What Job Knows: 7 Movements of Those Who Suffer
In my previous post, I wrote about suffering and the unhelpful response of “painsplaining” – or trying to explain another’s pain. This attempt to find an “answer” to make sense of suffering leads only to more despair, self-doubt, or even to a denial of suffering altogether. In this post and a final one after that, I’ll take a further look at Job’s struggle, and then at God’s response – both to Job as well as his painsplaining friends. What is the “answer” Job finally receives in response to his suffering? I’ll start by exploring Job’s journey through suffering.
Job feels attacked on two fronts. He is struggling with God, trying to make sense of his innocence and God’s absence with regard to his experience of suffering. And he is struggling with his comforters-turned-tormenters, whose judgment and blame have added to his suffering. Like Jacob, Job is a person who is willing to wrestle with God.
Wrestling involves a complex series of movements and manoeuvres in which one wrestler tries to get control of the other. For Job, it’s as if he’s wrestling an invisible partner who moves so quickly he can’t even feel him or sense his movement. In another way, it’s as if he’s wrestling with himself. Let’s take a look at some of his moves.
What is it that enables Job, in the face of unimaginable suffering, to have the courage to worship God, name his pain, face God's anger, affirm God's character, defend his innocence, challenge God to respond, and (yet) keep longing and hoping?
Wrestling Move #1: Pious Worship – Praise God, No Matter What!
When the unthinkable happens and Job loses first his property and then his many children, he starts with pious worship:
“Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:20-21)
It’s a strong start, but it doesn’t last long, especially when his health begins to fail and the emotional anguish he is experiencing is mirrored by physical anguish in his body. Covered in sores, his wife speaks out of her own grief: “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9) Job is unwilling to do so, and acknowledges that he must accept good as well as bad from God.
Wrestling Move #2: Despair/Hopelessness/Lament – This Sucks. I wish I were dead. I hate this.
Job accepts his lot as outside his control, but that doesn’t mean he’s happy about it. He gives voice to the depth of his grief and despair. He does not curse God, but he curses the day of his birth. He gives voice to his lament: there is no peace, no rest, not strength, no hope, no power, no meaning. Finally, he cries out,
“I loathe my life; I will give free utterance to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.” (Job 10:1)
Job’s longing for a response points to a deeper longing: the robust belief that this is not the end of his story.
Wrestling Move #3: Assumption of God’s Anger – God is punishing me.
As Job wrestles with his sense of perceived innocence, he struggles with the question of meaning: there must be a reason for this suffering. God must be angry with me for something. Maybe he did something wrong and God is punishing him. He acknowledges the broken relationship:
“His anger burns against me; he counts me among his enemies.” (Job 9:11)
Wrestling Move #4: Affirmation of God’s Character – God did this; only God can vindicate me.
Although Job can’t quite figure out why God is punishing him, he realises that God is the only one who can help him. His friends, who continue to theologize his predicament, are of no help. Neither is his wife, who is lost in her own despair and cynicism. If anyone can clear a path through this mess, it’s God. So, Job affirms God’s character. He names God’s righteousness, sovereignty, justice, and wisdom.
"But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? … God understands the way to it, and he knows its place … Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.” (Job 28:12, 23, 28b)
Wrestling Move #5: Proclamation of Innocence – I am innocent; why is this happening???
As Job’s friends press in with blame and shame, Job becomes more convinced of his innocence. Their rationalizations and accusations just don’t fit with his experience. He knows himself, he knows his heart, and he hunkers down in certainty that surely he didn’t do anything so terrible to deserve everything that’s happened to him. Exasperated, he shuts down his friends’ arguments with a challenge:
“Can anyone bring charges against me? If so, I will be silent and die.” (13:19)
Wrestling Move #6: Longing for a Response – Where are you? Why don’t you respond?
