are we too hard on sufferers?: gaining perspective on Job's wife and Ruth's mother-in-law and the woman you know who's struggling
How many of us have voiced an unfiltered thought to our husband or a friend? An utterance that surfaced unchecked and maybe not even because we really believed that thing but because we were looking for that man of strength we married or that loyal friend to speak to our hearts and challenge how we were processing the present struggle?
Job's wife gets a lot of flack. In an unfiltered horrific (and providentially preserved) moment, the words came out: "Why not just curse God and die?" Let's just be done with all this. I don't think I can take anymore.
And tears ran down my face this morning as I shared with my small group at Ladies' Bible Study this brief vignette because sometimes the Spirit makes it really real that these characters in the Bible were individuals, fully human, just like me, and their reactions, their stories, could be mine.
Job's wife, though we don't know her name, was a real woman. And she suffered significant loss, endured immense heartache. I cannot imagine. Every thing and every child she had was stolen from her grasp, taken away from her in rapid succession, and she was watching her hero, her husband suffer unexplained personal illness.
And we do well to keep reminding ourselves, this story is not a work of fiction. This woman, Job's wife, breathed air and birthed children and worked hard and loved deep.
And she was brought to the end of herself. The painful, bitter end. The hopeless bottom of the empty barrel. A place where, given enough hardship, any of us can come to. (And some of us get there way faster than she.)
"Why not just curse God and let Him kill us?" Think about all they'd suffered. Read the first two chapters again. Put yourself in her shoes, remembering a significant loss you've experienced and the hot tears that you've shed. The question that always eventually surfaces is, "Is this worth it? Is it worth it to keep going on?"
And I find it incredibly instructive to look at Job's response. Righteous man that he was, I have to read his character into his tone of voice: I do not think he's shouting this at her. I really don't think at that lowest point of struggle, after all they'd been through together, that he was really condemning her. I think if there were an inspired audio version...I believe...we'd hear a gentle husband quietly, calming counseling the woman he loves.
"You sound like one of the foolish women. Should we expect good from the hand of God and not suffering?"
It's as if Job's saying, That's not my faith-full, grace-full wife talking. That's not you, love, saying that. I know it's not. These words are coming out of your beautiful lips, but it doesn't sound like you. I know you. This isn't you. "You're talking like an unbelieving person."
And so he gently pleads with her to respond as a woman of the faith. And notice he says, you sound like or you're talking like. He doesn't accuse her of being an unbeliever. There is a difference.
And then Job says just one thing more, he asks her a question. He doesn't go on and on, doesn't preach, doesn't lecture. He just challenges her thinking by asking her one probing question: "Should we expect God to give us good only and never what we consider to be bad?"
Then he leaves the scene, goes off to scrape his sores, to sit silently, and to suffer the bad theology of his so-called friends who thought they had it all figured out...until God would set them straight and speak for Himself.
But Job's brief, kind response to his struggling wife reveals the measure of his faith. He believed God was sovereign (in complete control). And he believed God always did what was right (even if he didn't understand why). He didn't expect that He somehow deserved life to always be good. And he believed God was with them in this storm.
Still, it hurts to watch your husband soldier on and suffer. It hurts to lose everything you've worked for, anyone you've loved. It just hurts. And it hurts deeply.
And the question in our Bible study book today--Nancy Guthrie's The Promised One: Seeing Jesus in Genesis, week 3, discussion question 7--that in part prompted this post was this:
"Many people feel and express anger with God when the brokenness of this world impacts them in ways that bring pain. How could you use what you've learned in this study of Genesis 3 (perhaps also using the truths in Romans 8 and Revelation 21 and 22) to help someone who is angry with God to put the blame where it belongs and place their hope in Christ?"
And there were some really good answers at our table.
But sometimes the answer to working through anger, bitterness of soul, resentment, grief, and other difficult heart responses with others is to give them space and time.
It's not helpful to philosophize about the why when God hasn't revealed that. We may not know why. Ever.
It's not helpful to give an answer before you hear the whole matter. (I think that's a proverb....)
It's not helpful to smack a bandaid Bible quote on the seeping sore. Though slowly pouring the water of the Word (without a running commentary) can wash over a wound and aid the healing.
And a word spoken in due season is priceless, beautiful! But I heard a pastor say once that the best thing Job's friends did was just be there and be silent, that the minute they opened their mouths, they became not helpful.
And back to Job's wife, her ache was raw and her complaint was candid. And honestly I just don't believe it's wrong to voice our emotional battles to the One who created us in His image with a capacity for a full-range of feelings. Read the Psalms: 73, 77, 88, 109, 137. Try Lamentations. Listen to Jesus in the Garden.
And sometimes it's helpful to talk to someone who you know loves you and who you know is striving to live by faith too.
Jumping to the end of the book, we see (at least assume) Job and his wife weathered this storm...together. And went on to have ten more children together.
And finally, though God rebukes Job's three self-proclaimed spiritual psychologists, He doesn't rebuke Job's wife. That's significant to me too.
A second woman comes to mind: Naomi. Or should we call her what she wished to be called: Mara, meaning bitter?
And as I talked with a friend this week, she shared a helpful perspective she'd gained from the life of Naomi, an insight from a Sunday school teacher that connected during a season of personal struggle she was going through.
In the story of Ruth, we see this struggling saint named Naomi, and if we're not careful we look over her or condemn her. But a more thoughtful examination of the story reveals a woman who though at her very lowest is being used by God.
In times of crisis, we often wonder if God is still working, if He's using our lives for any purpose. But God is fulfilling His purposes for us and through us.
In the book of Ruth, we see God using Naomi (despite her depressed state) as a key connector. It is Naomi whom God uses to point Ruth in the way she should go, how she should respond, what she should do... And God uses this struggling widow to orchestrate events that would be significant in the eventual fulfillment of the promise of a Messiah. Ruth, after all, though a Moabite, became the wife of Boaz and one of the women in the lineage of Jesus, the Promised One, our Savior.
And we can take fresh courage that God will accomplish His purposes for us, that He's still working in and through us, that He will perfect what concerns us, that He is God, that He knows, that He cares, that it is worth it to hang on to hope.
These thoughts have been significant to me recently. And I'm pretty convinced that they'll be pretty significant to some of you, too, whether you're the one struggling or you're the one walking through the valley with a friend or spouse who's struggling.
I want to close with a portion of David's Miktam (Psalm 57):
"Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in You my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
till the storms of destruction pass by.
I cry out to God Most High,
to God who fulfills His purpose for me...
God will send out His steadfast love and His faithfulness!"
Let's find our refuge in Him tonight.
Let's rest in His love and faithfulness and trust His power to complete the good work He's begun in us.
Grace and peace...
from Kassia (who reached up and touched the keys and happened to type her very first smiley face tonight, and I couldn't bring myself to backspace over it)...
If I can pray with you or be an encouragement to you in this journey you're on, please feel free to email michelle [at] vineandshoots [dot] com.