In his book, Disappointment with God, Phillip Yancey tells the story of Richard, whose struggles in life and the confusion they produced are not as uncommon as we might think.
Richard was converted to Christ while in college. Not long after that, his parents announced they were getting a divorce. Notwithstanding Richard's fervent prayers for the preservation of their marriage, they split. This was his first experience of feeling let down by God. Every decision he made in life was preceded by prayer and Bible study. But everything he did seemed to backfire. A lucrative job offer was withdrawn and given to someone less qualified. He soon found himself in debt, his fiance jilted him, and he began to experience a series of physical problems. Finally, feeling that he had reached his wit's end, he decided to seek God in an all-night prayer vigil. He fasted and prayed and zealously sought the Lord. But all he heard was silence. Nothing. After it was over, he said: "I staked my life on God, and God let me down."
Three questions plagued Richard and nearly drove him to despair.
First, "Is God unfair?" Yancey explains: "Richard had tried to follow God, but his life fell apart anyway. He could not reconcile his miseries with the biblical promises of rewards and happiness. And what about the people who openly deny God yet prosper anyway? This is an old complaint, as old as Job and the Psalms, but it remains a stumbling block to faith."
Second, "Is God silent?" Says Yancey, "Three times, as he faced crucial choices in his education, career, and romance, Richard begged God for clear direction. Each time he thought he had God's will figured out, only to have that choice lead to failure. 'What kind of Father is he?' Richard asked. 'Does he enjoy watching me fall on my face? I was told that God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life. Fine. So why doesn't he tell me what that plan is?'"
Finally, "Is God hidden?" This question, above all, haunted and obsessed Richard. "It seemed to him an irreducible minimum, a theological bottom line, that God should somehow prove himself: 'How can I have a relationship with a Person I'm not even sure exists?' Yet it seemed that God deliberately hid himself, even from people who sought him out. And when Richard's late-night vigil provoked no response, he simply gave up on God" (36).
The result comes as no surprise: depression, bordering on despair. Job, too, was depressed. The foundations of his personal and cosmic moral order had been severely shaken, almost destroyed (recall what happened to him in chps. 1-2). His emotions are now raw, deep, and at times terrifying. We will soon see in Job violent grief, explosive spiritual agony, despondency, and a haunting cry of pain. There is yet to come, lament, complaint, and malediction. Job inches ever more closely to cursing God for what has happened, but he stops just short of crossing the line.
He is confused, frustrated, and disappointed, not unlike Richard. And he is mad! He says, in effect,
"My past is destroyed, left in a rubble on the desert plains."
"My present is filled with physical and emotional pain beyond words."
"My future is hopeless. Better death than this kind of life."
We can see the depths of Job's anguish by noting the progression of his lament:
"Would that I might never have been conceived."
"If conceived, would that I might never have been born."
"If born, would that I might have died at birth."
"If I live, would that I might die a premature death."
Thus we are suddenly plunged from the epic grandeur of Job's response in chapters 1-2 into the dramatic turmoil of chapter 3; from the external description of his suffering in chapters 1-2 to his internal experience in chapter 3.
It is as if Job says to God, "I recognize and acknowledge your sovereign right to deal with your creatures as you see fit, and I'm not saying you have sinned by letting me suffer. But I still don't know why you do it! To what end is this suffering? For what purpose have you allowed it?"
Job isn't arguing a theological point in this chapter, but is simply trying to understand his experience. He talks to himself, gives vent to his feelings and frustrations and confusion. He isn't always correct in what he says, so we must be careful not to build a theological position on everything he says. But at least he's honest, which is better than a series of religious cliches that are far removed from reality.
A. Lamenting his Birth - 3:1-10
Job breaks the silence and his friends are probably relieved that he, and not they, speaks first. What they undoubtedly expected from his was a confession of sin. What they actually heard shocked and dismayed them. Firmly committed to an inflexible doctrine of retribution and reward, they feel obligated to straighten out his thinking.
Contrast Job's attitude toward his birthday with yours and mine! "Would that the whole of my life be annihilated! Nothing I've experienced up to this point is worth suffering like this."
He invokes a curse against the two events that made life possible: birth (3a) and conception (3b). See Ps. 51:5 for an example of mentioning birth before conception. Job moves backwards from his present state to his birth to conception. "Like a messenger who brings bad tidings, night is cursed for the message it delivers, though it is hardly responsible" (Clines, 82).
