I’m reading through the Book of Job at the moment. One of the fascinating things about Job is that you and I – the readers – have a more complete picture of what is going on than Job ever has. We know about what lay behind Job’s losses. Job was never told.
Too bad for Job that his “comforters” didn’t realise that they too did not have the complete picture. From the point of view of their neatly packaged world view, there was only really one explanation for Job’s suffering: if he would only abandon his sin, all would be well.
Sometimes, in the face of suffering, we’d do better to say a lot less than we think we should.
Towards the end of the narrative (in chapter 42), God rebukes Job’s friends for the way they have spoken about him (God).
You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.
Job’s friends misrepresented God; Job spoke what was right. That was God’s verdict. Yet some of the things Job said might raise a few eyebrows if they were spoken in some of today’s churches.
- In 7:20, he calls God “the watcher of mankind” and wonders why he has made Job his target.
- In 9:22, he claims that God destroys both the blameless and the wicked.
- In 14:19, he says that God destroys “the hope of man.”
In fact, Job is so outspoken that his friends accuse him of irreverence. “Have you no fear of God, no reverence for him?” asks Eliphaz.
Eventually, of course, Job would put his hand over his mouth, as the revelation of God’s majesty broke through.
I was talking about things I did not understand, things far too wonderful for me…. I take back everything I said.
But God still says at the end that Job had not misrepresented him, as his friends had.
Which leads to a question for us: is our spirituality too sanitised? Do we edit out the questions and the cries of pain? Is there room to struggle? Is there a space to admit that we don’t know what is happening? Is there room for us to say, with Martha and Mary, Lord, if you had been here, things would surely have been different?
I once had a conversation with a guy who was involved in Christian ministry. It sounded from the details of the conversation that there was discouragement or dissatisfaction; but every few minutes he punctuated the conversation with the expression: “It’s all good.” I didn’t question him about this. Maybe I should have; maybe I didn’t know him well enough and it wasn’t my place.
How often do we all do the same thing? How many lies are told at Sunday morning church services where people who are wracked with anxiety, uncertain about Monday or struggling with guilt from an unresolved conflict the day before tell everyone that they are “fine”?
Why do we do that? We don’t want to be a bother to others, we don’t think we are important enough to take up their time and concern, we don’t think they would understand, or we think everyone else has life so well sorted, there is no place for us. Or we have been conditioned to think that we would be letting the side down.
We shouldn’t want to let the side down. That was Asaph’s concern in Psalm 73 and the reason he had to keep quiet for a while (see Ps. 73:15). There is a time to speak and a time to be silent (sometimes leaders, like Asaph, need to keep their counsel until God gives them clarity).
And the story of Job, with its revelation of the awesome power and mysterious sovereignty of God, set alongside the limitations of human experience and understanding, not only warns us about the danger of absolutising our theories of how life works (like Job’s friends); it should also guard us against absolutising our doubts.
But an over-sanitised spirituality can breed hypocrisy and unrealisitic expectations as we deny the reality of what is happening in our hearts.