Mouthing the clichés of faith: “The LORD has given, the LORD has taken—blessed be the LORD forever and ever!” (Job 1:21)

One cannot help but suspect the anger and pain stewing inside Job when he piously proclaims, “The LORD has given, the LORD has taken—blessed be the LORD forever and ever!” We wonder, could it be that Job said those words out of fear that if Job didn’t—God would strike him with even more pain? Still and all, Job suppresses his pain, and continues to offer the platitudes and clichés that one would expect a pious man like Job to say. However, inside Job was imploding with silent rage. Job’s glib response reflects the colloquial way people speak of God and faith is often superficial. Shortly afterward, Job lost all his children, all his livestock, and he was stricken with ulcers.

His initial silence was perceived by his friends as a humble submission. The book of Job may have been written around the time of another popular work, the Wisdom of Ben Sirach, which offers practical advice to those who grieve.

Do not give your heart to grief;

drive it away, and remember your own end.

Do not forget, there is no coming back;

do the dead no good, and you injure yourself.

Remember his fate, for yours is like it;

Yesterday it was his, and today it is yours.

When the dead is at rest, let his remembrance rest too,

and be comforted for him when his spirit has departed.

Ben Sira 38: 17-20

The ancient Jewish philosopher Sirach (a.k.a. as “Ben Sira,” ca. 200 BCE) expresses the perennial wisdom of his day. For those who grieve over the death of loved ones, it is prudent to avoid dealing with their feelings of anger, abandonment, and pain. While there is a place for grief in the initial mourning period, even grief itself becomes inappropriate and is considered impolite when one talks excessively about it to others. How much more was it inappropriate to question God on these matters! The friends of Job expected him to behave as was expected of a man of his stature. Job’s community supposed that he would swallow his grief in stoic silence.

However, the writers of Job wished to turn the more conventional wisdom of Ben Sira on top of its head! It is when Job struggles to ask, “Why?” Soon after he raises his unthinkable complaint to God, his friends, one after the other, begin chastising him. On some level, each friend of Job feels threatened by the tonality of Job’s religious “apostasy.” As Job continues to articulate his pain, he discovers that the conventional wisdom he once believed in no longer satisfied his mind, heart, and soul.  Perhaps the friends’ were not so secure with their own faith for they too, could end up like Job.

When a person experiences loss, the sufferer must find a way to express and identify his suffering. If the sufferer cannot talk about his affliction, he will be destroyed by it, or else he will be consumed by apathy. To become speechless is to be totally without relationship; death is a state of silence (cf. Psa. 115:17). The deeper the relationship we share with parents, friends, pets—the deeper the pain is felt when we experiences loss. Job’s losses left him in immense pain. He had to experience a catharsis, for his stress was consuming him. Alone and silent, Job begins to verbalize his pain. From this moment on, Job’s life changes and is never the same again. A new Job is born. For centuries people have been told that suffering should be carried alone in isolation.

More to come…

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