His wish is not suicidal, though, because his words do not lead to his death. It is similar to other exclamations in Scripture:
"If it is thus with me, why do I live" (Gen. 25:22; Rebekah).
"It is enough, now, O Lord; take away my life" (1 Kings 19:4; Elijah).
"Take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live" (Jonah 4:3).
See esp. Jeremiah 20:14-18.
Job seeks to reverse the very words of God in Gen. 1:3 ("let there be light!"). On the day of his birth, may it be said: "Let there be darkness!" The idea was that any day which remained in darkness would never come into being. Note the piling up of words for darkness in vv. 4-6 . . . "Let God not attend to or care for that day, thus guaranteeing its death."
He continues his curse by charging the powers of darkness to claim or seize the day of his birth. If they hold it fast, it would cease to exist. "May a massive cloud of darkness cover it, snuffing out any ray of light."
In view of his suffering, he wishes that the night of his conception might never have been. (1) v. 6 - If the deep gloom of darkness had, as it were, seized or abducted that night so that evening would not have given way to daylight, that 24 hour period would have forever been expunged from the calendar. One thinks of February 29th of "leap year" which comes only once every four years. If you were born on that day you don't have a birthday to celebrate. You must use Feb. 28th or March 1st. It is as if Job wishes it were always so for him. (2) v. 7 - Job's curse is to rob the night of his conception of all fertility. "May my mother's womb be as barren and stony as rock, or as soil that cannot yield a crop."
Job wishes that this night had been put under a spell or had been declared an "unlucky" day by magicians or astrologers so that he would not have been conceived. "Leviathan" was a seven-headed sea beast in ancient mythology which caused eclipses by swallowing the sun or the moon. "May the sorcerers conjure up Leviathan to swallow up the light and darkness of my birthday, that it might not be."
Venus and Mercury shine brightly at dawn and announce the beginning of new day. Job declares a curse on them, to prevent the day of his birth from arriving. Again, in v. 10 he curses the day of his birth because it did not prevent his mother from conceiving or giving birth.
B. Lamenting his life - 3:11-19
Would that he be transported from womb to tomb! The "knees" here are his father's who, by taking him on his lap, legitimizes his birth. He wishes that he had been discarded and left unattended and unnourished and thus left to die. For if he had died he would be better off, not because death offers joys but because it ends the miseries of life. In the grave, says Job, earthly social structures that allow one man to lord it over another, to exploit and harm another, are no more. No more injustice whereby the rich take advantage of the poor, where the powerful terrorize the weak, where masters dominate their servants. Strife and turmoil between unequal human being is at an end. "Would that I were there," laments Job.
C. Wishing for death - 3:20-26
He voices his confusion: Why should the result of God's gift of life be that those who have it wish to be rid of it? He says, in effect, "God, I'm not cursing you for sustaining life in those who suffer. But I don't understand why you do it and I wish you wouldn't!"
Here Job is referring to himself. God has "hedged" him in yet again, but this time with different results. Cf. 1:10. What was originally looked on as a blessing is now a curse. The hedge used to protect him from harm. Now it keeps out the help he so desperately needs. Perhaps the "hedge" is a reference to God sustaining his life. For a man who wants to die, God's sustaining his life is a hostile and constrictive act. "God, pull the plug on me!"
A normal life is sustained by food and drink, but all that Job consumes are sighs and groans. His worst fears and greatest dread each day come to pass.
(1) Job never contemplates suicide. Although he doesn't take his own life, he wishes that God would.
(2) He never demands the restoration of his health and wealth as if they were his by right or merit.
(3) He never curses God.
(4) His experience demonstrates to us that even the most godly and faithful of believers can be discouraged, depressed, and on the verge of despair. Cf. 2 Cor. 1:8-9.
(5) Discouragement and depression can cause us to lose perspective. They warp our point of view. Don't make important decisions in such a state of mind.
Let's return for a moment to Richard. When asked the three questions at the beginning of this lesson, he replied: "Well, my doubt was more like a feeling --- I felt jilted, like God had strung me along just to watch me fall. But you're right, as I think about it; those questions were behind my feelings. God was certainly unfair. And he always seemed hidden, and silent. Yeah, that's it. That's it exactly! Why on earth doesn't God answer those questions? If only God had answered those questions --- if only he answered one of them. If, say, he would just speak aloud one time so that everyone could hear, then I would believe. Probably the whole world would believe. Why doesn't he?"