen that cause Job to express certain diffuclt feelings.
What are they? What particular circumstances exasperate Job’s circumstances. Why the sudden change of tone from that which had been expressed in 1:21 and 2:10? What has happened?
Second, Job’s friends have arrived. We shall have more to say about them later, but chapter 2 has introduced them to us as those who desired to “sympathize” and “comfort” (2:11). They had said nothing so far, in contrast to what is to come. In some ways, this is in their favor. There is a need for folk to empathize before attempting to heal. But, they had also suggested that Job was near death in their response. They had wept aloud and tore their clothes and sprinkled dust on their heads (2:12). All of this signaled a funeral: that Job was near to death. They were mourning, not so much for Job’s children as for Job himself. Their body language signaled no hope for Job. And Job had begun to believe it himself and wish for it.
Third, perhaps his wife had been right after all. Perhaps, he should curse God and die. Get it over with as soon as possible. End this misery now. Call on God to take him away. For seven days and nights he had perhaps not slept, but pondered the unthinkable. The sorrow engulfing him, his weakness making the temptation to despair easier.
Fourth, God had thus far been silent. He had said nothing! And it is the silence that screams at us more loudly than do words. The silence from “outside” has caused Job to internalize his grief. Subliminally, he gives vent to cynicism, to a spirit of nihilism, to despair, resentment and regret that borders on guilt. In the grieving process, Job has moved on from confident trust to a nagging fear that he may have been duped. “Where is God” cried C. S. Lewis a month after his wife had died as he recorded his soul’s journey through the dark chasm of loss.
2. Job’s expresses certain feelings: a desire for death, a feeling of pointlessness.
Job curses the day of his birth (3:1). He wishes that the day of his birth be removed from the calendar (3:6), that the great sea-monster, Leviathan, swallow it up (3:8), the night in which the mid-wife said, “It’s a boy” (3:3). May the joy of that night be taken away (3:7). He calls upon soothsayers, whose job it was to pronounce curses, to curse that day which has brought nothing but trouble (3:8-9).
Every chapter in Job mentions death in some way. Here, Job depicts it in familiar terms as a “shadow” (3:5). We recall how Psalm 23 depicts it this way, too, speaking of “the shadow” it casts on the valley through which we sometimes walk (Psa. 23:4). Here in Job 3, Job wishes that this shadow engulf the day of his birth once more that he may never exist (3:5).
Job wishes that he’d never been born!
In verses 21-22 he depicts his desire for death with the same anticipation that a grave-robber might have had. Grave robbery was a lucrative business, particularly in ancient Egypt when the dead were buried with many valuable possessions. They “rejoice when they come to the grave” (3:22), he says.
“Why do you keep wretched people like me alive?” Job asks.
One of things that we need to understand and appreciate here is that God allows us to ask questions like these! They may be mistaken. They may be the wrong questions? They may even come from faulty motivations? But we are allowed to ask them?
Joni Earecksen Tada has written:
And that, to me, is the comfort of the book of Job. What meant the most to me in my suffering was that God never condemns Job for his doubt and despair. God was even ready to take on the hard questions. Ah, but the answers? They weren’t quite the ones Job was expecting.” (1)
Do you remember, too, how utterly pastoral God was in dealing with Elijah? No lectures! No sermons! No recriminations! Just sleep… (1 Kings 19:5).
The point is that God knows the weakness of our frame. He understands our frustrations and problems. Even when we step over the boundary, there are times when discipline must wait.
And God is patient with Job’s desire for death. That, too, is part of his ministry to his servant. He understands his fragility, his vulnerability.
The point of these passages in Scripture may well baffle us, but if we have no place for them in our understanding of the Christian life, we are seriously deficient. We cannot counsel that which we do not appreciate. If we cannot appreciate that some Christians will “sing the blues” we will not be in a position to help them. This, in many ways, was the error of Job’s friends. It is precisely for this reason that Jesus is portrayed for us in the Gospels as one “made like his brothers in every way” (Heb. 2:17). He of whom it is written that he was “deeply distressed and troubled… overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:33-34), understands the complexities of human psyche to a degree that is altogether sublime.
As B. B. Warfield comments on this passage:
And there is more. Because Job now feels that God has turned against him. God has become his enemy.
This is where we find Job at the end of chapter 3. Is there any light at all? Can we see in this chapter any faint spark that will help him? Only this: that Job is being utterly honest.
Listen to Joni speak again:
But it is enough. I think I’ll let Paul put it in his words:
1. Joni Eareckson Tada, Secret Strength (Amersham-on-the-Hill, Bucks: Scripture Press, 1989), 169-171.