I read the book of Job when I was in 8th grade. I have few memories of it. Perhaps my assessment as an adolescent was one chapter of ills, one of patience, and forty at a pity-party.
These days, I think a return to the book might be fruitful. Taking a look at this weekend’s first reading, much lament:
So I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me. If in bed I say, “When shall I arise?” then the night drags on; I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.
Every so often, I have this experience. Perhaps not the months of misery, but those troubled nights. Being the parent of a teenager, or dealing with a serious illness in the family, or a troubling situation at work I’ve had the condition of waking in the darkness to consider worrying or even grim possibilities of the coming days.
My parish celebrated anointing of the sick at Masses this weekend. As part of my preparation for the rite, I paged to part III, “Readings, Responses, and Verses from Sacred Scripture. I noticed that some verses from Job 7 are given; more than what was in the reading today. These are 8 through 11:
The eye that now sees me shall no more behold me;
when your eye is on me, I shall be gone.
As a cloud dissolves and vanishes,
so whoever goes down to Sheol shall not come up.
They shall not return home again;
their place shall know them no more.
My own utterance I will not restrain;
I will speak in the anguish of my spirit;
I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
Verse 11, highlighted in red, strikes me as the essence of Jewish lament. And something Christians would do well to imitate, advocate, and express in their prayer.
We see it so often in the psalms, a believer brought low not just by sickness, but accidents, or even the callous or vindictive behavior of another person. Complaint to God is sometimes a necessary self-expression. Perhaps God secretly hopes that our laments about our own situation will lead us to raise our voices when the hammer of misfortune falls on other people.
We can feel free to loosen restraint when we complain to God. Let’s not forget the importance of speaking up on behalf of others when they are in anguish.
Image credit: Georges de La Tour, 17th century.