Alfred Place Baptist Church

3:1-26 Job’s Heart-breaking Lament

Job 3:1-26
This week I had a letter from a friend of mine named ‘Mack’. None of you know Mack so I can share with you what he wrote:

“Dear brother Geoff, a dear hello to you my brother and friend. I appreciate deeply receiving the emails, it is a real blessing. I’d ask your prayers in these days, I’m going through a real dark time. I can’t seem to shake depression and a great sense of failure and regrets about various things. The family is also going through some rough waters and we need real grace. I know the enemy really uses discouragement and we mustn’t give in to it. A fierce battle seems to be raging and I covet your prayers. God is able, able to save, able to keep, at times I feel that I fail to hope against hope, to believe in hope to see God’s glory and his deliverance. And I must keep preaching, even when I feel little of the truth in my own soul at least experimentally, it is hard going, pray for me please when ever you think of us.”

I’m sure that you can all empathise with Mack in his letter, and that every one of you at times feels like this, how useless we are, cumberers of the ground, utter failures, burdened with so much guilt. Then what do you say to such a person? Do we urge them “Cheer up! Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag and smile, smile, smile.”? Here is Job, and he has, through the sufferings he has experienced, known the most terrible sequence of losses any man has ever known. He is bearing an awesome burden, the hedge around his life has been torn down by a divine decree. God has permitted trouble after trouble to come crashing into his life. In this chapter, Job opens his heart and he tells us how he feels. His week’s silence ends with this outpouring of grief. It is not a statement of depression; it is utter lamentation; it is a cry of anguish from the heart. It is a personal song of lament, an animal squealing in pain. Can a true child of God say the things that you heard in the reading this morning from this third chapter of Job?

1. WHY JOB RESPONDS AS HE DOES.

The first thing that I want to ask is, why the change that makes Job respond in this way? Of course, we know that he has lost his possessions, and he has heard of the murders of his faithful servants; his children are all dead, his health is gone and his dear wife is remote and uncaring. Who wouldn’t scream with pain? But Job’s initial response had been extraordinary towards all those providences. He had said, ‘Naked I came into the world and naked I am going to leave it. The God I know gave me everything, and this same God has also taken them away. That is his right. May his great name be praised. Shall we accept good from God? Of course. Shall we not also accept trouble, evil from God?’ Job affirms his trust in God in these ways in chapters one and two. They are remarkable affirmations of his faith, and yet now, we are reading chapter three, and we meet more of the complex Christian psychology of a man of God. Here is a dark chapter of intense lamentation. Why is this? I think that there would be a number of reasons, all having some part to play, and I am not sure which one in particular could have triggered off this cry.

I] Maybe the words of his wife got through to him, ‘Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!’ Had she sowed those seeds in his mind – his own wife, his best friend, his companion for thirty years, the mother of his ten children – could she be right? After all, this illness seemed fatal. Was it unto death? There seemed no hope for him. He was a dying man, and is Job thinking, ‘Maybe I should curse God, and get it all over with as soon as possible’? But Job doesn’t curse God. He curses the day of his birth, because it had begun a life in which a man was given everything only to have it all snatched from him without explanation in a second. “What a cursed life was begun on the day of my birth,” he said, but he doesn’t curse God. So, maybe his wife’s provocation made him speak as he does.

II] Then, of course, there had been seven days of absolute silence, which period would have driven him in, and in, and in, and into himself, and relive those fearful providences. He has seen Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar arriving after their long journeys to see him. You would think that there would be some stammering words of affection, an attempt to sympathise with him and to comfort him, but in fact there is nothing at all, they haven’t opened their mouths, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday … they are all gone by in silence … Friday, Saturday, Sunday, a whole week has past. These men have expressed not a whimper of compassion.

