Job was the man who seemed to have it all. He had possessions, family, wealth—everything anyone could want. He is described as a blameless and upright man who feared God, and God had blessed him greatly, to th epoint where he was “the greatest man among all the people of the East.”
But then it was all gone. Herds gone. Flocks gone children gone. A bit later, his health is gone. He is left with nothing except a wife who nags him to “curse God and die.” He doesn’t, but then a weak later he proclaims, “May the day of my birth perish, and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!'” In other words, “It would have been better if I had never been born!”
There are many levels on which we can understand the book of Job. But as much of anything, it’s the story of a man who struggles to make sense of what has happened to him. He isn’t privy to what is going on between God and Satan. As far as we can tell from the text, he never finds out about that side of things.
We’ll pull some other lessons from Job in due time, but one of the things that the book of Job does is give us an insight into the thought process of someone experiencing depression. Job doesn’t understand why things are happening. He upholds righteousness of God, but wrestles with his friends’ accusations that he must have done something unrighteous in order to be suffering in this way. He knows that God is sovereign, but doesn’t understand why God is doing this to him (or allowing this to happen).
For the faithful Christian, our experience through grief (and the resulting depression) is a lot like Job’s. We know what we’ve been told about God. We know that He is righteous. We know that He blesses His children. We know that we’ve tried to be as faithful to Him as possible. But yet this bad thing happened.
One of the problems we have in addressing this dissonance is that we often treat the question as a de facto lack of faith. If we talk about this struggle, we’re told that if we had more faith, we wouldn’t be worried about it. If we had more faith, we would just trust God to take care of things. Ironically, as the narrative unfolds, it is Job’s friends who told Job that these bad things wouldn’t happen to him if he didn’t sin who are rebuked by God.
Trying to reconcile a just and loving God with unfortunate circumstances isn’t a lack of faith. If anything, it is the pursuit of a deeper faith. I frequently mention my belief that the admonition to “sing a new song” in the Psalms is less about singing new words and more about singing a song that is newly informed by our experience with God’s faithfulness. Think about times when God’s people sang a (literal) new song. When God delivered them safely through the Red Sea. When God gave victory through Deborah and Barak. Our efforts to reconcile what we know about God with what we are experiencing are borne out of a desire to sing that new song.
Lack of faith in these moments is deciding that there isn’t a way to reconcile God’s nature with my circumstances. When I decide that there is no possible way that a just and loving God could allow a miscarriage or death or some other misfortune of life, my pursuit of faith has ended and I’ve embraced doubt.
For those of us who might be on the outside looking in, we need to be compassionate in our response to those who are going through depression. In all likelihood, they don’t want to be in the emotional state that they’re in. It’s entirely possible (and indeed probable) that they are trying to put the pieces together and make sense out of things that aren’t making sense. For those on the inside looking out, keep striving to make sense of those things. Don’t give up.
Job never really got an answer to the question. However, his experience gave him a better perspective on trusting God because of His greatness and faithfulness. The same is true for us. Will we ever perfectly understand why there is suffering in view of a righteous, just, and loving God? Perhaps not, but we can better appreciate the truths God does give us.
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,Job 42.5
but now my eye sees you;