Job has worshiped God, he has given voice to his suffering, he has acknowledged that only God can vindicate him, and he has proclaimed his own innocence. And after all this, still he receives no answer from God:
“Even when I cry out, ‘Violence!’ I am not answered; I call aloud, but there is no justice.” (Job 19:7)
He is heartbroken by this divine silence. Listen to the longing in his words:
“Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me … But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold.” (Job 23:3-5, 10)
“Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely[a] defend my ways to his face. Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance … Now that I have prepared my case, I know I will be vindicated.” (Job 13:15-16a, 18)
This divine longing is the native language of our souls, as finite beings who seek to know and experience the infinite God.
Wrestling Move #7: Longing for Redemption – This is not the end of my story. My Redeemer lives!
Job’s longing for a response points to a deeper longing: the robust belief that this is not the end of his story. Job grabs on tight to hope and won’t let go. God is my witness, my advocate, my intercessor, and my friend (Job 16:19-21). Renewal will come! (Job 14:14) With stunning faith from a person who has never heard of Jesus, Job declares:
“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27)
How my heart yearns within me! This divine longing is the native language of our souls, as finite beings who seek to know and experience the infinite God. This longing is poignantly expressed in Ted Loder's prayer:
Renew my faith that you are God
beyond my grasp
but within my reach;
past my knowing
but within my searching;
disturber of the assured,
assurer of the disturbed.
(Guerillas of Grace)
There is room for your feelings and experiences, no matter how messy they are.
What Job Knows
In response to Job’s pointed pushback to their unrelenting painsplaining, Job’s frustrated friends eventually ask,“What do you know that we do not know? What insights do you have that we do not have?” (Job 15:9)
What is it that enables Job, in the face of unimaginable suffering, to have the courage to:
Name His Pain,
Face God’s Anger,
Affirm God’s Character,
Defend His Innocence,
Challenge God to Respond,
Keep Longing and Hoping?
I think the answer may be found in Job’s own words:
"Oh, for the days when I was in my prime, when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house, when the Almighty was still with me…” (Job 29:4-5a)
God’s intimate friendship: this is the difference between Job’s response and his friends’ responses to suffering. Although he currently views that intimacy with God as a thing of the past, nevertheless Job is engaging God through relationship; his friends are engaging him through doctrine apart from relationship. Rigid adherence to doctrine without respect to relationships with God or others quickly becomes a weapon that is the very opposite of God’s love and truth. Eugene Peterson writes,
The book of Job is not only a witness to the dignity of suffering and God’s presence in our suffering but is also our primary biblical protest against religion that has been reduced to explanations or “answers.” Many of the answers that Job’s so-called friends give him are technically true. But it is the “technical” part that ruins them. They are answers without personal relationship, intellect without intimacy. The answers are slapped onto Job’s ravaged life like labels on a specimen bottle. Job rages against this secularized wisdom that has lost touch with the living realities of God. (Introduction to Job)
In other words, Job’s friends speak about God. Job speaks to God.
Rigid adherence to doctrine without respect to relationships with God or others quickly becomes a weapon that is the very opposite of God’s love and truth.
So far, Job still doesn’t have the answer he longs for. It’s a one-way communication and he is still sitting in the heartbreak of divine silence (and the weariness of not enough human silence!). In my next post, I’ll explore God’s response to Job (and his friends) and the “answer” that ends full circle with Job going right back to Wrestling Move #1, in which he once again falls down and worships. This time, I believe his heart is more fully engaged. What makes the difference for him? Stay tuned!!
If you are in a place of suffering, I wonder what wrestling move you might be trying out right now? Are you trying to worship God in the midst of your pain? Are you staggering through anger, hopelessness, or despair? Are you feeling punished and unjustly attacked? Are you challenging God to respond to you so that you can try to make sense of your suffering and grief?
In your own journey through suffering, wherever you are is where you are. There is room for your feelings and experiences, no matter how messy they are. As we will see in my next post, God did not blame Job for any of these responses. May you, too, find hope in relationship with the One who is your witness, advocate, intercessor, and friend.