What is this? This is a wake. They are treating him as if he had died. You don’t speak to a corpse: there is no point. These three men are carrying out all of the rituals of a Middle Eastern funeral. They have torn their clothes; they have picked up ashes, and scattered them over their heads. They have had seven days of mourning. We find Joseph mourning for his father Jacob for seven days. When the people of Jabesh Gilead discovered that their former deliverer, King Saul, had been killed in battle they mourned for seven days. So it is as if these men come, and Job is witnessing his own funeral service. He has been crushed like a hedgehog on the verge of the road, and now his friends are treating him like a corpse. Job is a man without a future; a man without hope; a man with nothing more to look forward to but his imminent demise.

There is certainly a place for silent sympathy isn’t there? The woman caught in adultery is dragged into the presence of the Saviour and he is asked should she be stoned to death as Moses’ Law required? The Lord Jesus just says, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Then he sympathises in silence; he writes on the ground some words – we don’t know what – and then, one by one the men who are her accusers, starting with the oldest ones because they had most to regret, go off. Jesus says nothing for a long time until only he and the woman are left. Then he dismisses her with the exhortation to cease sinning. There is a silence of sympathy. But there is also a silence of bankruptcy, when people simply don’t have wisdom to speak. And this is what happens here; we are told that there was this week-long silence, and after this Job opened his mouth. His friends didn’t open their mouths, and then it was Job who broke the oppressive silence, Job had something to say. It is as if a head of steam had built up for seven days, and then out comes this flood of despair.

III] Again, we have to say that there was an antagonism of Satan that made Job speak as he did. Satan is an invisible spirit, and we see him entirely by the effects that he produces in men and women. He throws his fiery darts at us and we wince with pain. So the actual references to Satan cease in the second chapter of this book, but Satan himself continues to act in Job and in Job’s friends. Satan is busy filling Job’s mind with these dark images. There is the fear that chaos rules Job’s life – the Leviathan is mentioned for the first time in the book in verse eight, but he is going to appear later on. The Leviathan is a symbol of primeval power and chaos. Remember that at creation the earth was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep and then God imposed upon that chaos order. God says, “Let there be light,” and God says, “Let there be a firmament … let there be great seas … let the sun rule the day and the moon the night,” and God then imposes on that disorder, order. God reigns over his creation. The Leviathan is a symbol of an outbreak from the dark depths of formless void that at times erupts – for no understandable reason – into the world and into our individual lives so cruelly. Cambodia and its ‘killing fields’. The gunman who opens fire in a school. September 11. The family car that plunges into the swollen river. The pounding noise of the ‘Rave’ and the free distribution of ‘Ecstasy’ tablets. The crack in the congregation that becomes a chasm. Robert Fyall talks about Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and the witches that gather in the darkness with their bubbling pots, preternatural powers and a forecast of chaos and death to come. Job says in chapter seven of his book that he is being tormented by nightmares, and those also can be the fiery darts of the wicked one. Paul speaks to us Gentile Christians and he describes us as battling against principalities, powers, and the ruler of the darkness of this world, who is still intent upon destroying us. So Satan, although he is not mentioned after chapter two of the book of Job, his presence and power are obviously manifested in the folly of some of the counsels that Job receives, and in his own inner turmoil.

IV] Again, God is totally silent to Job. Whatever Scriptures were available at the time of this patriarch no encouragement, illumination or understanding is given to Job as to why these trials have come into his life. You and I know the reason because we are privy to God’s counsels. We have read the first couple of chapters, but Job, for maybe sixty years of his life, has walked closely with God. He has maintained a blameless and upright life; he has feared God and hated sin. Job could claim with a pure conscience ‘for me to live is the Lord’. Then, out of the blue, inexplicable, horrendous providential disasters arise and destroy his life, with no explanation at all as to why they have destroyed his life.

