Friday, November 2, 2012

Job's lament

Job's curse-lament begins, "After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.  And Job said, 'Let the day perish on which I was born. . .'" (Job 3:1-3).  Not every commentator thinks that this is Job's finest moment.  Some even think that these sentiments are sinful and self-absorbed.  Divorced from the context of the story of Job this dark little poem might indeed be condemned as narcissistic. But I'm convinced it calls for a careful appraisal.  After all, remember that Job is wisdom literature.  And the words of the wise are not usually superficial.  They are "dark sayings" and "riddles" to be thoughtfully deciphered (Prov. 1:6).

Job was a ruler, a chief elder or probably even a king (Job 29:7; 31:21).  His "friends" are not simply chums, they are his "advisors," his "cabinet," if you will (2 Sam. 16:16).  The calamity that befalls him in the first chapters of the book have repercussions for the entire community, which is why his "friends" spend so much time trying to advise him how to respond well.  Job loses his sons and daughters, his health, the respect of his people, his standing in the community, his wife, his friends, and more.  But what is worse, Job loses the experience of the love and favor of God, his heavenly Father. The long arguments and further laments of Job as book progresses make it pretty clear that this last deprivation that is the most confusing and horrific to Job.

Before I talk about the content of the lament, the first thing we ought to note is how remarkable it is that in the context of Job’s abject misery he bothers to carefully compose, to artistically fashion this curse-lament. It is a complex, artistic poem with a very sophisticated heptamerous literary structure based on Genesis chapter one.  There's a lesson here about the value of art and beauty, even—or especially—in the midst of human suffering.  I am reminded of C. S. Lewis's sermon on the value of Learning in War-Time.

Continued in Part II

No comments: