After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. Job said: ‘Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, “A man-child is conceived.”
How I would be lying down and quiet;
I would be asleep; then I would be at rest. There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest.
There the prisoners are at ease together;
they do not hear the voice of the taskmaster.
The small and the great are there,
and the slaves are free from their masters.
Why is light given to one who cannot see the way, whom God has fenced in?
These verses from Chapter 3 of Job form part of what is one of the greatest laments in Scripture. Challenged to “curse God and die” by his wife, Job determines rather to curse the day of his birth, his coming into conscious, sentient existence instead. Though not a cursing of God, this is obliquely a condemnation of God’s allowing for an entrance into the suffering and pain of life.
This chapter might be titled “The Lament for Humanity in the World as it has Come to Be.” It is a stark assessment of a world ruled by death, a world where suffering and want seem to be everywhere, and where power is substituted for truth in human relations. Job’s lament is an implicit critique of this earthly order; an order which God seems to do nothing to stop.
Out of the silence Job and his friends have known for seven days there breaks forth a keening and burning threnody of existential honesty. Which of us remembers agreeing to enter into this life? Who can say that they have never wondered why we came into being, especially as we see the suffering of innocents whose only apparent fault was being born into a particular time and place? Job’s song of regret brings up images of human agony covering the field: from the tragedy of a stillborn child to the cruelty of human politics and power. He laments the fact of such a world and his participation in it. He gives voice to what so many of us are afraid to say because the watered-down, unreal, and exterior faith we practice is unequal to the challenge. But the Hebrews were not so squeamish; they were willing to bring all of the heart’s offerings to the altar of God. Perhaps this is why so many of us today find some of the Psalms a great challenge. Like this lament, the Psalms can speak with an honesty and a directness we dare not.
Yet, we cannot proceed into the heart of this book – or the heart of the Christian faith – if we are willing only to stay on the surface, or in the comforts of a faith too shallow to accommodate the depth of our own life and experience. Job points the way into the mystery of God and humanity by first giving voice to what we often feel but cannot say. Perhaps it is the tension between our mind’s capability to wander amongst the stars yet to be so fragile that a single broken blood vessel in our body can bring our death. Or, it could be the inherent unfairness of the world into which we were born, the wrong of the suffering we see inflicted by humans or by fate. We can ignore it all if we choose, but in order to be fully human, we must respond. It may begin with recoiling in revulsion or anger; but it must proceed past that. This is the invitation of the Book of Job. The lament we read today is the necessary first step, the clearing of the throat in a tense room, the opening chords in a long song. We must have the courage to listen and to accept where Job’s words are our words; without doing so, we will never have the courage to journey on in this most challenging book to its profound, life-changing conclusions.