So Job questions all of redeeming grace. Why does God tell men to make sacrifices for their sin and for the sin of their children, and pray to God for forgiveness? Why does he exhort sinners to trust him and love him? Why does God bother to give such illumination to our minds if at the same time, he ambushes us with troubles of such a dimension as these and we are left bereft, comfortless and half-dead? He does this to those who love him, then what is the point of obeying God? So Job asks in verse 20, “Why is light given to those in misery?” Why has God illuminated my mind about atonement and grace” Why does God give light to some favoured men? Then he says in verse 23, ‘Why is life given?’ Job is not talking about biological life; he is referring to the life of God, which makes physical life abundant, many-textured and blessed. You see what he says in verses 24 to 26, “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.” Is this the life of God that has been given to me? So I would think that these four factors compound the terrible calamities that Job has. The provocation of his wife, the funereal silence of his friends, the fiery darts of Satan, and the silence of God refusing to give any explanation as to why these things have happened to him. Together they bring Job very low.

2. WHAT DID JOB SAY?

The most obvious literary feature of the book of Job from this point onwards is that the speakers turns to poetry. That can be easily spotted in all the modern translations of the Bible, how it is obvious prose in the first two chapters, and then you have every verse as a sort of couplet whose lines don’t quite fit into the double columns of our Bibles. Then, when you reach the last ten verses of the book, you again meet peaceful prose. That the Spirit inspires his word in the Old Testament in a poetic form is not unique to Job. The writing prophets generally prophesied in poetry, while the history books are written in prose. The significance of poetry is that there is a deliberate choice of words and phrases, constructed in a certain way to give vividness and memorableness to what is being said. It is a brilliantly effective literary form for God to reveal to us divine and eternal issues.

I] The first thing that Job does is to curse the day of his birth (in verses 1 to 10). That day should be characterised by wonderful joy. On that occasion a shout should go out from a house that a boy or a girl has been born and that all is well. But not now for Job, as he contemplates his own day of birth. That day was the trigger for a life-long sequence of events whose aim was comprehensive disaster and unimaginable grief.

What is so strange for us to understand is that the man who is cursing the day of his birth is not cursing the God who formed him in his mother’s womb, brought him out, and gave him his first breath. Didn’t the Lord Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount say ‘He who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and swears by him who sits on the throne’? To curse the day of your birth seems very close to cursing the God who gave you life on that day. The difference is a subtle one, but consider it in this way, that we have no power to effect a curse on anyone do we? Say I wanted to pronounce a curse on Bin Laden, then that would be a fruitless exercise on my part. Just vocables. Mere sounds. I have no way to summon a curse from God on any man. Mark Pickett wrote to me from Nepal saying that his neighbour who is a Christian was going through M.E. symptoms of the most enervating weakness, and that his business was not prospering. He believed that an enemy had put a curse on him, and that thought was troubling him deeply. Mark wrote to me and asked what he could say, and how he could advise this man? What would you say to Mark? “The One that is in us is far greater than all of the Devil’s initiatives put together. All of the powers of the world, if they were all joined together, and if they all assaulted us at once, the Lord Sabaoth’s Son is the mightier one and he will win the battle. He will protect us and keep us, and that man, if he is a Christian is being kept by the power of God. He ought to be assured that the Lord puts walls of salvation around him.” Men pronouncing curses upon us is for the Christian like water off a duck’s back. He may smile at all his foes! Witch doctors pronounced curses on the early missionaries because the preachers who went there with the Gospel had a new clean power, and they could see the powers that they had were slipping away. No missionary was taken sick because of a witch doctor’s curse. This power of Jesus, now active in a land once under the dominion of the prince of darkness, protected them and it made men holy and good. The power of the curse is non-existent as far as the Christian is concerned.

Job could do nothing about his birth. You cannot turn the ratchet of time and arrive back there, maybe sixty years earlier. What has been done has been done, and time moves on. Job can long that he might never celebrate another birthday; he might wish that darkness, storm, thunder and even an eclipse of the sun had darkened that day of his birth. These words of his (vv. 3-6) are hyperbole; it is poetry. The conception and embryonic development occurred. The inevitable birth followed, and Job has lived this long life.

