October 10, 2021
Last week we started to look at the book of Job, to explore why the Spirit put it in the Bible and what we’re called to learn about God from it. It started with the impossibly righteous Job having everything taken away from him, throwing him into deep suffering that called into question the worldview that God rewards the righteous and punishes the sinful. Shortly after that, three of Job’s friends showed up, and after sitting in the grief and ashes with him, the four of them got into a long, long, long conversation.
For 20 chapters Job has been in a circular argument with the other three. It’s long, and repetitive, and it keeps coming back to the same point: Job’s friends insist he must have sinned to be punished this way, and Job insisting that he is innocent and doesn’t understand why it’s happening. According to at least one commentary, the argument of Job’s friends is supposed to feel pedantic and tedious (and if you’ve read it, it is), the way anyone’s useless comments about the cause or purpose of our own suffering might feel. But also, they’re all stuck in that worldview, all four of them, that God must reward the righteous and punish the sinful. They can’t see another way of the universe operating.
For twenty chapters Job has been trying to convince his three friends of his innocence, trying to get them to help him figure out why, if he hasn’t done anything wrong, why would God punish him like this? He’s been trying to pull them into his actual, lived experience and out of their land of theories and hypotheticals. And he’s had enough. They won’t listen to him, and they won’t change course. It’s really a perfect reflection of how it’s a lot easier for us to stick to our guns when we’re not affected by the thing we’re arguing about. It’s a lot easier to talk about the contours of legal immigration when we’re not the ones fleeing from violent drug cartels. It’s a lot easier to talk about healthcare access when we’re not the ones choosing between medicine and food. It’s a lot easier to talk about anything controversial when it doesn’t affect us personally. When it’s just theory, and you have no skin in the game, it’s a lot easier not to wrestle with how reality challenges things. It’s a biblical reminder for us to listen to the lived experience of the suffering of our neighbors, especially when it’s not our own lived experience.
With his friends still insisting on arguing from their ivory towers, Job takes his argument to God. If anyone in the universe would be able to understand his confusion, his anger, his sorrow, it would be God. The reading today is that turning point. Job is done arguing with his friends. He’s done with theories and hypotheticals—his life has been destroyed for no reason and he needs to know why. He wants his day in court with God. He knows that if he could just get his argument before the Almighty, then God would agree with him and explain exactly why this injustice was happening to him. He had all his points lined up, all his zingers ready to go. There was no way that God would be able to deny him justice—if only he could speak directly to God. God was not playing by the rules, and Job needed that corrected.
When we’re in the middle of grieving, telling God what to do is entirely normal. I remember, when my grandma died, the kind of anger and disappointment I had with God. We had a deal, after all: I was going to finish my finals at seminary, drive the two hours home to Hickory, say goodbye, and then God could welcome her home. But God had to wait for me. And God didn’t. Now, God was not bound by my rules, any more than God was bound by the rules Job imagined ran the universe, any more than God is bound by the rules we construct either. But Job gives us something so important in his plea to be heard by God: this is what grief looks like, and that is okay.
And what’s more, the anger and frustration that Job directed at God was an act of faithfulness.
Yes, that’s right. Anger at God is an act of faith.
That will sit odd with us, because I think most of us were raised to believe submission to God’s will was the most important part of faith. We were taught not to complain, because only people that didn’t trust God would complain. But complaint, what in the church we’d call lament, is really an act of deep faith and trust. It’s an act of faith because by complaining, Job was not giving up on God. He knew there was something about God that would make this right, that God had made an implicit promise to him that God would take care of him, and Job’s lament was his act of holding God accountable to God’s own promises.
But Job’s lament was also coming from a place of believing that things could be different. When we lament, it’s because we have faith enough to believe this is not all there can be. We lament the brokenness of the world not because we don’t trust God to fix it, but because we do trust God to fix it. Lament is the Psalmist’s cry “How long, O Lord?” that implies there will be a time when things will be made right. Lament stands in opposition to despair, because lament doesn’t give up on God. And in that, Job’s lament is a deep act of faith. And if Job’s lament is an act of faith, then our lament is too.
So let’s imitate Job, and when we experience suffering or sorrow or the brokenness of the world, let’s bring that lament to God. When you confront the brokenness of a toxic former friendship, lift your lament to God who will restore all relationships one day. When you dwell in the fear of a cancer diagnosis that was supposed to be in remission, lift your lament to God who will remake the world with no sickness. When you enter the deep valley of the shadow of your loved one’s death, lift your lament to God who will swallow up death forever.
Lift your lament to God, because you trust that God has promised to make things right. Give God all your frustrations, all your anger, all your sorrow, because you trust that God is there and God will not let you down. Join your voice with Job’s, and let your lament be your act of faith.
Thanks be to God. Amen.