The book of Job moves back and forth between Job’s voice and the voices of his visitors. Job has reached a low point; he is despondent. If we were to see this moment on a Broadway stage, he’d be singing in a minor key with the lights darkened. The audience would hush, straining to hear every word of his pain.
Job’s despair consumes him. His children are gone. He will never hear their laughter again. They will never again hug him. He prays his one hope, that God will take him to Sheol, the place of the dead. There, he could rest until God’s anger has passed. If God would temporarily hide him in death, he could stop feeling and find respite from his agony. Then, upon his return to life, things might be different.
A tree when it is cut down has hope, Job sings (v. 7, paraphrase). Shoots will sprout from its roots. But, he concludes, mortals have no such hope. When they die, they do not rise again (vv. 10, 12, paraphrase).
Job’s prayer is hard for us to hear, but important. Too often we try to cheer up the grieving. Uncomfortable with their pain, we quickly talk about heaven and how their loved ones are in a better place. We try to turn their sadness towards happy thoughts. Job will have none of it. He doesn’t believe in heaven. He wishes to be dead, to stop feeling so sad.
A widow once told me she wished she had died with her husband. I was too young and full of hope to sit with her in grief. Thankfully, another woman, whose husband had been dead for a decade, understood. She didn’t try to cheer the woman up. She patiently sat with her. No advice, no trying to fix her, just presence. When the new widow felt heard, when someone honored her grief, she slowly started to live again.
If God is to uplift us when we are hurting, we need to be fully present where we are. How well do you practice being where you are?
God, help us to be fully present where we are. When life is good, encourage us to dance in the moment. When life brings hardships, help us to lean into the challenges and the sadness so that your grace may carry us. Amen.