Over the course of these chapters Job’s laments continue and even intensify, as do the reactions of his friends, so-called. They become even more strident in their insistence in Job’s alleged guilt, to the point of making false accusations against Job (chapter 22). Not they alone; others in the community seem to be turning against Job just when they should be turning toward him. In addition, they seek to silence him, but the book of Job itself, in giving voice to Job, gives voice to all who suffer, indeed, to those whose sufferings upset the ignorance, arrogance and confidence of those who assume that all is right with the world, because of their own happiness, honor and prosperity. In that sense, Job is like Mordecai, sitting at the gate of Persia’s royal palace in the forbidden robes of mourning (“Yet I am not silenced by the darkness, by the thick darkness that covers my face”— 22:17).
Wisdom then means more than knowing how to avoid unnecessary suffering through right conduct, which is easy for us to assume when things are going well. Wisdom also includes care and compassion for those who suffer, humility and reticence when it comes to assigning causes for suffering, and mental and spiritual preparation for the likelihood of our own loss and suffering, even if only through death.
Job not only wants restoration of all that he has lost—health, wealth, loved ones and honor—but also a chance to make his case before God and be vindicated. Looking ahead, we see that Job will be vindicated, like Abraham, by his faith, that is, in his case, the faith shown by insisting on an audience with God, and by his honest refusal of his “friends’” easy answers. He is faithful to what light he has, which gives him longing for something that believers today might take for granted: “Why does the Almighty not set times for judgment? Why must those who know him look in vain for such days? (24:1). Job then is straining to look ahead to a revelation yet to be made, about the resurrection of the dead for judgment, for their vindication (or not), and that of God.
This is a particularly poignant psalm of lament, in which we see the common human experiences of grief, depression, spiritual dryness and unfulfilled longing reflected. Yet the psalmist is convinced that his or her longings will be fulfilled, the depression lifted and the dryness replaced with refreshment.
“Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
Indeed, the psalmist has turned the corner with the question, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?” That is often the first step in healing, recovery and renewal: questioning the condition and recognizing it as temporary, even unnecessary to endure in and continue. In that sense, the Psalm is a powerful companion piece to Job, a promise that an answer is coming, in tandem with a better day, even if it seems unlikely and invisible at the moment.
Even when all is going well by our mortal, worldly standards, there remains one thing crying for attention: our hunger and thirst for God. It is a gift of God, a sign of God, and sometimes it seems to be all of God that we have in certain moments. The world teaches us to ignore and deny this hunger and thirst, to mock it and explain it away, or to fill it with things, ideologies and pleasures, or even pain, as in the increasingly common problem of cutting oneself. But for the believer in Christ, our moments and months of longing, hunger and even mourning are invitations to find the light by journeying into the darkness, by naming, embracing and owning our hunger and thirst for God, and slaking our thirst at the wells of worship, prayer, service and fellowship.