“My Days Have No Meaning” (Job 7:16d)

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 ūüôā ) 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.

4 Responses to ““My Days Have No Meaning” (Job 7:16d)”

  1.   richard constant Says:

    Seems to be amazing how the accuser works God allows with certain restrictions.
    I’m just wondering if since this is a function of the divine interplay in the realm of the creation at what point is it said that it will ever or did ever stop.
    we are warring against principalities and powers in the heavenly places our sword seems to be the sword of love dividing asunder the soul and the spirit by rightly dividing the word of truth with faithfulness mercy and forgiveness.

    At one time in your life you do not speak of arrogance John Mark.
    John Mark you are a brilliant man.
    To the one whom much is given, much is required.

    I know that if you figure this out iin your life you will be able to articulate this pain that you are suffering in a manner that will confirm rather than question the love of God for his people.

    Blessings rich in California.

  2.   richard constant Says:

    Job 1:12 And Jehovah said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only

    It seems to me Satan is allowed God is not doing…

    I could speak of the righteousness of God … just as in Adam all men die because all sin.
    In like manner God seems to want to have a level playing field.
    As God says to the accuser go ahead and try.
    But you are restricted in this area…
    is it God’s hands that are working on Job. As the narrative proceeds, or is it the accusers and that god is allowing the trying Job’s love for God.
    All scripture is given by inspiration I heard somewhere that I the Lord never change

    Each men gets in his own way the hand of the the accuser to give the man the opportunity to overcome, character attributes that are not conducive to this spiritual nature that we are trying to produce to facilitate the development of the kingdom of christ to the glory of God.
    I would say that is why Fellowship is so important, and forgiveness, and grace of God is to be exhibited in us so that when we to tell someone that is feeling less than good, for one reason or another we try to restores them in the spirit of meekness loving our brothers as ourselves.

    Blessings John Mark
    well its almost 3 o’clock in the morning time for me to go to bed

  3.   benoverby Says:

    John Mark,

    I agree. I think, too, that Job’s trust in God was not only a witness to the accuser and the world, but a testimony to himself. I don’t know anything about my own faith until the rug is ripped out from under my life–until then it’s just words and yellow songs in musty buildings. I’m not brilliant. I don’t know what suffering means. I’ll never write a theodicy. I do know that suffering has become a necessary canvas upon which my own faith has been splashed. Until the splashing everything was too neat and catagorized and therefore, perhaps a bit unreal. Contrary to buddhism, I believe greater awareness brings with it greater pain. The more we understand what’s gone wrong with the world and see the brokenness within ourselves, the more we ache. But not without hope.

    By squirming under the question, “what the hell’s gone wrong with the world,” I’ve come to appreciate the enormous need that the cosmos has for God’s vindication. Suffering, whether random or othewise is what happens when man worship the creature rather than the creator. It’s this idolatry that’s weaved into seemingly naturalized multiple layers, and it’s this way of being that we’re born into which distorts and twists and stands under God’s judgment. We are in pain. We wait. We wait in hope. And one day the suffering of the present age will not be worth comparing the glory revealed in us. Jesus didn’t come with a theodicy under his arm, but a nail in His hand. It’s only by embracing that part of our vocation that we begin to experience the joy you’ve so well described.


  4.   rogueminister Says:

    I love the idea that God is El-Shaddai. He is all sufficient, all we need. Somehow that is a comfort just knowing that.

    John Mark have you written a book on suffering, theodicy, lament or anything related? If so, what is it called? If not, I really hope you do someday.


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