Grief, it seems, is part of life. The longer I live the more I understand what others before me have said; you are either recovering from grief, or heading into it. The valleys may be short or long, the mountain highs ethereal, but it does seem to be true…life takes us up and down with great regularity. Sometimes that can cause us to question God’s goodness or to raise our fist and vent our angst heavenward, as if it might in some way provide relief. Anyone who has tried quickly finds it does not.
The Bible says Jesus was a man familiar with grief and acquainted with sorrow (Isaiah 53). It is easy to gloss over that to focus on what Jesus did for us on the cross. But in moving too quickly through familiar passages, we lose some of the power of what is being said. Knowing how the story ends can rob us of necessary tension and struggle to which we can so easily relate. It is a loss on multiple levels.
Slowing down, really reading passages, living in the moment, experiencing the emotions of those we’re reading about; that can take the reading of Scripture to a whole new level.
One powerful example is in the account of Job. We’re all pretty familiar with the basic story line. Satan comes to God to complain about unfair treatment; Job only worships God because God protects him. And that isn’t fair. Satan wants to get his grubby mitts on that so-called saint, to show God just what kind a man Job really is. Then, God gives Satan freedom to do almost anything he wants to, except to physically harm Job.
Theologians can debate forever about what this reveals of the character of God and Satan. They can argue about the finer points of Job’s response compared to his friends’ and even his wife. But I think that misses some of the significance of this powerful but confusing book. When we look only at the theology, we can miss the heart. And more than anything, I think the book of Job is about heart. Let me explain…
We talk about post traumatic stress a lot in America right now. And appropriately so. The men and women who have sacrificed so much on the battlefield are struggling with the consequences of those overwhelming experiences. There is no paradigm for reconciling American values with the horrors of war. But soldiers aren’t the only ones who deal with post traumatic stress. Rape victims can. Survivors of auto accidents can. Even mothers of special needs children can. And all of us know the trauma of receiving bad news, especially when it is unexpected. That heavy feeling in your gut…the need to sit down…the inability to think…the confusion and fear and anxiety that grips all at once. If the news comes by phone, every ring afterwards brings a fresh wash of overwhelming emotions. If it was delivered in person, anything that sounds like a knock on the door will cause a sharp intake of breath. The fear is tangible for days, even weeks after. Because that trauma went straight to the heart.
Now back to Job’s story. We know the basics; he loses his oxen and donkeys and camels and all the servants who cared for them, except the single survivors from each group. And we know his sons and daughters were killed tragically when the house they were in collapsed on them, again with only a single surviving servant to bring news to Job. But what we may never have paid attention to is the time frame in which this happened.
The details are recorded in Job chapter 1, starting in verse 13. The following nine verses record the events of a day that undoubtedly lived in infamy for Job…the day his life changed forever. Because, you see, what we often gloss over and don’t consider is that Job received news of the loss of his incredible wealth (similar to the losses that led to multiple suicides at the beginning of the Great American Depression) as well as the loss of all of his children, within a very short time.
Three different times Scripture records the phrase, “and I alone have escaped to tell you. While he was yet speaking, there came another…” (vs 15, 16, 17). The final time the words “and I alone have escaped to tell you” Job got word that his seven sons and three daughters had been killed.
All that news was delivered in the span of ten, maybe fifteen minutes…all of it.
Let’s stop here, just for a moment, and put ourselves in Job’s shoes. All of his vast wealth has just vanished. All of it. What confidence do you draw from having a healthy balance in your bank account? What fear fills your heart when the month is longer than the money? What about your possessions…a car, or a boat, or maybe a vacation home or condo…imagine all of those being stripped away, in a moment…does it make you breath a little faster, trying to get ahead of the panic? It does me…even though I want to believe that my trust is in the Lord regardless of my possessions, the thought of all of it being gone makes my breath come a little faster and my blood pressure go up!
Now, imagine all of that happening in one day.
And what is a parent’s worst nightmare? To lose a child. It is never easy; losing a baby at any moment from when two lines show up on the pregnancy test to having them ripped from your arms by tragedy leaves scars that last a lifetime. The grief only gets deeper the older your child is. Personally, my hardest loss was a baby girl delivered at 16 weeks. Her tiny body fit in the palm of my hand. It’s been over ten years, but the thought of that precious baby girl still brings tears to my eyes. But my grief was and has been nothing compared to the loss my parents experienced just months later. My 30 year old sister passed away, quite unexpectedly. It was twelve years ago last March, and my mother can hardly speak of her daughter without being choked by emotion.
And what words always seem to be mentioned, when one loses a child…at least you have more…
But Job…he didn’t lose one child. He lost ten. All in one day.
Job’s life changed forever, in just one day.
I don’t know about you, but when tragedy strikes at my house, I think about what was going on before, desperately wishing I could go back in time and change something, anything, to take back what happened. Even days, weeks, maybe years later, I’ll think about particular moments and wish with all my heart something could be different. Because I don’t like pain. I really don’t like loss.
The final words of Job chapter one are probably very familiar. Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed by the name of the LORD.” (Job 1: 21 ESV). But the verse before contains an incredible word. It is translated “worship” but the meaning goes far beyond what our modern day image of “worship” is. The author wasn’t describing a picture of Job raising his hands in response to worship music…
Living in 21st Century America, we don’t really have any context for worship in the Old Testament sense. We can watch the response of American leaders as they meet different dignitaries, but it doesn’t fit a grid through which we can process easily. We can watch movies depicting one person worshiping another, but even that is a far cry from the actual experience of what the word used in Job 1:20 means.
It is the word shachah and it shows up over 200 times in the Old Testament. While it is used to depict worship of both God and people, the common denominator in its use is the posture and attitude of those it is used to describe. They are on their faces before whomever is being worshiped. On their faces. That a position of vulnerability and either total surrender or complete trust.
Job took such a position before the Lord. A position of vulnerability, surrender, and trust.
Sometimes we think that trusting the Lord means we don’t experience the emotions surrounding whatever it is we’re trusting the Lord about or for. We think that somehow trusting the Lord should result in ease, and comfort. I do. I think that trusting the Lord should make my life feel good. But. It. Doesn’t.
Job, however, didn’t see worship and intense negative emotion as mutually exclusive. If you look at the beginning of verse 20, it says, “Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground…” (ESV). Tearing one’s robe and shaving one’s head were ancient expressions of intense grief. And yet, Job’s behavior is described as worship…
What does it look like to worship in the midst of anguish? What does it look like to worship in spite of miserable circumstances? It looks like Job, on his face, shaven head in the dust. It looks like tears, and anger, and disappointment. It may even include thoughts of doubt…though Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. It looks like emotion…even overwhelming emotion. It looks like heartache and joy and confusion and pain, without losing sight of Who God is, that He loves us, and that He promises never to leave us or forsake us. What an amazing gift…to know, at a time when we tend to feel most alone, that we are not alone. And to know, when so many say otherwise, that we don’t need to keep a stiff upper lip…we can drop to our knees in agony, crying out in overwhelming grief and still worship, not because life feels good, but because God is good. And nothing is better than that.