January 24 – Job 3:1-10
And not only is chapter 3 poetry, it has a similar mood and structure to many of the psalms. We’ll turn to Psalm 13 in our discussion to get even more of a view on how lament like Job’s can hold a beneficial place in our faith.
But first, here in Job 3 we find Job in the depths of despair. By this point he is financially destitute, mourning the loss of his children, and, adding insult to injury, covered in itching sores. He’s taken many of the ancient Near Eastern symbols of mourning—he’s torn his robes, shaved his head, and sat down in ashes, likely a place where trash was burned. His three friends, who we’ll see more of in the weeks to come, have visited him, sitting in silence for seven days to mourn with him.
And after those seven days, when Job finally speaks, we see just how miserable he is. We’ll only read the first ten verses, but to summarize the whole chapter, Job laments his suffering so greatly that he wishes he was never born, preferring nonexistence to a miserable existence. Reading this is easy enough, but if you were sitting with a friend and they were talking this way, it would probably make you uncomfortable. In cultures with a lot of European influence, lament has little place outside funerals and songs, largely because it’s seen as weakness, vulnerability, or too unoptimistic. It’s no wonder depression and similar clinical disorders were treated quietly and with stigma for so long (see below for more on depression). The Western church is just as guilty of this—too often we view grief and sadness as negative emotions that detract from the effervescent cheeriness we expect Christians to maintain.
But this is far from the Bible’s take on sadness. In fact, there’s a whole book called Lamentations, which voices the despair felt by the prophet Jeremiah when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians. Read the Psalms, what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called the “Prayer Book of the Bible,” and you’ll see over and over that lament has a place in the worship practices of the individual Christian and the collective church. According to the Bible, sadness, grief, and loss aren’t negative emotions that must be flushed out of the system; they are a way to worship.
We’ll see this in our discussion in Psalm 13, that vocalizing our sadness and loss of hope is a helpful reminder that hope for a Christian is not an internal one but an external one, and is thus unassailable. Our hope in a future with better outcomes, an end to our suffering, and a world in less disarray can’t merely be an emotion we try to keep lit within us. The remarkable hardships of human life will inevitably douse that hope. No, the Christian can remember that his or her hope isn’t an emotion, it’s a Person, a God who never changes, who’s love is so sure it can be called steadfast.(Psalm 13:5) Sometimes we can fear giving in to grief, worrying that it will extinguish all traces of hope within us. But if grief, brought before the Father in prayerful lament, can circle us back to the one unshakeable source of hope in the cosmos, then we shouldn’t fear it. We should make use of it.
Questions for Discussion
• Would someone read Job 3:1-10 for us?
• What stands out to you from this passage?
• Why do you think Job wished he had never lived?
• Do you think Job was justified in wishing he had never lived?
• How do you typically think about lament and grief? Where do you think those assumptions come from?
• Could someone read Psalm 13? What role can lament and grief have in your spiritual life?
Depression and lament
Around 17 million adults in the US deal with major depressive episodes (NIH source), so this is something to keep in mind as we talk about grief and lament. The overall conclusion we’re arriving at in our discussion, that grief and sorrow can lead us towards the Lord rather than away from him, still holds true in a conversation about depression, but that conversation looks a lot different in the context of mental health. The last thing we would want to communicate is that someone can self-treat their depression. God isn’t daunted by our mental health, and he can provide both healing and steps for health, but this is always in the context of community. As always, we would recommend anyone in your group with mental health needs or concerns to seek professional help, and to do so while also inviting their family, friends, and group members into dialogue about their steps towards health.