Heart of Darkness
Preached by Jason Abbott
Last week, we watched as God allowed Satan to put a righteous man, Job, through intense suffering. And, if you’re like me, then you immediately felt a sense of outrage at this. How could God allow this to take place?! This isn’t the way God is supposed to behave! Can you relate to such objections? I certainly can.
If we feel that way, however, we need to pause and consider our worldview for just a moment or two. Why do we think we know—better than God does—what should or shouldn’t happen to Job? Why do we think God’s job is to keep us from suffering in this lifetime? How do we even know what the purpose of life is? Who’s telling us how to think about such things?
Robert Frost, in his classic poem “Birches” says this, “Earth’s the right place for love: / I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.” 1 And, sometimes I wonder whether we don’t too readily, as Christians, believe something similar about Earth, something false about Earth—like it’s the right place for happiness and fulfillment and pleasure, like we can’t imagine a place where it’s likely to go better than here on this planet. I worry that we have unknowingly adopted our culture’s worldview and, therefore, find the picture of God in Job unpalatable and indefensible.
Friends, the Bible offers a very different view of life. It’s not the right place for love or happiness or fulfillment or pleasure. We weren’t created for this world. It’s fallen, and it’s corrupt. No…you and I were made for a better world—a world where we can relate to God without sin and without shame and without pain.
In fact, and this is essential, the greatest good we can acquire in this lifetime is a relationship with God, learning to know and trust and love him more and more. The Bible tells us God is the ultimate treasure—he won’t fade or fail us in the end. Our money and possessions will fade in the end; our family and friends will fail us in the end; our health and happiness will not last. We were made for a relationship with God into eternity. Only that can ultimately satisfy us.
Friends, this may be hard to accept, but I’m compelled to say it nonetheless. If the Lord allows Job (or you!) to experience suffering, in order that you trust him and love him more than the world, then such suffering is right and is good.
Well, I’ve probably devoted too much time to talking about our worldviews and how they inevitably shape our reading of Scripture. Forgive me. Let’s move on to this week’s passage in Job. Before we read from it, however, let’s ask the Lord for his grace during our time of study. Please pray with me.
We’ll be looking at a longer passage of Scripture this morning, so I’m going to break it up into two sections. We’ll read and study the first few verses and, then, we’ll read and study the second group of verses. (1st) We’ll look at three wise men, and (2nd) we’ll look at the suffering heart of Job.
1. Three wise men (Job 2:11-13)
11 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. 12 And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. 13 And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.
These men are Job’s closest friends. They’re not merely his acquaintances. They’re not just Facebook friends. They love Job enough to travel great distances in order to comfort him. This was without a doubt inconvenient for each of them. These men put all their normal routines on hold. They had to pack up their things, arrange their affairs, and even risk their lives. (Travel at that time was not safe!) Their effort—as they try to care for Job—is consequently impressive. We can learn from their example.
Part of comforting someone is simply effort—effort to write a card to them, effort to prepare a hot meal for them, effort to drop whatever you’re doing to weep alongside of them. The effort you exert tangibly expresses your care for that person and your desire to comfort them. And, that effort goes a long way. Yet, too often, when we see friends who are hurting, we imagine that we’ve nothing to offer them or that they just won’t want our comfort. But, again, such thinking doesn’t emerge from a biblical worldview. In fact, Paul tells us comfort is a Christian’s business:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
I won’t say very many positive things about these three “wise” men today, but they get an A for effort here. They go above and beyond to be there for Job. We should learn from their example.
Another thing we need to know about the three men is that they’re supposed to represent the wisdom of the world. That doesn’t jump off the page for us today, but it would have been understood by the ancient reader. The clue is in the regions which these three men call home, especially Edom (cf. Obadiah 8; Jeremiah 49:7). One commentator sums it up this way:
We have here not just three kind and loyal friends but three wise friends who between them represent, as it were, the combined resources of the wisdom of the world. 2
Look, as we read this, we should be thinking—This is great news for Job! Help has arrived!—because the author is basically telling us that grief counselors from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton have arrived. They’re not only caring friends; they’re also highly trained counselors. If the world has answers for Job, these men can provide them.
Now, we won’t do much with that little fact during the rest of this message. However, it’s important for us to keep it in mind, as we evaluate the three wisemen and the comfort they bring to Job in his tragedy. In short, we should be asking—What solution or hope does the world have to offer? That’s a question our author wants to answer in the chapters following this one.
Well, before we move to point two, allow me to offer some practical advice when it comes to comforting those who are in the midst of suffering. I’m no expert, but I have witnessed individuals who have the gift of mercy at work. And, this is what I’ve learned by watching them. So, when you’re intending to comfort a friend who’s suffering, keep these things in mind:
- Be comfortable with silence. Don’t fill silence with casual conversation about the weather or sports. Don’t tell jokes to try and lighten the mood.
