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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pain Speaks

As I delve deeper and deeper into Job, I am convinced that the book of Job exists to show that God receives it when His people speak from their pain. Job isn’t counted as speaking rightly because of what he says. He’s counted as speaking rightly because he speaks to God and he speaks with unrestrained honesty. God tells Eliphaz that God’s wrath is against him and the other friends (42:7) because “[they] have not spoken of me what is right, my servant Job has done” (42:8).

A simple analysis of Job’s comments and the friends’ comments in Job 3-27 and Job 29-31 will reveal that much of what Job says to God is not something we’d affirm. “Surely now God has worn me out; he has made desolate all my company. And he has shriveled me, which is a witness against me; my leanness has risen up against me, and it testifies to my face. … God gives me up to the ungodly, and casts me into the hands of the wicked. I was at ease, and he broke me in two; he seized me by the neck and dashed me to pieces; he set me as his target; his archers surrounded. He slashes open my kidneys, and shows no mercy; he pours out my gall on the ground. He burst me open again and again; he rushes at me like a warrior. … My face is red with weeping, and deep darkness is on my eyelids, though there is no violence in my hands, and my prayer is pure” (Job 16:7-8, 11-14, 16-17).

Who among communities of faith today would call God an enemy warrior who rushes against them? Look at the violence in Job’s words! If his description were played out in images or in a movie, it would be rated ‘R’ for being so gory. When is the last time we sang a song praise – “Praise God, King of Kings, Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Slasher of Kidneys, the God who shows no mercy”? We don’t say what Job said about God and yet Job is the one who spoke rightly about God.

On the other hand, consider the words of Job’s friends. God is sovereign, they say! Amen, we shout! God is just, they say! Amen, we shout! So many of the words about God spoken by Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar are indicative of theology we find elsewhere in scripture. It is a theology about God’s lordship and goodness. This theology is crucial to what we believe.
So Job says things we wouldn’t say. His friends say things we constantly say. And Job is counted by God as right, and his friends as wrong. In fact, they are so wrong, their only hope is to have Job pray for them (Job 42:8-9). Does this mean we are to change our theology so that it conforms to Job’s? Do we praise the God who “seizes [our] necks and dashes [us] to pieces”?

That would be a mistake. We know the story of the cross. We know that God loves us, heaps grace upon us, and desires a love relationship with each of us. We know that! What we have to do with the book of Job is understand how the Holy Spirit has used it to empower disciples in their expression of faith. The book of Job is God’s way of saying to His children, “When you hurt, bring it to me, no matter what it is.”

God does not want us to clean up our language and get our act together and then come to Him. He wants us to come when we are a mess. Remember, the rightness of Job is in the fact that He speaks directly to God, attributes all to God, and speaks completely honestly. Only when we turn our attention on God and speak with absolute honesty (transparency is another way of thinking of it) are we ready for whatever response God will give.

Beware of writers who turn to the book of Job for answers. When someone offers a neat set of precepts that reduce debilitating pain to a problem solved by following the steps, and they reference Job in support of their trite solution, it is a clear indication that they do not understand Job at all. A lot of writers do this. The most recent one I read is Rick Warren. I love most of what he does, and would recommend it. But don’t trust him when it comes to Job. He writes a piece about being free of past pain. To bolster his teaching, he turns to Job. He writes “Job says,” but then he quotes Eliphaz (5:2). We’ve already attested to the fact that Eliphaz is counted as speaking wrongly.

I say this about R.Warren and about other excellent writers because Christians who teach through the writing of articles and essays and books write under a sense of pressure to provide answers. But, the book of Job doesn’t offer answers! Job offers permission. Maybe beyond that, Job prods us to speak from our own darkness. In our moments of deepest pain, Job, which is poetry not didactic narrative, tells us to speak clearly, creatively, emotionally, evocatively, and even accusingly to God. God can take it. God will match our emotional intensity, and God will not abandon us. Things won’t necessarily get easier. But without God, there is no outlet for the pain and no relief. Nor is there any purpose it. God doesn’t cause it. But God will bring good from it if we stick with Him.

So, use Job as an example. Look to Job as a role model. Speak to God directly. Don’t hold back. Say exactly what you feel.

For the Rick Warren piece, go to


  1. Thanks for sharing, Rob. This in particular spoke to me: "...the book of Job doesn’t offer answers! Job offers permission."

    -Dave (Deal)

  2. That's awesome. We - believers - have persmission to have a dynamic, emotion laden relationship with God.

    I had a conversation yesterday with a guy that is struggling with prayer. He's got a pain-filled life that includes divorce, a son with cancer, and unrequited love. He's broken up, but he says, "that's no excuse for not praying."

    I said back to him, when you talk about "excuses," then prayer becomes duty. Pray is not supposed to be a duty we perform. Yes, it is good to take a disciplined approach so that we will pray even when we don't feel like it. But, even in a disciplined approach, prayer is a conversation with a Father who loves us, understands us, and wants the best for us. Thus, prayers should be emotionally raw, free, and completely honest. "Bring it" to God, whatever "it" is. God can handle it. And God loves us.