Years ago, my good friend recommended a post-high school male babysitter to me. I was looking for more childcare help and she was offering a connection. When I explained to her that our family policy was to only have female sitters and she, in an attempt to make me comfortable reassured me, "He goes to church with his mom!"
Knowing that church attendance is unfortunately not a guarantee that a person doesn't abuse children, I kindly declined his contact information.
About a week later, I watched her kids for a couple hours while waiting for this babysitter she'd recommended to come take over. I nearly laughed out loud when he showed up wearing a white t-shirt that said in bold black letters, "Curse God and Die". He might go to church, but I didn't have any regrets over my decision at that moment!
The irony of him showing up in that t-shirt still makes me laugh. But now it also stirs up some questions for me: Was it just a cool shirt to him? Perhaps the slogan of a band he likes? Did he know it's actually a quote from the Bible?
"Curse God and die" is what Job's unhelpful wife recommended Job do in the initial days of their horrific loss (Job 2:9). All their children, servants, and animals were destroyed in a terrible storm and then to make matters worse, Job was afflicted by horrible, painful boils. His wife, seeing his agony offered what many would in the face of such devastation: Life as we know it is over. God did this to us. There's nothing left for you here. Just reject God and get your misery over with. I don't agree, but I get it. Despair and sorrow can drive us to dark, dark places that we might never imagine we could go.
Job, by contrast, responded to loss by expressing unwavering trust in God. He said, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)
I must admit, It's hard for me to relate to either of their responses. I've heard of Christians who worship beside the body of their loved one who has died, but when my husband died, I was too stunned to even comprehend what was happening, much less express gratitude to God for the agony I had just witnessed. I did not feel like blessing the Lord. In shock and turmoil all I could utter was the occasional, "Help!" or "Why!". This lasted for months.
But I also didn't want to curse God and die. I felt like grief might actually kill me but I wanted to survive the pain - at least most of the time. I wanted to trust in God again. I wanted to see His goodness. But everything around me, and the pain inside, obscured any comfort I could receive.
I relate more to the Job we see in the following chapters. It's as if his shock has worn off and after an initial "peace that passes understanding" he is forced to deal with the reality of loss and death - and the sovereignty of God. His initial words of praise transform into questions, despair, anger, and hurt. He knows God is good but can't understand why he has been so afflicted. He wants to understand how it could be that God would allow him to undergo such horrible circumstances.
This is just a sampling of his words:
“Why is light given to him who is in misery,
and life to the bitter in soul,
who long for death, but it comes not,
and dig for it more than for hidden treasures,
who rejoice exceedingly
and are glad when they find the grave?
Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden,
whom God has hedged in?
For my sighing comes instead of[a] my bread,
and my groanings are poured out like water.
For the thing that I fear comes upon me,
and what I dread befalls me.
I am not at ease, nor am I quiet;
I have no rest, but trouble comes.”
He cries out to God messy ways that his friends who are not grieving cannot understand. They respond my admonishing him, blaming him, and questioning his integrity. Insult to injury... kicking him when he's down... shooting the wounded.... all these phrases fit. They are bringing more pain to an already deeply wounded man.
And through it all, God sustains Job's faith. In the end, Job is vindicated. God meets Job exactly where he's at, in all the mess and pain. He doesn't answer any of Job's questions, but He does invite Job into greater intimacy and understand of who He is.
And those friends? They are rebuked.
I wonder about Job's wife. Job later has more children and I wonder if they are born from the same woman. Did she change her mind? Did she process her grief,? Did she lament and cry and rage and in the end find God faithful to carry her through? The Biblical text doesn't give us these answers. Yet we have a God who is merciful enough to forgive sinners like her... and me... and you. A God who is patient. A God who understands sorrow. And a God who suffered perfectly so that we can still experience His love even when we don't.