“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.’ The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’” Job 1:20-22
When loss comes, grief is often not far behind. Though the shock of pain or the adrenalin of the survival instinct may make us appear strong for a time, grief, “the inward desolation that follows losing something or someone we loved”¹, will eventually find its way into every fiber of our being.
Grief can come in larger ways (death, loss, infertility, abuse, illness, a wayward child) and smaller yet still painful ways (financial loss, missed opportunities, disappointments) – both of which impact our lives in varying degrees.
Job lost everything – his livestock, servants, and every one of his children. In one fell swoop, his wealth, security, and family were stripped away. Yet, in response to unfathomable affliction; Job shaves his head, falls to the ground, and worships the Lord.
This is incredibly different than the way most of us respond to trials (including Christians). In Western culture, we’re often uncomfortable with grief, doing our best to avoid the reality that death and decay (of people and things) is evidence that this world is wasting away. Instead, we strive to appear strong, think positive, and fill our lives with whatever will help mask the pain. Or, sometimes we do grieve, but think that while we grieve we can be excused from worshiping God (we’ll start living for him again once we feel better or the grief has faded). Sadly, instead of allowing grief and loss to drive sufferers to a greater hope, many avoid facing brokenness head on by filling the deep ache with whatever will dull the pain.
But here we’re given a powerful and helpful image in this moment of Job’s life – one that can encourage us as we learn to grieve the losses in our own lives.
Grief is not a sign of unbelief
John Piper explained this well when he said, “The sobs of grief and pain are not the sign of unbelief. Job knows nothing of a flippant, insensitive, superficial “Praise God anyhow” response to suffering. The magnificence of his worship is because it was in grief, not because it replaced grief. Let your tears flow freely when your calamity comes. And let the rest of us weep with those who weep.”¹
It’s natural to grieve the losses and pain we experience in this life. Grief and tears are not a sign of weak faith, but a normal and healthy response to the brokenness of this world and the painful effects that it’s had upon our lives. Denying ourselves the freedom to grieve not only harms us, but denies us the opportunity to experience the sweetness of Christ’s presence in the bitterness of our pain. Instead, we can learn to live in the reality of what’s not right with the hope that one day all will be made right. Until then, we live in the land between – grieving but hoping; unsettled in the pain but at peace in Christ’s presence; trusting him in our brokenness, but longing for the day of wholeness and redemption in the sight of Jesus.
Friends, when we worship God in our grief and declare him worthy of our trust, even in our deepest sorrows; when we choose to rest in his goodness and sovereignty, even when our circumstances feel hopeless; we bring glory to His name. Having hope doesn’t mean we won’t grieve. Having hope means we grieve with the confidence that “Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).
Sudden grief vs long-term grief
We would be doing ourselves a disservice, however, if we only looked at this moment in Job’s life as a full picture of grief. Grief is not momentary, but long-term, often even lifelong. Job didn’t, and we don’t, walk through the pain of loss in a week or two, never to feel the absence or pain again. In fact, we typically don’t feel the full weight of our grief until the shock wears off, the meals stop coming, friends stop calling, and the world seems to move on while we are left with our pain and daily reminders of our loss.
By chapter 19, after Satan had afflicted him with painful sores upon his body, his wife had advised him to ‘curse God and die’, and his friends had unhelpfully attempted to comfort him with false assumptions of guilt – Job’s words begin to sound far less worshipful.
“Behold, I cry out, ‘Violence!’ but I am not answered; I call for help, but there is no justice. He (God) has walled up my way, so that I cannot pass, and he has set darkness upon my paths. He has stripped me from my glory and taken the crown from my head. He breaks me down on every side, and I am gone, and my hope has he pulled up like a tree.” (Job 19:7-10)
As Job’s suffering began to wear on him, he struggled to worship as he had before. He didn’t deny God or turn his back on him, but the face of his worship began to change. Now, Job reveals His trust in the Lord by honestly bringing his pain and confusion before him.
Though it’s wrong to grumble about God, we’re allowed to come to him humbly and ask him why, and we’re allowed to feel conflicted. God doesn’t expect us to be silent in our pain, grinning and bearing it, but to come to him honestly, with all our questions, fears, hurts, and confusion. He knows our hearts better than we know our own – and he tells us to come to him in honesty and humility. It’s here, in the unsettling place of grief, that we begin to understand the depths of God’s love and goodness towards us.
Job navigates this questioning, anguishing grief by reminding himself, in the midst of all he doesn’t understand, of what he does know:
“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, who I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27)
When a fresh wave of grief comes, we can let the tears come, cry out to the Lord in our pain, and then remind ourselves of the hope of the gospel. Our grief acknowledges that things are not as they should be, while our hope in the gospel reminds us that our grief no longer tells the whole story. Because Jesus paid the ransom for our sins, setting us free and breaking the power of sin, death, and suffering, we can be confident that one day he will make all things new when we see the face of God in Jesus Christ. When he returns, he will redeem what has been lost and restore what has been broken. Therefore, look beyond the end of this earthly body with hope and security.
To read more on the hope we have in suffering, you can purchase “Hope When It Hurts – 30 Biblical Reflections to Help You Grasp God’s Purpose in Your Suffering” authored by Sarah Walton and Kristen Wetherell here or here.
¹ J. I. Packer, A Grief Sanctified, p. 9, Crossway, 2002
²John Piper Sermon – “Job – Reverent in Suffering”