Job might have looked at the superstitious people amongst whom he lives, so few with any understanding of the righteousness of God and forgiveness of sins. They believed in curses, and even paid wizards to pronounce curses on others. Your worst enemy for example has a baby, and so you go to a sooth-sayer and you pay them a six-pence to curse the child. You then think smugly, ‘a curse has been made upon that child.’ So you think! The only certainty is that you are a six-pence poorer. What, then, is Job saying? “May those fools who believe in curses and think they have power when they pronounce a curse pronounce one on that day sixty years back! Let those who think they have the power to rouse the monster of chaos, Leviathan, to spread his confusion (as if that were possible!) curse that long-ago day – which is locked into the irretrievable past – when I took my first breath. I give permission for all of the most powerful magicians in the world together to curse the day of my birth, even summoning that great monster of fantasy world to trample all over that day.”

That would be the poetic hyperbole of lamentation; it flows from the frustration that Job is feeling. Job doesn’t believe that anything can be done about the day of his birth, but he is saying, ‘from what has happened to me it might just as well have been that a great curse fell upon me when I was born and my life – see it today! – is a result of the curse on my birth.’

II] And then, secondly, Job wishes that he had been a still-born child (in verses 11-19). The pain that he is going through is so intense that he wouldn’t wish it on his own enemy. ‘Better’, he says, ‘for a person suffering as I am to have died at birth.’ So in verse 11 he says, ‘Why did I not perish at birth, or die as I came from the womb? Why were there knees to receive me and breasts that I might be nursed?’ Again in verse 16, ‘Why was I not hidden in the ground like a stillborn child, like an infant who never saw the light of day.’ He thinks of the deliverance from a life of suffering that a stillborn child knows. Every parent here that has had a stillborn child will console themselves with the thought that she might have had a life of anguish and pain, and God has spared her that by ending her life when she was born. She has gone to a much sweeter and blessed place:

“Around the throne above,
Thousands of children stand,
Children whose sins are all forgiven,
A holy happy band.”

Job is setting out on a pilgrimage of understanding, both of himself and of God. That journey was perhaps two thousand years before the coming of Jesus Christ, before the Saviour who rose from the dead taught about heaven. He made the after life so much plainer and more warmly defined than Job, living in the darkness before his coming, could ever have understood it. Nevertheless Job was made in the image of God, and lived after the life of Enoch whom Job knew had walked with God and was not because God took him. Job has this hope that after death, “there the wicked cease from turmoil, there the weary are at rest, captives also enjoy their ease they no longer hear the slave driver shout, the small and the great are there and the slave is freed from his master” (vv. 17-19).

We can flood all of that with the hope of heaven and think, “Yes, that’s what lies before us who believe, and before every elect infant who dies in Christ. They go to that blessed place,” and we look forward to seeing them again one day in all of their divinely created glories and beauties.

III] Then you see also in this lamentation, that Job expresses all of his inner anguish. He concludes in the last verse, “I have no peace, no quietness, no rest, but only turmoil” (v.26). I would guess that that phrase has been such a comfort to Christians passing through suffering and depression who have felt exactly like that but were afraid to say it. To find these words inspired by the Holy Spirit, and recorded here in scripture – ‘I have no peace, no quietness, no rest’ – shows how God tolerates such a sense of despair. Spiritual turmoil is no mark that we are not Christians. It is no good evidence that we have never been born again if periods of winter darkness enter our lives. Dispeace, disquiet and turmoil are not the defining traits of an unregenerate heart. Many a distressed soul has seen his own image in Job’s lament. Job was inspired to express his anguish so comprehensively that God’s choice afflicted people might know that other Christians have passed through conflicts and desolations as deep, if not deeper than their own.

