Beginning in January of this year, trouble began falling on me like bricks tumbling out of a dump truck one after another. I won’t bore you with the details except to say that I’ve had 10 months of pain and aggravation and now enjoy a certain kinship with Brother Job.
Job is one of my patron saints. I see him — a man bereaved, humiliated and stripped of all this life has to offer; his skin is blistered and festering and his nerves are on fire. I ask, “How will this best of all men respond?” “What great truth can I learn from him?”
“After this Job opened his mouth and cursed ...” (Job 3:3)
Job is my kind of man.
I haven’t always thought that way. I stand in a long tradition that confused the Christian virtue of endurance with the pagan ethic of stoicism. I was taught to curb my emotions, or at least the outward expression of them, and to never complain. Ours was the virtue of the stiff upper lip. It’s little wonder that I never took well to Job, his overmastering sorrow, his angry outbursts of frustration. Job was a whiner.
I’ve been told that stoicism found it’s way into Western thought via the Renaissance and the notion that reason must override passion, but the Renaissance is not our mother. We go back to an older, richer, inspired tradition: The lament psalms in which Israel’s poets pour out their emotions with groans and loud complaints.
Biblical endurance, the chief virtue in times of testing, is something quite different from stoicism. It has to do with steadfast trust in God’s goodness and love despite all counter-indications, but it says nothing about our emotional state while doing so.
Job is no Stoic, striving to be pure mind with no passion. Job’s was not the strength of stones or of bronze (6:14). The man is an emotional wreck. The Lord’s testing is not to find out if Job can sit unmoved like a block of wood, but will he continue to hope in God despite his suffering and the emotional turmoil that surrounded it.
The example of Jesus should forever silence those who criticize emotional outbursts and consider them to be sinful or signs of immaturity: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears...” (Hebrews 5:7)
Jesus experienced the whole range of human emotions, yet he did not sin. His strongest desire, even in agony, was to surrender himself wholly to his Father.
We are drawn by our suffering to that same point of giving in to God. Going through a wrestling match with Him is not an indication of spiritual weakness, but of the intensity of our desire for wholeness. We have a God who lets us be angry at him and accepts our emotional pain as his own. It’s OK to fume and fret o’er our troubles; OK to wish they were gone.
What I long for, pray for, therefore, is not bland, phlegmatic calm, but absolute and undoubting confidence in the love of God despite my troubles — and someday to say with Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15).
David and Carolyn Roper co-direct the work of Idaho Mountain Ministries, a ministry of clergy care. David is the author of 14 books. The most recent: Teach Us To Number Our Days. His musings are archived on davidroper.blogspot.com/
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.