As we’ve been reading through the book of Job in our reading plan we’ve been introduced to the biblical genre of Lament. This is a passionate display of grief, mourning and pain. Lament in scripture is often when people bring their pain to God, but more than simply complaining, they petition God and long for things to be as they should be. More than simply venting, lament is seen as a form of worship.
As we explore this genre and Job’s interaction with God, I want to offer you an article published by one of my professors, John Mark Hicks. He is no stranger to pain, grief and mourning as you’ll see in his post, but through it he is driven to Lament and helps us see it’s place in the life of a follower of Christ and the Church. (for more of JMH’s writings visit his blog at johnmarkhicks.com)
Jobian Lament - John Mark Hicks
Sometimes life gets to be “too much.”
Given some personal and painful meditations yesterday, some talks with several different people about their hurtful situations…it is too much.
Intellectually, I know my losses are fewer than some and greater than others. I know it is all relative. But my emotional gut–as I get in tune with it more fully–rails against the felt hurt and doubts the love of God.
How do I escape the feeling that God is picking on me?
My wife’s death was 1 in 10,000 (so the doctors said); my son’s terminal genetic condition was 1 in 100,000. That means, statistically, my life circumstances are 1 in 100,000,000. If add to that divorce, by-pass surgery, diabetes, hearing loss, etc., etc., etc. And I know it is not fair to do the “statistical thing”–I may not even have done it correctly…I don’t know…there are too many variables…life can’t be assessed like that…I know…but….
How do I escape the feeling that God is picking on me?
I often read Job’s laments with some sort of empathy. I read some of them again this morning. I feel them in my bones. The hurt and pain are somatic; they are part of my body. It is that gut-wrenching movement of the soul that sends a sharp pain to the chest or the stomach. The kind of pain that makes you double over but is driven by emotion rather than physiology. Our minds and bodies align, and emotional pain delivers blows to the body.
Chapter 3 contains Job’s opening lament–a “I wish I had never been born” lament. The final words of that chapter have sometimes resonated with me and I feel them today.
Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whose God has hedged him in? For sighing comes to me instead of food; my groans pour out like water. What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.
“What I feared has come upon me”…..several times in my life–death of a wife, death of a son, divorce. Peace is difficult to experience when what you have “dreaded has happened” to you. When will the next shoe drop? And then more comes down the pike…more pain, more hurt. And then again “when will the next shoe drop?” The anticipation of “what else” begins to consume you and at times you feel like giving up. You are tempted to “curse God and die.”
“I would not live forever. Let me alone,” Job tells God (7:16). He prefers death to what he is experiencing (7:15) and he is convinced that he will never see happiness again (7:7).
It is little wonder that Job is tired of God’s attention. Why make such a fuss over human beings, especially Job himself? Job turned the doxological question of Psalm 8 on its head (7:17-18).
What are human beings that you make so much of them, that you give them so much attention, that you examine them every morning and test them every moment?
And then he personalized it (Job 7:20b).
Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you?
Job gets to the point with God. What is the divine project? What is God’s interest in human beings? Why is there so much suffering? Why should God give a rip about us? Why does he toy with us?
I know these are harsh questions, but they are real ones. They are Job’s questions, and they have been the questions of some of the greatest literature humans have produced.
Job has little doubt–and I think he is quite right!–that God’s hand is written all over his life. He confesses the sovereignty of God over his creation. Even in the midst of his laments–and partly as a lament–he testifies to what the birds and animals know (Job 12:7-10).
Which of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of every human being.
The accuser could only do what the hand of God permitted and empowered (Job 1:11-12; 2:5-6). God chose Job. He was “picking” on him and Job felt it. I know the feeling as well–it may not correspond with what really is, but it is my real feeling at times and I feel it today, this morning.
And yet–and there is always, it seems, a “nevertheless” or “yet”–even Job, in the midst of all his pain and hurt can recognize that to God “belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding…to him belong strength and victory” (Job 12:13, 16a). God “performs wonders that cannot be fathomed” (Job 9:10a) and his “wisdom is profound” (Job 9:4a). “Who can understand the thunder of his power?” (Job 26:14). “He does whatever he pleases” (Job 23:13b).
Job, as I, recognizes the greatness, the mystery, the transcendence of God. But we are nagged by the incessant feeling that meaning has escaped us. “Why then did you bring [us] out of the womb?” (Job 10:18b). What is the meaning of the darkness?
As our hearts hurt and faint, even as the terrors of the moment overwhelm us, we choose God. We do not curse him. We will treasure his words more than daily bread and walk in his footsteps (Job 23:11-12).
But, at the same time, we are “not silenced by the darkness” (Job 23:17). We will speak; we will lament. We “will not keep silent; [we] will speak out in the anguish of [our spirits]; we will complain in the bitterness of [our souls]” (Job 7:11).
I believe; help my unbelief.