“Oh, that I had one to hear me! (Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!) Oh, that I had the indictment written by my adversary! Surely I would carry it on my shoulder; I would bind it on me as a crown; I would give him an account of all my steps; like a prince I would approach him…The words of Job are ended.” Job 31:35, 36, 40b
“The words of Job are ended.” This phrase ranks with some of the most hopeless sentences in the Bible. Remember Job? The man who finds himself stripped of everything except an outbreak of boils and a few erstwhile friends who have appointed themselves his “counselors?”
The so-called wisdom of Job’s friends amounts to the accusation that he deserves everything that happened to him because, despite appearances, he was obviously evil and godless. Why else would God have allowed all this to happen to him? After twenty-five chapters of fruitless conversation, he expresses one final lament and then runs out of words.
I read this passage one Saturday morning while drinking chai and watching the rain—a desultory rain that captured well the mood of chapters 29 – 31. I paused in my reading, reflecting on the finality of the declaration, “the words of Job are ended.” As I did so my eyes wandered to the back corner of our yard to “Isaac’s Tree”, the tree we planted in 2008 in memory of our grandson.
Job lost seven sons and three daughters. I cannot fathom that. He lost his wealth. He lost his reputation. Finally, in utter despair, he lost his voice. I call that the grief of love lost: hopes, dreams, love, relationship, joy, possibilities…all of it crashes and burns. Life is reduced to Job 31 or the book of Lamentations. One’s soul longs for death.
But somehow, in some way, at some point in time, God breaks in. That takes much longer for some and much less time for others, but eventually, our relentless God reenters our world. Something changes in our way of seeing the world. I call that the grief of love separated. In some unexpected way, for some inexplicable reason, hope returns. This time the heart responds. The devastation we have suffered no longer dominates every waking moment. The loss loses its finality in the growing sense of God’s promises. We open up to the prospect of new possibilities. Trust in God begins to revive—very tentatively at first, but revive it does. Faith grows.
The grieving soul can declare, “I know my redeemer lives and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself.” (Job 19:25 – 27a)
The broken heart can still proclaim, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him.’” (Lamentations 3:22 – 24)
Even Job gets his voice back, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you…” (Job 42:5).