Fire My Imagination
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They say silence is golden. Last week we talked about sitting in silence. Silence in the face of suffering is often a really good thing. When we count up the number of hours of silence versus speech in this story, it comes out to 168 to 2.
Of course, as another wisdom book tells us, there is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak. We’re about to get into the speaking part of the book of Job. Three speech cycles between Job and his friends that go from chapter 3 to chapter 27. A cry of despair from Job that must be answered, as Eliphaz will say as he starts to speak in chapter 4, “Who can keep from speaking?”
This is an answer to the cry of a grieving heart. Sometimes we hardly know what we’re saying in grief. He can’t be gone. She can’t be gone. It doesn’t seem real. We cry out impossibilities. We cry them out or we hold them inside ourselves. How can it be? I just saw her this morning. Questions that are impossible to answer. If I could only speak to them one more time. Impossibilities that we long for.
If things are bad enough – I wish I were dead. Why don’t you take me, Lord?
If things are bad enough – I wish I had never been born.
These are not just words that are fired off by an angry teenager as in “I wish you weren’t my parents!”
These are something else. Remember what’s happened to Job. His possessions destroyed by wind and fire or stolen. His children are gone. The normal course of things destroyed. He has been thrown. What Job might have thought about the goodness of God being shown in material and relational and physical prosperity and amity and health - gone.
This runs counter to the normal course of things. Here in chapter three, we find Job and he’s internalizing what he’s feeling. He’s speaking it in a kind of soliloquy. These speeches that we read are not going to answer the question which is at the heart of Job any more than the ending does – we live into the answer ourselves. The speeches are going to pose some responses to suffering, and it will be up to us to judge what is good and right and fitting and proper response.
Job’s first response is a cry of despair. Events which have gone against the natural order of things – and it’s never in the natural order of things for a child to predecease his or her parent is it? Job is suffering physically. He is in spiritual and physical anguish. If Hamlet’s question is “To be or not to be?” Job’s question goes deeper even that that “To have been or to never have been?”
Let the day perish in which I was born, and the night that said “A man-child is conceived.” Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, or light shine on it… Let it not rejoice among the days of the year….
Let that day be darkness. Let the day I was born be darkness! This is serious. We rejoice to mark the day we're born, and you’ll be happy to hear that there is a good theological foundation for this. It seems that lots of people are having birthdays in July. Either that or I’m just noticing it more in the midst of Phase 2. I was glad to hear that there are theological reasons for celebrating birthdays. They are a celebration of light and life. Someone has described the day of one’s birth like this – “…that day through which, as through an umbilical cord one receives all the goodness of creation and of its creator, that day the remembrance and celebration of which renews one’s participation in the positive powers of the world order and its divine orderer...” And I thought it was just about cake and presents and your favourite meal and so on! It’s about celebrating your participation in the world through our God who so wondrously reigneth over all!
In his despair, Job is turning away from the created order. We can’t read these first few verses of chapter 3 without thinking of the first few verses of Genesis 1. God spoke and said let there be light and there was light and God saw that it was good. Job speaks and longs for darkness. Let the stars of its dawn be dark; let it hope for light, but have none.
This is not just Job being melodramatic either. He may be a larger than life figure but we are still talking about life. You may think that longing for death is simply melodramatic or whatever we might think of it. Job has been portrayed as extraordinary in his piety and righteousness but it would not do, as someone has said, “to leave the audience thinking of him as superhumanly untouched by grief.” One of the commentaries I have on Job is written by John Walton. In the commentary, Walton includes the story of a young woman who lost her…. Car accident….brother fell asleep….. At this point in his book, Walton tells of a conversation he had with asking if she ever wished she were dead. This is her answer:
“As I look back years ago, it is sad to say there was a time in my life that I prayed out to the Lord to take my life. I remember it vividly because it was immediately after my thirteen-hour nerve transplant in September of 2000. I woke up in more excruciating pain than I had ever experienced at the young age of twelve. My legs were burning, since they removed the long nerve that runs underneath your knee to your ankle, in both legs… Then my neck was in so much pain, since they took out nerve from the spinal cord, causing my left arm to go numb for four months, and the nerve graft was threaded through my chest and into my armpit. At the time it was the most pain I had ever experienced, and on top of that, I had horrible phantom pains due to the trauma and stress of surgery. I remember lying down in the hospital bed, crying in pain, and praying, ‘Lord, why did you save my life in the car accident so that you would allow me to suffer to such a great degree? Lord, please take me home to be with you. Please allow me to sleep and wake up in your presence.’” She goes one – “Over time some of the pain subsided. The Lord gave me peace in my heart and assurance that he had plans for me. I heard the Lord saying, ‘I didn’t miraculously save you from that accident, only to take you home a couple of months later. I want to use this trial, and I want to use you… but you need to trust me.’” So I began to trying to think of life on a day-to-day basis, trying to seek him for the strength to endure.”
