“A person can know the meaning of life but still has to find a way to make it through Wednesday afternoon.” Walker Percy
Blindsided. In American football, the word means the quarterback who is about to throw the ball to one side of the field is hit from his blind side. He never sees it coming. Often the team loses the ball and the quarterback loses his health. Being blindsided accurately describes unexpected grief in life. The awfulness of having one’s job taken without notice or reason, suffering the death of a loved one, or being given the diagnosis of cancer are only a few of the many ways humans are blindsided. Moments like these are times when we question the rules and The Referee of life.
Job wishes for an official to rule on the hit he took but finds “There is no arbiter between us” (Job 9.33). Wealth taken, family killed, Job did nothing to deserve what he received. The first verse declares Job “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” In fact, Job 1 and 2 explain that the ‘why’ question could only be answered in Heaven. Job would call out only to hear the echo of his own voice. Job’s cry in chapter 3 of the book named for him is the cry of every human: what did I do to deserve this?
Undeserved suffering is the first reason to reject belief in God. But if, as many First Testament scholars think, Job is the oldest book in The Bible, it would seem God addresses the problem early. Of course, the fact that God deals with the issue up front is no solace to our bereavement. Here is the onset of our grief. We can know our theology. We can state our theology. But we still feel, hurt, suffer, groan, wail, moan, howl, and scream our sorrow. Do we agree with Job 1.21 and 2.10—God gives and He takes away? Sure. We can define, describe, and detail our doctrine of sovereignty. Nevertheless, if Job 1 and 2 explains Job has the right view of God, Job 3 reveals his humanity.
In the First Testament, lament is a poetic devise, a structure for expressing humanity’s crisis, travail, anguish, or despair. Ancient and modern people groups have their own laments—grief and outrage at humanly unjust circumstances. Job’s first verbal response to his situation is common to everyone, everywhere. Normally, laments included not just a complaint to God, but an affirmation of trust, knowing God would answer. Job 3 is a lament but it does not include any positive anticipation of God’s response or hope of deliverance. Job 3 is one of the most dark, negative sections of Scripture.
One is reminded of The Silent Scream by Edvard Munch just before the turn of the 20th century. His painting of a sexless, twisted, fetal-faced creature, with mouth and eyes open wide in a shriek of horror, re-created a vision that had seized him as he walked one evening in his youth with two friends at sunset. As he later described it, “The air turned to blood and the faces of my comrades became a garish yellow-white.” He heard vibrating in his ears “a huge endless scream course through nature.” Edvard was torn. His dad had just died. He lacked his father’s faith in God. Reflecting later on his bohemian friends and their embrace of free love, he wrote: “God and everything was overthrown; everyone raging in a wild, deranged dance of life. . . . But I could not set myself free from my fear of life and thoughts of eternal life.” (1) More recently the music group Stone Sour sang these lyrics from “Through Glass”:
How do you feel, that is the question
But I forget you don’t expect an easy answer
When something like a soul becomes initialized
And folded up like paper dolls and little notes
You can’t expect a bit of hope
So while you’re outside looking in describing what you see
Remember what you’re staring at is me
If Christians are to have an answer for Munch or Stone Sour, theology must be anything but dry, dusty, and boring. Theology is lived every moment of every day, whether we think so or not, whether we like it or not. Living theology—incarnational theology, if you will—is no spectator sport. We humans are not in the stands rooting on the home team. No, we are in the trenches, sweat-drenched, foul-odored, trying to get traction on the turf of life so we can run the next play. The intersection of theology and practice—praxis—is where we live. Job inscribes some basic principles of lament and its consequences on the pages of our minds.
Believers seem to suffer more undeserved injustice than unbelievers in this life. Satan did not attack one who rebelled against God. He chose a person who worshiped God. A study of our adversary would find that he has been trying to snuff out the Messianic line since Genesis 3. Nothing has changed over multiple millennia.
Job’s suffering had probably gone on for some months. The magnitude, the crushing pressure may well have caused Job to reach what H.G. Wells called the “end of his tether”. Now in the presence of his friends he expresses his yawning howl. Pain and misery asks not just the question of ‘Why?’ but ‘How long?’
Lament is honest to who we are as humans. Lament acknowledges and allows our weakness, our deficiency, our common experience. To be a Christian does not mean we stop being human. Being a Christian should accentuate our humanity. We are committed to a righteous response to injustice and undeserved tribulation. And even more to the point, we are committed to the raw, rasping recoiled reaction to wrong when it happens to us.
There is no human answer to the mysteries of suffering. “Theodicy” is an attempt to justify the ways of God to men. But in Job we have “anti-theodicy”—unjustifiable suffering takes place in the world: period. At the beginning of the 21st century Christians should be wary of The Western tendency to be scientifically conceited, solution oriented, control obsessed, and mystery challenged. Unless we acknowledge that the answer to “Why?” is often “I don’t know” we will not practice the proper human response to God’s sovereignty.
Job was blindsided. There are times when each of us stands in line next to him. We share the lament Job utters. Job’s disillusionment is our own. The Holy Spirit has given us a device, a form in Scripture which gives our pain a voice. We know how Job ends which is not true for each of us who suffer: an earthly reversal by Providential good fortune. But while we may be blindsided in this life, the other side exists in The Next Life (Job 14:7-14; 19:23-27).
Mark believes that Christians should sing laments in Sunday worship; 70% of the Psalms are lament. The basis for this 4 part series was taken from a sermon preached in January, 2008. Mark is President of The Comenius Institute, serving the university community in Indianapolis. This entry was also published at http://christianpsych.org/wp_scp/2012/03/04/blindsided-the-lament-of-job-ch-3-part-1/
(1) Arthur Lubow, “Edvard Munch: Beyond the Scream,” Smithsonian Magazine, March, 2006.