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Job, a Grief Observed

flicker.jpgMany years ago I decided to study the book of Job. Life had knocked me about the head, and I figured my friend Job might have some answers.

I read one chapter at a time, paraphrased key passages into my own words and journaled my thoughts. I wanted to “read between the lines” if possible. The book was so poetic I wondered, “What are Job and his friends really saying?”

As I studied, I discovered spiritual riches and depth far beyond what I expected. Most of all I was encouraged that a godly man like Job could become a complete mess in his grief and still hang on to his faith.

Every book has a beginning, a middle and an end. Here is my overview of Job:

The Beginning:
Then he fell to the ground in worship and said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart…”In all this Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.(1:20-22)

Job does not sin in his initial response to his losses, but his first words tumble out while he is still in shock. He spoke from a reservoir deep within, from a creed he had lived by all his life. But his faith was about to be tested.

I know from experience that it is often relatively easy at the outset of grief to trust God when we are buoyed by the support of friends and carried by adrenaline. Initially we have no capacity to fully comprehend the magnitude of what has happened to us. We may even spout impressive Christian phrases causing our friends to sputter in awe, “Wow, you are so strong.”

Also, in this numb state we may ignorantly think we can handle our grief. It’s only day after day, as the ramifications of the event and all the facets of grief unfold, that the torrents of pain unleash and our emotions spin out of control. Little by little we begin to grapple with the perplexing questions of life.

The Middle:
But I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God. (13:3)

Job makes a good first impression. In fact, we think well of him because he begins and ends well. And we ought to maintain our good opinion because God calls him “my servant Job” who spoke of Him “what is right.” (42:7)

What we so often miss is the torturous spiritual journey Job took between chapters three and forty-two. This godly man’s faith barely hung by a thread. He did not appear all neat and tidy during his ordeal. Look at the kinds of things he says in reference to God:

I will complain in the bitterness of my soul…You frighten me with dreams and terrify me with visions. (7:11b, 14)

Will you never look away from me, or let me alone even for an instant? (7:19)

If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of men? Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you? (7:20)

Even if I summoned him and he responded, I do not believe he would give me a hearing. He would crush me with a storm and multiply my wounds for no reason. (9:16-17)

He mocks the despair of the innocent. (9:23b)

I will say to God: Do not condemn me, but tell me what charges you have against me. Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands? (10:2-3)

You could argue that here Job sinned by charging God with wrongdoing. But remember, he’s farther down the road of grief now. Shocking things came out of his mouth as he writhed under the intense heat of suffering. His friends seemed horrified by his attitude and over-corrected by digging for sin in Job’s history, insisting that somehow he brought on this awful fate. Their insensitivity only increased his suffering.

Even though Job overstepped his bounds before the Almighty to the point of sinning in his grief, his pain-filled questions did not come from an unbelieving, hard heart. In his anguish he even seemed to fear for his faith and would have preferred death to denying God:

“Oh, that I might have my request…that God would be willing to crush me, to let loose his hand and cut me off! Then I would still have this consolation…that I had not denied the words of the Holy One.”

Despite Job’s accusations against God, glimmers of life shine throughout his lament when he says things like, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” (13:15) His faith may have hung by a thread but it did not snap.

The End:
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. (42:3b)

Through his ordeal, Job learned some important lessons about himself, life, and his faith in God. And through reading his story I have learned with him. If a righteous man like Job could be driven to a near breaking point in his grief, then it’s no surprise that I might be tested in a similar way. Also, if he slipped under the pressure of pain and still received God’s blessing, so may I.

Like Job, I want to persevere through trials so that when I emerge on the other side I can join him in bowing low before God and saying, “…now my eyes have seen you.” (42:5)

  1. Timely words… I’ve been looking after Job a lot this past year.
    My thanks…

    Comment by Kari — May 13, 2008 @ 6:58 am

  2. What an excellent post. There is so much richness in Job.

    Comment by Becoming Me — May 13, 2008 @ 7:11 am

  3. Thank you for sharing. I too have had the need to be reminded of the perseverance of Job many times. A dear friend just yesterday encouraged me with the book of Job. I especially needed to be reminded of the faith by a thread yet not breaking. I spend a lot of time hanging on these days. Waiting on psalm 37:4,5 for Him to bring it to pass.
    Diane

    Comment by diane — May 14, 2008 @ 3:59 am

  4. You might be interested in this online commentary “Putting God on Trial: The Biblical Book of Job” (http://www.bookofjob.org) as supplementary or background material for your study of the Book of Job. It is written by a Canadian criminal defense lawyer, now a Crown prosecutor, and it explores the legal and moral dynamics of the Book of Job with particular emphasis on the distinction between causal responsibility and moral blameworthiness embedded in Job’s Oath of Innocence. It is highly praised by Job scholars (Clines, Janzen, Habel) and the Review of Biblical Literature, all of whose reviews are on the website. The author is an evangelical Christian, denominationally Anglican. He is also the Canadian Director for the Mortimer J. Adler Centre for the Study of the Great Ideas, a Chicago-based think tank.
    .

    Comment by Robert Sutherland — May 17, 2008 @ 2:43 pm

  5. Ruth, this is exactly what I needed to read today – the Lord brought me here, for sure. I’ve studied Job in the past but it’s been more recently that I’ve discovered these rich truths you’ve opened here. Through the processing of grief and the wrongful accusations of family and friends, I’m relating to Job more and more. He’s fast becoming a hero of faith, for if he could rise from the ash heap and still praise God, so can I. This moves my heart in the unhealed areas, giving me tremendous hope, that even though I’m hanging on a thread, it will not snap. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    hugs,
    Vicki

    Comment by Vicki — May 20, 2008 @ 10:53 am

  6. Vicki, I’m so glad you were encouraged! Love you, too.

    Thanks so much for the resource recommendation, Robert. I really appreciate it and will be sure to look it up. Blessings…

    Comment by Ruth Wood — May 20, 2008 @ 9:05 pm

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