Job doesn’t remain in this kind of solitary despair. He has not retreated into himself, even in his despair. Even here Job is looking for something beyond himself. We said last week that the question Job’s wife asks leads to a deeper search within Job (and within each of us when the possibility of rejecting God is put before us). In going on, in persisting, and in asking the question “Why?” Job is being taken beyond himself. The questions are dire but they are a reflection of the questions people have. They’re also a reflection of the good that Job has known in his life. I have known knees to receive me and breasts at which I was nourished.
In asking the question, Job is asking whether a new integrity, a new uprightness may be found. It is one thing to trust in a God from whom we have received only good things. Parents to love and care for us. Health. Unbroken relationships. It is another thing to trust in God when we are questioning why things are happening. Job’s response here at first is a total self-effacement. A total turning away from God and a trust in God’s created order. This always remains a possibility and this is why we are encouraged to dwell on the question which we are saying is the basis of this book – is God worthy of our love and our trust no matter what circumstances we are in?
Someone has said there are different levels of consciousness we have. The first is one that doesn’t really require a lot of thought or critical reflection. One in which we’re busy with a task at work, or if we’re at ease, aware of the sounds of birds chirping or children playing or the feel of sunlight on our face. The second is when we become aware of an absence of something. A co-worker is no longer with have they left the room ? or do you mean they are dead us. The sounds of children have stopped. Clouds have blocked out the sun. We have lost something.
And we often don’t know what we’ve lost ‘til it’s gone, as experience has borne out. The loss of something can lead to a consciousness of a thing that’s more vivid and intense.
The question is always how do we live in that? The story of Job suggests a third level of consciousness, which is that of imagination. The consciousness that asks “What might be?” The consciousness of faith. Of steadfastness. Of uprightness. Of integrity. This is the thing about rhetorical questions. They fire our imagination and lead us into new ways of being. We ask them together. Job’s wife asked the question last week, “Where is your integrity?” Where is the thing, who is the thing on which you are going to focus your love and your adoration and attention and worship no matter what your circumstances? The circumstances of Job and the circumstances of our lives invite us to live into the answer.
Job is going to start hearing from and replying to his friends in the next section. In the next section, we’re going to see some of the ways in which Job’s imagination has been fired. Job’s imagination has been awakened and as someone has said, at this point, it’s maybe not so much the content and tendency of his imaginings (the whole what if I had never been conceived thing) as it is simply the fact that his imagination is awakened and active. It’s going to lead him to places like this:
“Oh, that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath is past, that you would appoint me a set time and remember me…For then you would not number my steps, you would not keep watch over my sin, my transgression would be sealed up in a bag, and you would cover my iniquity.” 14:12, 16-17
“Even now, in fact, my witness is in heaven, and he that vouches for me is on high.” 16:19
“O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! O that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved on a rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side...” 19:23-27a
Job’s words were written down. A redeemer would come to seal transgressions in a bag – in a shroud in fact. Even now our witness is in heaven and vouches for us from on high – the royal throne room. We who are in Christ can say with assurance that our Redeemer lives and that at the last he will stand upon the earth and that at the last we shall see God in new bodies.
May God help us to endure and persist in this great faith, no matter our circumstances. May these things be true for all of us.