Some of God’s people may sometimes fear that their sins have gone beyond God’s forgiveness, but there are untold thousands singing before the throne in glory who have been through these same fears and tribulations. Job even here acknowledged that it was God who had hedged him in (v.23). This new estrangement from God and the silence of the Lord was a bitter grief to Job, but there is a holy boldness in this chapter. How Job pours out to God his frustrations. The first rays of that Sun which shall go down no more will soon change the shadow of death where Job’s tent was pitched into morning light.

So then these are the things that Job says in this psalm of lament; firstly, he curses the day of his birth, and then he wishes he had been still born and buried as a little child, and then he expresses his raging turmoil.

3. GOD REFUSES TO TELL JOB WHY THIS IS HAPPENING TO HIM.

Is finding God’s will for everything such a biblical idea? Far too many Christians rely on hunches and strength of feelings to divine the will of God. Their thinking goes like this: God has a plan and, therefore, He intends that I find it. That is a non-sequitur, a conclusion that cannot logically follow the premise. Simply because God has a plan does not mean that he necessarily has any intention of sharing it with you; the message of Job is in part that the Lord in his sovereignty may allow terrible things to happen to you, and you may never know why. The events of the first two chapters were never disclosed to Job. What we do know is this:

i] Such times come into the lives of Christians.

This lamentation isn’t unique in the Bible. There is a pattern of very mature believers who have loved God and served devotedly going through similar experiences. Consider the prophet Jeremiah for example. Jeremiah preached year after year in the face of great hostility and to the unbelief of the people of God. There was an occasion when men beat him savagely and put him in stocks for twenty-four hours. This is what broken-hearted Jeremiah said, “Cursed be the day I was born. May the day my mother bore me not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought my father the news, who made him very glad, saying ‘A child is born to you – a son!’ May that man be like the towns the Lord overthrew without pity. May he hear wailing in the morning, a battle cry at noon, For he did not kill me in the womb with my mother as my grave, her womb enlarged forever. Why did I ever come out of the womb, to see trouble and sorrow and end my days in shame?” (Jer. 20:14-18).

So when Job says these things here, he is not a lone voice in the entire Bible. There was that godly prophet Jeremiah, and he experienced it too. You have the same thing in Psalm eighty-eight, it is a Psalm of lamentation and it is unrivalled in the bleakness of its vision. You think of Paul in the New Testament writing to the Corinthians and saying that he was troubled on every side, fightings without and fears within, so much so that Paul despaired even of life. He was immeasurably pressed down, he says. Greatly blessed and useful men go through times like this. Or you think of the Lord Jesus himself when he comes to Mary and Martha’s home. He knows that he will soon raise Lazarus from the dead. He is aware that this imminent miracle will be to the glory of God, but when he arrives and Martha takes him to the grave side Jesus weeps with them there. There’s not a hint of saying, “well now, let’s turn this into a celebration of the life of Lazarus!” There is no cajoling of Mary and Martha and their friends for not smiling. There is no suggestion of that mentality that must sing a chorus or two. There is a time for weeping, and a time for lamentation acknowledged by Christ.

You remember the Lord Jesus himself when he begins to enter the shadow of his own death in Gethsemane we are told that he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. He throws himself onto the ground, and he says, ‘my soul is overwhelmed within me.’ It is almost killing me, he is saying. Even the blameless Son of God went through an experience like Job passed through. Bunyan portrays it well in Pilgrims Progress. Christian and Faithful wander, and they come to Enchanted Ground, where they fall asleep. There they are caught red handed by Giant Despair who throws them into Doubting Castle, and they are locked in a dungeon. Systematically, he abuses them. Every day he beats them within an inch of their lives. Then he leaves around instruments of self-harm encouraging them to kill themselves and Christian and Faithful talk about suicide. Now that is a sober Puritan view of the possibility of what despair can do in the life of true believers. Of course, they are delivered, and they are delivered when Christian remembers he has the key that can open the door. The key is ‘Promise,’ that is, the promises of God. They keep mere believers from endless despair. That key is God assuring us, “You will not suffer above that you are able to bear; God will with the trial make a way of escape, you will be able to endure this. I will never leave you, nor forsake you. God is able to keep what I have committed unto him against that great day.” God is always protecting his people. The promise opens the doors and the Christians are delivered from the fortress of Giant Despair.