- Give them your ear. Just intently listen to them as they share their pain with you. They may say things that aren’t true about life or about God. Don’t correct them. Don’t play Bible answer man. All the right answers in the world won’t comfort them. Just listen to them.
- Be brief unless they ask you to stay. Short frequent visits are often better than one long one. And, when you visit, bring things you know they need (e.g. a hot meal, basic groceries, cleaning supplies—so that you can clean for them).
Well, we need to move to the second part of today’s text. Here, we’re going to see Job’s intense feelings of pain. We’ll see:
2. A suffering man (Job 3:1-26)
1 After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. 2 And said:
3 “Let the day perish on which I was born,
and the night that said,
‘A man is conceived.’
4 Let that day be darkness!
May God above not seek it,
nor light shine upon it.
5 Let gloom and deep darkness claim it.
Let clouds dwell upon it;
let the blackness of the day terrify it.
6 That night—let thick darkness seize it!
Let it not rejoice among the days of the year;
let it not come into the number of the months.
7 Behold, let that night be barren;
let no joyful cry enter it.
8 Let those curse it who curse the day,
who are ready to rouse up Leviathan.
9 Let the stars of its dawn be dark;
let it hope for light, but have none,
nor see the eyelids of the morning,
10 because it did not shut the doors of my mother’s womb,
nor hide trouble from my eyes.
11 “Why did I not die at birth,
come out from the womb and expire?
12 Why did the knees receive me?
Or why the breasts, that I should nurse?
13 For then I would have lain down and been quiet;
I would have slept; then I would have been at rest,
14 with kings and counselors of the earth
who rebuilt ruins for themselves,
15 or with princes who had gold,
who filled their houses with silver.
16 Or why was I not as a hidden stillborn child,
as infants who never see the light?
17 There the wicked cease from troubling,
and there the weary are at rest.
18 There the prisoners are at ease together;
they hear not the voice of the taskmaster.
19 The small and the great are there,
and the slave is free from his master.
20 “Why is light given to him who is in misery,
and life to the bitter in soul,
21 who long for death, but it comes not,
and dig for it more than for hidden treasures,
22 who rejoice exceedingly
and are glad when they find the grave?
23 Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden,
whom God has hedged in?
24 For my sighing comes instead of my bread,
and my groanings are poured out like water.
25 For the thing that I fear comes upon me,
and what I dread befalls me.
26 I am not at ease, nor am I quiet;
I have no rest, but trouble comes.”
Less than an hour ago, we were praising the Lord for the birth of a little baby and dedicating ourselves to raising that child to know God’s love and the gospel. Here, however, Job is doing quite the opposite. He’s cursing the day of his birth. He’s wishing he’d never-ever been conceived (vv. 3-9). Then, he turns from curse to lament. He asks why God allows for suffering. He wants to know what purpose, in the grand scheme of things, such pain could serve (vv. 11-24). As we hear this, we understand the silence of his three close friends—“…they saw that his suffering was very great” (Job 2:13). What are we to make of this?
Well, let me say two things, and then we’ll close. First, this section’s poetry. Most of the remainder of the book’s poetry. As such, it’s to be read and understood in a different way than prose would be. Language is often used for emotive effect. Ideas are overstated (hyperbolized) to capture how, in this case, Job feels.
So, when we’re reading the poetry in Job, we shouldn’t press details too far but look, instead, for the larger images and the overall impressions of each section. When we do that with this section, we see that Job is at a point of crisis in his life. He no longer sees life’s purpose. Everything Job thought he knew has been turned on its head. Why was I even born? he asks. How can this serve a purpose? he asks. Considering the circumstances, these are natural and honest feelings.
And, that brings us to the second thing I need to say. When you’re suffering, as Job is here, and you have questions like his—questions about God’s purposes—then you should ask them honestly. This is the model we get throughout Scripture. Just consider those who suffer in the Psalms (cf. Psalm 22; 88). Or, consider Jesus from the cross—My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46). These are honest questions from the depths of pain. I like what one scholar writes concerning this:
God prefers we speak with him honestly, even in our moments of deepest gloom, than that we mouth innocuous clichés far removed from reality. 3
That, friends, is what Job is doing here. He knows that God knows his heart, so he won’t pretend to hide it from him. And, we shouldn’t try to hide our hearts from God either. To open our hearts to God, even with such struggling questions, I’m convinced, is an act of honest faith and authentic worship. Job feels forsaken by God, and so he expresses it before him. He will not avoid his Creator.
Well, as we close, allow me to point out that no matter how awful it may get for those of us who’ve trusted in Christ, Job’s situation here is never our situation. This is what I mean. You may feel as if God has forsaken you. You may feel alone. But, if you have trusted in Christ, that simply cannot be the case because the gospel is that God the Father forsook Christ Jesus, his Son, to save you.
If you have faith in Christ, God has promised to never abandon you. Amen.