Church Life, Grief, Job

My complaint is bitter

Job in Despair (Thinking about Proper 23B, especially Job.)

Then Job answered:
"Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning.
Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling!
I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me.
Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me.
There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge.
(Job 23:1-7, NRSV)

Sometimes life feels like a heavy load, doesn't it?

In the life of a church, many things can be going well while at the same time those who know carry in their hearts the ill, the depressed, the fragile elderly. Pastors become privy to stories of emotional hurt and personal injustice played out on the small stages of family life. We understand why it's important for the Bible to contain laments and questions about why God lets human life unfold complete with random occurrences and terrible losses unrelated to the goodness of those who live through them.

What we hope we'll find in a faith community is a safe space in the midst of trials, a home for the heart and the spirit in times of questioning or despair as well as rejoicing. 

But in many churches, we're too invested in appearances to make room for grief. It makes us uncomfortable. We want to see a sad person recover, because after all we are a people of the Resurrection Hope!

I spent many years being sad in my 30s. From 1992 to 1997 I lost a baby, my mother, my father and my marriage. I lost my identity, for I was certainly, emphatically never going to be a person who divorced. I questioned my calling: could God make use of a person with my life story? All these bad things happened after I declared I had a call to ministry. Were they discouragements? Proof I was not doing the right thing?

I would have appreciated a chance to talk with God, to ask a few questions, to lay my case before the One I by that time thought of as neither male nor female and not personified enough for an actual dialogue, but that did not make me want the opportunity any less.

Later, as I finally finished the theological education I had straggled through in my thirties, I wrote a paper about Job, a big paper exploring a brief passage. I sat at this same kitchen table and developed my ideas and diagrammed the poetry and delved into the scholarly thought. I remember sitting up late, not feeling well, trying to finish, aware of the chaos of my life in that last semester of seminary, trying to figure out what would come next.

I have my own sadness still; you surely have yours. Some days it pierces and other days it gnaws, and some days it merely occupies the smallest corner of my consciousness. When I feel the deep sadness, my own or yours, I go to that place where Job lived. I want to know why, and I feel overwhelmed by the distance between God and me. I feel that God ought to be more involved; I reinvent Her in my own image. Surely I would straighten out that problem, wouldn't I? Surely I would prevent that tragic death? 

Clearly, I desire an Administrative God.

This afternoon I came home hoping to dash out and walk Sam in between
rain showers, but as soon as I came in the door, the wind picked up and
the rain began to pour and I heard the rumble of thunder, looked out
the window to see the flash of lightning. We waited through the short
but enthusiastic storm, and then I took the eager dog around the
neighborhood. We saw branches down, and just a few blocks over power
lines on the ground, under the mislaid top of a tree. On the right
hand, we observed chaos, but on the left? A rainbow, beautiful, the whole arc visible.

Somehow if feels like God taking heed to us.

11 thoughts on “My complaint is bitter”

  1. The image is Marc Chagall’s Job in Despair, and I found it among the art links at Textweek.com. Thanks, Jenee, for the great resources!

  2. We saw the Great Bow as well– while driving north to visit a friend who is in the late stage of living with pancreatic cancer. The trees were blazing, almost incandescent with colour, and above them, against the bruise-dark sky, stretched this great shimmering rainbow arc. Oh, breath-taking, life-giving Beauty!

  3. “Some days it pierces and other days it gnaws, and some days it merely occupies the smallest corner of my consciousness.” Thanks for sharing yourself, and words that draw me in.

  4. Thank you for this post. As I age, I find that my memory has become selective and I mostly remember the good things. I hope I have had a part in this, but not sure. Maybe God has decided that I don’t need to carry some of those loads I have shed. I hope so. Love and prayers to you.

  5. I love to read your blog! I am so grateful for you in my life! I got caught in the rain, riding to positive school on my Wizard of Oz bicycle to pick up P1 in that storm…BTW..to clarify the family…Pianist is oldest daughter, P1 is youngest daughter and dutch treat is hubby…I wanted to name hubby P1, but youngest daughter wanted that name. Anyway thanks for helping! Let me know if I can ever be helpful to you!

  6. “I have my own sadness still; you surely have yours. Some days it pierces and other days it gnaws, and some days it merely occupies the smallest corner of my consciousness. When I feel the deep sadness, my own or yours, I go to that place where Job lived. I want to know why, and I feel overwhelmed by the distance between God and me.”
    This is beautiful Songbird. May I quote you in my sermon this week? I have never heard it put so well.

  7. what mumpastor said. I wish I were preaching so I could quote you.
    and the part about the Administrative God? I get that, too.

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