Times of darkness with little light come into our lives. There is a sonnet of Gerard Manley Hopkins and he portrays those times like mountaineers clinging to the sheer face of a rock – like that Scottish pillar, the Old Man of Hoy, a frightening cliff face. Or you can compare it to a climber clinging to the sheer wall of the Matterhorn. Hopkins sighs,

“O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no man-fathomed, Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there.”

There are mountainous cliffs on the pilgrimage to Mount Zion above, and at those times you may be hanging on by your fingertips. If you have not experienced that (and Job’s friends had never experienced what Job went through), then you will find it hard to enter into Job’s utter lamentation. The hymnist Joseph Hart expresses his lamentation thus:

Lord, hear a restless wretch’s groans; Or if I never more must rise,
To Thee my soul in secret moans; But death’s cold hand must close my eyes,
My body’s weak, my heart’s unclean; Pardon my sins, and take me home
I pine with sickness, and with sin. O come. Lord Jesus, quickly come.

ii] Job had been made aware that fearful providences might happen to him.

He had already given his mind to the thought of the possibilities of what was happening, verse twenty five, ‘What I feared has come upon me, what I dreaded, has happened to me.’ In other words, Job often thought about his ten children, and about how much he loved them and what would happen if one of them would die. He thought about his wife and how much he depended upon her, and he thought to himself, “how could I ever cope if she turned against me? I couldn’t survive.” Job would wake up in the night and he would think of all the things that were precious and important to him. How awful it would be if he lost them, and then he would say to himself, “Now don’t be silly; go back to sleep. Because you have thought this, it can’t happen to you.”

Then it happened. What he had asked God might never happen, happened. What he feared and dreaded, actually came crashing into his life, plus ill health, plus the loss of all his herds. He had heard of other Old Testament believers passing through great trials and he had thought, “what if something like that happened to me, how would I be? Could I cope if these things happened?” Every Christian thinks like that. There is not a single one of us who has not thought of the things we most dread happening to us. How would we cope? How would our faith survive? I watched my daughter Eleri put her five little boys into the car and wave good bye to us and then drive off to London, crossing the Plunlumon mountains and then driving 120 miles of motorway along the M6, then the M1 taking her five little boys back to London. I pray for her, and I am so glad when the phone rings five or six hours later to say that they have arrived safely.

I preach on Job chapter one and two and I say to you, “Satan, has got limited power. The devil can’t touch a hair on our heads. He is a manacled cur, and those divinely imposed chains stop him from destroying us. God is in control of us and this God keeps us. He kept Job, and he will keep us. He will enable us to say, “though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” When I say that to you, I wonder what is going to happen to me. How will God test me? Will God try me? Will God let Satan lay his hand on things that are precious to me? Every preacher when he speaks on themes like this comes with trembling fear and asks God for his grace. Christians think about the precious things they would grieve losing to the end of their days. Job had thought of that possibility, but in his own life it was realised.

iii] Job’s personality is strong enough to bear such grief.

