Was Job right?
He was, I have no doubt, right about his feelings. His losses seemed to have no meaning from his vantage point. Sitting on the trash pile, thinking about his children, his wife, his isolation, his “miserable comforters,” and his future prospects, it would be well-nigh impossible for him to find meaning in the tragic events of his life.
Most people can sit there with him. I know I can sit in, meditate on and lament the seeming meaninglessness of my own pain as well as the pain of others.
And it is appropriate to do so. To sit in our sadness is healthy; to pass through it too quickly is to put a bandaid on our wound rather than to find healing. I have done that at times in my life. Consequently, I have chosen–and have found it necessary–to pursue a season of deep grieving for the sake of some deep healing.
I am not clinically depressed (I have been tested for such 🙂 ) or suicidal. I am simply “casting it out”–privately, with my wife, in small groups and with my blogging community. I am processing my life at the age of 50, and I am doing so with both professional and spiritual guidance. It is healthy for me and I appreciate everyone’s kindness in prayers, notes, emails and comments on this blog. Thank you.
But I don’t believe Job was exactly correct in his exclamation of meaninglessness and neither do I think pain is ultimately meaningless, any pain. I understand his words–I’ve said them myself. It makes sense that he would feel that way and his friends should have listened to his lament rather than trying to “fix” him.
And yet I think his “days” of suffering had meaning, incalcuable meaning. One suggested meaning might be something like this.
- His days, his laments, his endurance and his faith have encouraged many in their own struggles!
OK, I can go with that, but it rings rather hollow at some level. This horizontal benefit is not worth the pain in the eyes of many sufferers. In our calmer moments perhaps we can nod our head to this byproduct. But in our depths we protest and reject that our pain was necessary for any such good outcomes.
I think we have to go deeper than the horizontal meaning of mutual encouragement as important and significant as that is. Meaning, it seems to me, must be found in terms of divine relationality–the inter-communion of God and humanity. This is something the story of Job illustrates.
In the story of Job the origin of Job’s “days” are found in a cosmic question posed by the accuser, the prosecutor. The accuser is a cosmic skeptic–he doubts whether any human being is capable of authentic relationship with God. “Does Job serve God for nothing?” he asks. Humans are driven by a profit (“what’s in it for me?”) and not by love.
I tend to think of this in terms of Marvin Gaye’s popular “Can I Get a Witness?” Gaye’s song is about “love gone bad,” but the song title and its meaning is rooted in the African American church experience. “Can I get a witness?” is a question that one who was testifying to God’s saving movement in their lives would ask of the congregation. The questioner is seeking confirmation of his/her experience with God.
Job is a witness to the experience of God in the world. God himself needed a witness in the face of the skeptic’s accusations and called upon Job as his witness. Does Job serve God for profit? The answer in the story is a resounding “No!” Job is a witness of the authenticity of faith and love; a witness to the meaningfulness of God’s agenda in relation to the world. Job would rather die than deny his maker (Job 6:8-10).
Oh, that I might have my request, that God would grant what I hope for, that God would be willing to crush me, to let loose his hand and cut me off! Then I would still have this consolation–my joy in unrelenting pain–that I had not denied the words of the Holy One.
This is the answer to the accuser’s question–Job’s joy-yes even his comfort, even in the midst of his pain, is that he will not curse his God! This is authentic faith. This is what is really real. This participates in the divine life itself–to commune with God despite the painful realities of this fallen creation. This is the joy of Jesus himself as he endured the shame for the sake of something larger, grander than himself.
As a theological story, the narrator/editor offers a paradigm for meaning in suffering. All believing sufferers are witnesses–they testify that their relationship with God is more important then their own “happiness.” Or, put another way, the greatest joy in the midst of unrelenting pain is communion with God. We do not serve God for profit but we serve God out of relationship, communion–we serve God because we love God.
That is my joy. Despite my pain, despite my sins (and there are many), my relationship with God is my joy, my sustenance, my witness.