I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real. “Hurt,” Johnny Cash
Bono of U2 fame has said,
Evangelical Christian music is too happy. It does not reflect the realities of life. That’s why I like ‘the blues.’ That’s why I like the Psalms. The Psalms are ‘the blues’ of the Old Testament.
Bono and Cash have it right. We understand Job 3 is about us—we all suffer, hurt. Everyone wishes they could just turn back time, declare a mulligan, or cry for a child’s game “do over.” Pregnant metaphors, pulsating with profound passion and pain, wed our grief with Job 3: it is personal, vivid, honest, and bold. We may not comprehend each other’s specific grief. What we can say is we have all experienced some of what Job is saying in chapter three. This week and next Job 3 will speak for itself. Interpretation will lead to application leading to lamentation.
Job’s lament begins as a curse from the womb, an anti-birthday-birthday. “May, may, may” mark verses 1-10, the wish, the longing for something, anything other than what he must endure. When Job “curses” the Hebrew word marks a formula; Job curses or removes the blessing from his birth. Celebration is now rejection. It might be as if one lover says to the other, “I wish I’d never met you!” Once the day was cause for joy; the next, cause for a curse. Job goes so far as to call out the sorcerers, the spiritists to curse the day, to reverse the spell. If it’s possible, do it. Because such an incantation is impossible it shows the acuteness of Job’s agony, his misery (v 8).
Job is spewing out his cries of rage through this Hebrew poetry. Hebrew parallelism runs through the whole chapter. Job’s cries come in two forms: synthetic parallelism—saying the same thing in a similar way—amplifies Job’s grief (v 11) and synonymous parallelism—stacking one negative concept on top of another—adds insult to injury (v 5). In sports we say “Let’s take it to the next level!” In literature, “The author is building toward a climax.” Musicians refer to this intensity in their scores as a crescendo, from piano (meaning “softly”) to fortissimo (meaning “very loud”). In mathematical terms we express exponential growth in terms of “rising powers”: ten to the second power, ten to the third power, ten to the fourth power, etc. “Compound interest,” is money accrued or growing in a bank account. All the parallels in the poetic lament give this sense of intensification.
Job’s “birthday” was his “death-day,” an awful day, an awful event, one he wished had never happened. “May” or “let” is repeated in English word or understanding multiple times in verses 3 through 10. Job is recalling something in his past, thinking about it in the future, we would call this a “retrospective”—contemplating or surveying the past. For Job, this retrospective is anything but a smiling muse of past events. The retrospective for Job means “When you think about my beginning, my birth, the night I was conceived, curse it; reverse the celebration of it!” Job wants to cancel not only his birth but the triumph of the man who knows he has produced offspring (v. 3).
Job wishes he had never been born. “Curse the day!” The only way to do this is to wipe his birthday off the calendar. As long as his day of birth is repeated or recreated every year his existence continues until death. He wants it removed, gone. Not only is Job “anti-birthday” he is “anti-Creation.” Job wants “that day—let it be darkness” (v. 4). This is the direct opposite of God’s first words in creation “Let there be light” (Gen 1.3). God began with light and ended resting. Job begins by calling for darkness and ends in verse 13 by saying, “If darkness had blotted out his birthday—if he had never existed—he would be at rest.” The words he uses in verses 4-6 confirm his pain: darkness, deep dark (a darkness so thick you can’t see your hand in front of your face), cloud mass (a covering so dense it blocks out the sun), blackness (a fog so intense that it hides the sun). He wants rest so badly that he uses four separate Hebrew words: he wants to lie down, be quiet, sleep, and rest. To the person in pain, birth equals trouble (v. 10): the agony or misery of extreme hardship is cruel and fatiguing.
Job is in the deep throes of outrageous pain, wailing and moaning. If we saw someone like this we would probably say, “They’re beside themselves! I’ve never seen them like this before!” This is Job’s state as he curses or removes the celebration of his birth. It does not mean that Job has lost control. Job is expressing the deepest, rawest of emotions a person can express. There is no shame or sin here, only humanness. If we read the Lamentations of Jeremiah the weeping prophet or Jesus’ own wrenching turmoil in Gethsemane prior to His crucifixion we would see the same imprint of humanity. In fact, James 5:11 lauds Job for endurance, the meaning of the word “patience.”
We need be careful of our response to believing people when they gush honest, profound, anguished cries, when hurt is too great to bear. Angry honesty from a Christian sometimes shocks us. I think this is because we live in a culture of “niceness”—critical or caustic responses are met with repudiation. Given the responses of Job’s three friends throughout the book, we sometimes misapply our theology either with trite, bumper sticker slogans that hurt more than help or we condemn the person who is in pain for expressing their pain. The best response to anyone in pain is to do as Paul commanded: “weep with those who weep.” Our futile attempts to interpret or explain another’s suffering is to fall into the trap of Job’s three friends. To listen, to be attentive is exactly the right response.
In the Coen brother’s film O Brother, Where Art Thou? one song provides the underlying refrain: “I’m a Man of Constant Sorrow.” This is Job’s song, the lament of Job 3:1-10. Johnny Cash knew it. Bono knows it. And if we’re honest, we know it too. Caring for others means we must engage the deepest, darkest depths of despair.
When Mark listens to “Hurt” on YouTube, tears well up in his eyes. Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute.