The fear of God: your confidence? (Job 3-4)

October 22, 2010

I sing and write songs. Sometimes at gigs when I can’t choose what to play next I ask the audience if they’d prefer a happy or sad song. More often than not they choose sad. There’s comfort in a sad song I think, some beauty in hearing the tender parts of ourselves being expressed in public. There’s a freedom in knowing you’re not the only one.

So here in the Hebrew Scriptures we read of Job’s bitter sadness. Chapter 3 contains his curse on the day he was born. “Why is light given to one in misery, and life to the bitter soul?” (3:20) Job asks. The level of anguish in this speech almost reaches melodrama, and yet it is something we can all recognise. Most of us have wanted to disappear at some point, just to not exist, even if only for a moment. Job says if he had died at birth “now I would be lying down quiet” (3:13a), a state of peace which he cannot seem to hope for now. And again I recognise this feeling, the longing for peace in turmoil, even though I have had no catastrophes in my life, thank God.

So, if you’re a sad-song mood, read chapter 3. If you need to know that people have felt horrible before, worse than even you. But more than that, that there is some understanding of how it is to feel so utterly raw and hopeless.

Then, when you need to snap out of it, read the response of Job’s good friend in Chapter 4, especially verses 1-6.

Job’s friends have just sat silently with him for a week, not trying to comfort him. We should remember this as Eliphaz begins to speak. He isn’t one of the those people who think that the best way to make you feel better is a good telling off; “come on now! cheer up!” – I have never been cheered up by someone saying “cheer up!” – he’s a real true friend. True friends aren’t afraid to tell you what they think.

I love the way he, Eliphaz, starts to talk “If one ventures a word with you, will you be offended?”…But he doesn’t wait for an answer…”but who can keep from speaking?”(4:2). He is not impressed with Job’s pity party. You can imagine it. You go and comfort your best friend for a week, let him lie about in his pyjamas, wallow in his grief, because that’s what is needed and then he finally speaks, but it’s not the man you knew. The man you knew strengthened those around him he even “made firm the feeble knees” (you’ve gotta love biblical terms!). The man in front of you now man is about as inspiring as a cardboard box that’s been left out in the rain. So first Eliphaz reminds Job of who he is and then why he is like that; “Is not the fear of God your confidence and the integrity of your ways your hope?”

Now I’ve heard a few good questions in my time, but this is up there with the best of them. In fact, let’s have it again:

“Is not the fear of God your confidence and the integrity of your ways your hope?”

This question seems to be rhetorical, which is a good job because I have no idea how Job would go about answering it. I feel like that the conversation would go something like this… “So, can you still fear God?” “um, yeah, but…” “good, and can you still have integrity?” “well, I suppose so, but…” “right then, well stop wishing you weren’t born then!!” “Um, okay.” Not sure my version would have made the final cut in the Bible though…

I’m going to remember these questions. Sometimes we need a good wallow, but we also need a good slap round the head and a reminder of what life’s all about. God willing, I will never be in Job’s situation, which means I need the question even more in a way. When I’m wallowing it’s because I miss my husband or I feel a bit ill, not because my entire life’s fallen apart! So next time you need a wake up call why not ask yourself what your confidence and hope are dependent on? It might be very revealing…

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