The first of Job’s companions, Eliphaz, confronts him (chapters 4-5) and the man responds to him (6:1-7:11). Then Job addresses God directly for the rest of chapter 7.
I hope we are past the cliché of the patience of Job. In the passage below, he even asks God in so many words, “If I sin, what’s it to you?”
For ministers and liturgists, it’s worth delving into the whole book. But when someone is seriously ill or dying, we can’t always expect them to bury themselves deep into a difficult narrative. But perhaps Job’s bitterness here might help a person navigate out of their anguish. Perhaps. Handle this with care, I would say.
Maybe some sick or dying people would want to give voice to questions of God. This is what Job does here. Patience not much in evidence, our title character first describes a God who will give him no rest:
Am I the Sea, or the dragon,
that you place a watch over me?
When I say, “My bed shall comfort me,
my couch shall ease my complaint,”
Then you frighten me with dreams
and terrify me with visions,
So that I should prefer strangulation
and death rather than my existence.
I waste away: I will not live forever;
let me alone, for my days are but a breath.
This verse recalls Psalm 8:5, but the confidence of the psalmist in that context is turned to a certain bitterness, even to the point of asking that question bolded below. Not only is Job asking God if sin really affects him, but there’s the suggestion God is watching over us not from a sense of protection or grace, but from some sense of having a pastime.
What are human beings, that you make much of them,
or pay them any heed?
You observe them every morning
and try them at every moment!
How long before you look away from me,
and let me alone till I swallow my spit?
If I sin, what do I do to you,
O watcher of mortals?
Why have you made me your target?
Why should I be a burden for you?
Why do you not pardon my offense,
or take away my guilt?
For soon I shall lie down in the dust;
and should you seek me I shall be gone.
When we read of lament in the Psalter, the author/singer always concludes with a message of hope and confidence. Things are dark at the moment, but the light will come. The hunger will be sated. The tears give way to dancing. Things like that.
In this passage, there is no expectation as such. Neither I nor the Lectionary framers have omitted the praise–in the next chapter, another friend begins his interrogation of Job. And the misery continues.
This would be a select passage to use at an individual anointing or when a person is in the grief stage of their process. If at a communal liturgy, there’s the possibility of a psalm of lament leaving the worshipers with a note of confidence. Even if it is a small, hushed tone. We might make sure we use it, Psalm 6 or Isaiah 38 when we use this reading from Job too.