God measures his trials to the strength of the people who receive them. You have to think of Job’s own personality. Job wasn’t a half-hearted man; Job was the greatest man in the world of his time. He was a thinker, a judge, a businessman, and a philanthropist. He had deeply thoughtful friends, and they talked together about great issues, but Job excelled them all. There was not a man in the world like him. He gave himself totally to his family, he gave himself to his business, he gave himself to his friends, he gave himself to God. Job was a wise man. It is a fool who never thinks. When you become a Christian, you start to use your mind. When you start coming into the orbit of Christian people and they are talking about the reality of God, his plans, his purposes and his salvation, then, you begin reading the Bible don’t you? You think, what does all this mean? What does Paul mean here? Your mind is exercised about the purpose of life, knowing God and your relationship to him. You think about this extraordinary person, the God-Man Jesus Christ. You start reading his discourses, his parables, the Sermon on the Mount and Christ’s miracles. He is determined to die. How odd. You ask why. Why did he have to die? This was the blameless, holy, all-powerful one. Why did he become the Lamb of God? You think of his resurrection, the consequences of someone actually coming back from the grave for you and me as we face the grave. Then, what does all this mean to me in the troubles of my life, and what comfort does it give me as I face the grave? Grace makes us ask questions; Why am I here? What’s this life all about? What is man’s chief end? What must I do to be saved? You ask questions, and when you hear of horrors come into the life of such a colossus, an almost supernaturally glorious man, like Job was, but with feet of clay, then you find his responses fascinating.

Job has loved and served God with his whole heart. He has been so committed to the life of righteousness, but what questions he asks when his life is in the crucible. Why didn’t you let me die at birth? (v. 11) Why didn’t you dry up my mother’s breasts that I would starve? (v. 12) Why do you keep wretched people like me alive? (vv. 20-22) How do you expect me to have hope and patience? (ch. 6.v.12) If life is short does it have to be miserable too? (ch.7 vv.1-10) Why don’t you stop hurting me for a little while? (ch.7) What did I ever do to you that I became the target for your arrows? (ch.7) Why don’t you forgive me before I die and it is too late? (ch.7) How can a mortal man be righteous before a holy God? (ch.9) Why do you favour the wicked? (ch.9) Since you have already decided that I am guilty, why should I even try? (ch.9) You are the one who created me so why are you destroying me? (ch.10) Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy? (ch.13) Why don’t you let me meet you somewhere face to face so that I could state my case to you? (ch.23) Why do you not set a time to judge wicked men? (ch. 24) Why, why, why? Why this? Why that? This great man Job, exercising his mind when horrors come uninvited to his life. All these fearful things happen to him, and is he going to be blasê? This great and godly thinker?

Conclusion

Now let me conclude, God never judges Job for his questions, nor does he judge him for this extraordinary lament for cursing the day of his birth, for longing that he had died at birth. He spoke these things publicly before his friends, and before his God. He said, ‘Concerning what I’ve past through I have no peace, no quietness, no rest, only turmoil.’ He told God that’s how he felt, and God accepted his self diagnosis and tolerated his condition. I’m saying, let’s make this a part of our Christian universe, that we can face the possibility that one day we’ll be feeling the waters coming up to our knees and to our loins and to our chest and to our neck, and we feel we’re going down and down. Then we cry to God, why, and we cry to him for deliverance. God’s answer is immediate, though we may not appropriate it immediately, “your faith won’t fail; you won’t drown,” God says.

You know the great lament of Psalm 42, ‘Why art thou cast down o my soul, why art thou disquieted within me, hope thou in God,’ See how rational he is about his condition. There is a reason for my distress, he says. Job could say, There is a reason for mine too. I have lost everything, and my friends are broken reeds that can’t bear my weight. My wife has turned against me and I’m in such pain. That is why I am cast down, but most of all because God has given me no explanation as to why he has done this. But by faith the author of Psalms 42 and 43 makes a vow; he says three times, “I shall yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.’ I will yet praise him.

By the final chapters of the book, forty-one and forty-two, Job does worship him. Job’s end is better than his beginning, as he, like all God’s people, are delivered. It is ‘promise’ that gets us out of despair. So let us do what the Psalmist does, be patient, and hope in God. Wait upon the Lord, and that is what we have to do. You have to say to yourself the words of David, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (I Sam. 17:37). You write to someone like Mack, and you sympathise with him for his time of despair, but he knows that sorrow is but for a night and that joy comes in the morning. You must address yourself firmly, why are you cast down? You are a child of God, loved by God, with so many other blessings, why are you cast down, is it right for you to be cast down? Hope in God!

28th October 2001 GEOFF THOMAS