Dark Despair

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Job has lost so much. He has lost all of his possessions. His children have died. His body is afflicted with sores from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. He has been sitting in the ashes, grieving and mourning while scraping the sores on his body with a broken piece of pottery. His three friends have come to him to give him comfort and sympathy, yet Job’s suffering was so great that they did not even recognize him. According to Job 7:3 months have passed by before these friends arrive. We should not read about Job’s suffering as something that only lasted for a few days. This suffering has continued for many months. In his pain, shock, and grief, Job opens his mouth and breaks the silence between him and his three friends.

Job 3 opens with Job cursing the day of his birth. Job is wishing that the day of his birth did not exist. Job’s posture toward his own pain and circumstances is extreme distress. Job is not the only person who speaks like this. Job’s lamentation belongs with other biblical psalms of grief, including Jeremiah 20:14–18 and Lamentations 3:1–18. When we read verses 3-4 we see Job declaring that his birthday is not a day of celebration, but a terrible day. Pregnancy and birth were regarded as a time of joy and celebration. But Job says that, for him, the news of his pregnancy and birth should have been regarding as grief. In verse 6 we see Job say that the day of his birth should be taken off of the calendar. Job simply feels the crushing weight of hopelessness. He is the darkness of his pain. You will notice how often Job speaks of his circumstances as darkness in this chapter. There is no light. All is dark and there is no hope for Job. All his happiness has vaporized. All his joy has disappeared. It is a time of utter despair, a pain that is so great that he views his birthday as a disaster. Job breaks the seven day silence with a cry from his heart and soul. Job is not speaking to anyone. He is just expressing his pain. The questions we will read Job express is not Job questioning God but just questioning life.

In verses 11-19 we see Job expressing the thought that death is the only way for him to have rest and peace. He speaks about why he is living through this anguish and the reason he thinks this way is declared in verses 17-19. In death the weary are at rest, wicked cease from turmoil, prisoners are at ease, and the slave is free. Death appears to be the only relief from his suffering. Job is not the only person to express this idea. We see Isaiah declare that for the righteous only death brings peace from the pains of life (cf. Isaiah 57:1-2). Job’s desire is for peace from the suffering and pain he is experiencing.

We need to consider what these events mean to Job. Job does not bewail his financial losses or poor health. Job thinks he has lost his relationship with God. The standard belief was that the righteous are blessed by God and the wicked are cursed by God. Therefore, if one is cursed, then this must mean he is out of God’s favor. This is the essence of Job’s cry. If this is the fate of the righteous, then when did God bother to make the world at all? Why is all of this going on if this is the fate of the righteous? We see this point particularly expressed in Job 29:1-6.

And Job again took up his discourse, and said: “Oh, that I were as in the months of old, as in the days when God watched over me, when his lamp shone upon my head, and by his light I walked through darkness, as I was in my prime, when the friendship of God was upon my tent, when the Almighty was yet with me, when my children were all around me, when my steps were washed with butter, and the rock poured out for me streams of oil!” (Job 29:1–6 ESV)

Job is saying that he lost the friendship of God. He misses life months back when God was with him, watched over him, and blessed him. But now those days are gone and God is not with him. Job is grappling with tough questions. Is a God who would allow such things to happen worth holding on to in faith? Is it possible to continue to believe in a good God in a world where righteousness no longer has any apparent reward?

Job is at a loss and he just wants peace from this turmoil internally and externally. In verses 13-19 Job says that it does not matter who you are or what status you enjoy in life, death brings rest to all and this is what makes death seem delightful to him. There are days too dark for the sufferer to see any light at all. There are experiences too extreme for the hurting to have hope. There are valleys too deep for the anguished to find relief. Job feels hedged into misery (3:23). This is an interesting declaration because Satan said that Job was hedged in by God’s blessings. Job says he is hedged in by God to misery. His misery is so great that he cannot eat (3:24). His food is groaning and sighing. Ultimately, there is no ease, no quiet, and no rest. Only trouble comes (3:26). So what are we to make of this chapter and what can we learn about God from this?

Messages For Today

First, faith is not two dimensional. What I mean is that we are not supposed to look at Job and draw the conclusion that he suffered and he trusted God. To boil down the message of Job to this level of simplicity hurts us when we are suffering because suffering is not this simple. There is despair in suffering. There is darkness in trials. One of the great things we learn from Job in this third chapter is that faith and despair are not incompatible. We can have faith in God and yet feel the crushing weight of trials that cause us to feel broken. Christianity is not happy, clappy, sunshine, and rainbows. Christianity is not “put a smile on your face” and pretend we have no pain. Stoicism is not a godly response to suffering. Sometimes we communicate to others that the way to handle suffering is to pretend that there is no pain. Friends, trials hurt us. Trials can hurt us so deeply that we can be like Job and see no light but only darkness. Consider that Job is not the only person in the scriptures that expressed deep despair. Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-5), Moses (Numbers 11:10-15), and the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 1:8) expressed these  same feelings. Faith and despair are not incompatible. We can feel despair and still have full faith in God.

Second, we serve a God who allows such unfiltered questions and laments. I love this chapter because it shows the despair of trials. God can handle us crying out in pain and expressing our feelings. Things are not happy, Lord! Things are painful and difficult! God can handle this. God does not tell us to limit our feelings or expressions of pain. Please consider how many psalms are expressions of this kind of hurt, pain, suffering, and questioning! One of the reasons we are drawn to the Psalms in pain and suffering is because we are reading about others who feel the same way as we do. Here is Job, feeling the same way we do through the pain of the trial. Pain is not incompatible with faith. Sitting in the darkness of the trial does not mean you have to hide your pain and pretend that you do not hurt. We will enter the darkest valley. God says to come to him because we have Jesus as our sympathetic high priest, who hears our cries of pain, and will give mercy and grace to help (Hebrews 4:14-16). Where else can we go in our despair but to the Lord?

Brent Kercheville