Lamenting with Job as missional engagement (McTair Wall)
During the Covid pandemic, our daughter lost her unborn son six months into her pregnancy. It was our first grandchild. Added to the pandemic, this trauma led me to a deep burnout from which it has been difficult to recover.
Recently I had the challenge of leading students through a reflection on the missional relevance of the Book of Job, with the help of Tim Davy’s The Book of Job and the Mission of God. The book is well researched and based on Tim’s doctoral thesis written under Gordon McConville. The interpretative history of the Book of Job has well related unjust and unexplained suffering to the believer’s faith. Davy breaks new ground, however, in helping the reader to understand how Job’s suffering can be related to God’s redemptive purposes in the world, especially in situations of poverty and social injustice. He suggests that how Christians deal with suffering can be a testimony to the world about their loyalty to the God who does allow suffering, but does not explain everything to them about their present situation.
I was particularly interested in the emphasis on Job’s lamentation in the face of his agony. Job does not simply accept his situation, but he seeks to understand, in dialogue with others of his time and with God, what seems to be totally unjust. He goes so far as blaming God for his problems (Job 9.22-34). In the end, his explanation for his suffering does not differ very much from those of his ‘friends’ and his time. His theology is fundamentally ‘karmic’, in the sense that people get what they deserve. In this way, Job’s theology is similar to that of his friends, but only reverse. He explains that he does not deserve what is happening to him, whereas his friends believe that Job is only reaping what he has sown – a rigid view of retribution indeed, that the Book of Job may be seeking to correct.
Job reminds us that laments do have a legitime place in the life of the believer, and that things can become messy and chaotic at times. But when we allow our humanity to voice its pain in a fallen world, this has the potential of calling others to protest with us in God’s presence and to long for his response. Job reminds us also that, in the end, the last word in our lives does not need to be one of suffering and pain – no matter how real and on-going these experiences may be – but one of getting what we have deeply longed for: a transforming encounter with the living God. In his time and in his way, God will help us to find deeper peace and make some sense of what we do not understand in the present moment. In waiting for this to come, James reminds us: ‘You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy’ (5.11, NIV).