Have questions you would like me to answer in my blog?
Visit my formspring and ask anonymously!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Why?


So far in Job, we have seen a great man come crashing to his knees through no fault of his own. He has lost everything: property, children and health. Even his wife has betrayed him. He is now surrounded by three friends who have not spoken a word to him, sitting with him as a quiet comfort in his grief. If you have missed any of the segments leading up to this, I highly recommend you go back and read them, since this is a unified story. Remember that Job knows nothing about the conversations Satan and God have had behind the scenes. He only knows that he did nothing wrong, but he has gone from being a wealthy, happy man, to sitting alone on the town burn pile, scraping the pus from his skin with broken pieces of pottery.

We pick up at the third chapter.

After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. And Job said:

"Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, 'A man is conceived.'

Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, nor light shine upon it.

Let gloom and deep darkness claim it.

Let clouds dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it.

That night—let thick darkness seize it!

Let it not rejoice among the days of the year; let it not come into the number of the months.

Behold, let that night be barren; let no joyful cry enter it.

Let those curse it who curse the day, who are ready to rouse up Leviathan.

Let the stars of its dawn be dark; let it hope for light, but have none, nor see the eyelids of the morning, because it did not shut the doors of my mother's womb, nor hide trouble from my eyes.

(Job 3:1-10 ESV)

 

Explaining this is sort of like explaining a joke, so I will try not to overanalyze it. Job is asking a central question here: why was I ever born? Why did God create me, if this is the kind of life I am destined to live? His family was accustomed to celebrating birthdays – it was during the feast celebrating that of his oldest son that he had lost everything. Now, he prays for it to be a day of cursing instead of blessing, so people would weep when they remembered the day of his birth, instead of rejoicing over it. He wished that God had never allowed his birth to happen – that entire day should have been simply blotted out of the calendar. There should be no one excitedly saying “It’s a boy!” There should simply be silence.

He does not go as far as Satan had been sure he would, because he does not curse God. He cries out for the day to be cursed, and asks for the people who have the audacity to summon up Leviathan (a dragon in ancient Near Eastern mythology) to curse it, but he never attacks the One who allowed the day to exist directly. He is upset with what God has done, but his devotion to God stops him from total infidelity.

Isn’t this amazing? Job had experienced so many good things in his long life, but they were not blotted out entirely by suffering. Job would have passionately objected to what Tennyson wrote: “I hold it true, whate'er befall; I feel it, when I sorrow most; 'Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all.” As beautiful as the English poet’s words are, the Hebrew one seems truer to our experience. When arrested by grief and trouble, all of the good things we have experienced in the past seem insignificant. The depths of pain are much more compelling than the memories of pleasure. So in his incomprehensible grief, Job cannot escape the unanswerable: Why was I even born?

"Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire? Why did the knees receive me? Or why the breasts, that I should nurse?

(Job 3:11-12 ESV)

 

If I must be born, Job asks, why could I not die immediately? He felt like his mother’s instincts should have seen the terrible life which would curse her child and reject him immediately. He goes into his understanding of what death would be like.

For then I would have lain down and been quiet; I would have slept; then I would have been at rest, with kings and counselors of the earth who rebuilt ruins for themselves, or with princes who had gold, who filled their houses with silver. Or why was I not as a hidden stillborn child, as infants who never see the light? There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest. There the prisoners are at ease together; they hear not the voice of the taskmaster. The small and the great are there, and the slave is free from his master.

(Job 3:13-19 ESV)

 

Remember that Job does not possess the entirety of the Bible, and a great deal of what he does know has been blocked out by his grief. His understanding is primitive, but still insightful. He sees death as the great equalizer: babies, kings and princes all lay the same in death. The differing levels of glory they experienced in life are all consumed in the same stillness. Hearses rarely carry U-Haul’s.

In death, Job continues, the wicked no longer trouble you, and people who are so tired can have rest. Sometimes that is the hardest part of the Christian life: the need for rest. There is always something else to do, someone else to help and some problem to solve, until you long for the cessation of it all. In my experience, the temptation is always there to run yourself to the very limit, so when something else is added to your plate, you have no room for it and you snap. Job, as a wealthy man and one who helped others (as we will learn) must have lived his life with a great intensity. When the other shoe dropped, this kind of despair was waiting.

He looked, as one who had lost so much, at death as the place where that would no longer matter. The slave and the master lay side by side in the ground, neither of them bothering the other. Rich or poor, it makes no difference. It is this kind of levelling which Job longs for, and which convinces him that all of his former happiness was worthless. When he dies, he will not have any of the things he worked so hard for. In his primitive view of the afterlife, he may not even have realized he would be reunited with his children. He saw his problems in such a human way (I have been rich and now I am poor, I was a master and now I am a slave) that he looked for human solutions.  He could not, in all of his grief, imagine the kind of God who really lives, and just looked for silent rest as the best possible outcome.

As Christians, we can escape this problem by realizing that rest does not come through death or even stillness. The energy to continue doing life comes from contact with the Life, and rejuvenation comes with relationship with the Living God. Remember the amazing words of Jesus:

At that time Jesus declared, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

(Mat 11:25-30 ESV)

 

Jesus prayed and thanked God that a relationship with God would not come through wisdom or human effort, but by a relationship with the Son. Jesus then calls out to those who are weary from trying to satisfy themselves and invites them to come to Him. When we follow Jesus and are brought close to God in Him, we have rest in true life, rather than in death. Hold this hope in contrast to Job’s despair, but still pity him. These things are easier to see in the light of day than in the darkness of night. Back in our text, he moves from his specific circumstances to ask two universal questions.

"Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures, who rejoice exceedingly and are glad when they find the grave?

(Job 3:20-22 ESV)

 

In light of our society’s discussion and debate about assisted suicide, we may wonder with Job – why does God continue to let people live who are happy to die? Many people with dire diseases will linger for a long time, wondering why they must still live. This is more than a question about people who actually desire death itself; the real issue is the kind of God who would not give such people the desire of their heart. His second question follows up on this:

Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?

(Job 3:23 ESV)

 

Why would God let someone live, if He has trapped them in trouble and they wander around aimlessly? If these questions are not poignant to your situation, maybe you can imagine someone else’s condition that has made you ask them. When people are hopeless, why must they keep enduring? The simplistic Sunday School answer that things will get better is obviously not true. I have stood by the caskets of people who were sick for years and by people who died in an instant, and their death is the same. Many who suffer never improve, and many of the sick never rise.

His heart moves back to his own situation:

For my sighing comes instead of my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water. For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, but trouble comes."

(Job 3:24-26 ESV)

 

Instead of meals throughout the day, Job sighs and groans in despair. These are his sustenance now, and it seems to him like the pain is the only thing sustaining him. Everything he feared the most had occurred, and still he had no rest. Maybe your mind came up with some answers to Job’s universal questions. Imagine yourself talking to someone who had been through everything Job had experienced: would you feel confident in your explanation? As he finishes speaking, his three friends will offer their interpretation of the events.

Paul Tripp has said that “No one is a bigger influence in your life than you are, because no one else talks to you as much.”[1] Every time you experience something, your mind filters and interprets it. Sometimes it does a good job, and other times it does not. Job, though a good and a godly man, has begun to see everything through the lens of his despair. How do you interpret the world? When you are those you love are faced with problems, do you see it in light of the biblical narrative, especially the summing up of all things in Christ? People have a unique talent for keeping their eyes on the wrong things. We are always looking for answers and explanations, but may God grant us the right questions.                                                                                                                                       



[1] Theology Refresh podcast, April 2, 2014.

No comments:

Post a Comment