Mournful Words from a Miserable Man
February 16, 2014 / No. 3711
Dear radio friends,
In our study of the book of Job we come today to chapter 3.
In the first two chapters we were introduced to Job, a very wealthy man, and at the same time an upright man who feared God and hated evil. We also learned of Satan, who said that Job feared only God because of all his wealth. We also saw Job’s intense suffering, first in the loss of all his wealth, then his ten children, then his health, and finally he lost the support of his wife. Then we also learned of the wonderful truth of God’s sovereignty, both from God’s conversation with Satan, and also from the beautiful confessions that Job made in response to his suffering.
Chapter 3 continues the story of Job with his next words. For seven days Job sat silent in his grief with his three friends looking on. Now, he opens his mouth and speaks, not just to his friends, but primarily to God.
This is a very difficult chapter to treat. Job’s words are very dark and negative. I think we can understand quite easily what Job is saying, but we do not always know what to do with it, and we are tempted to pass it over and get to Job’s other confessions of faith later in the book. But this is God’s inspired Word, and so it is profitable for us to study.
The main thing we learn from this chapter is that even the strongest believers do become discouraged and depressed, that there is no such thing as a super-Christian. That is right on the surface here in this chapter—it is very obvious.
We see this first in what Job says. What does Job say?
Job begins his words by cursing the day he was born. He says, in summary,
“Let that day perish. Let it be covered in darkness so that even God doesn’t regard it. Let it be cursed. Let it be obliterated from the annals of history. I wish it had never dawned. It was a failure, for rather than preventing my birth, it gave me life.”
Then Job goes on to say that it would have been better had he died as a child. Again, in summary, these are his words,
“Why died I not from the womb? Why was I received alive on my mother’s lap, why did she nurse me as a child? Why wasn’t I miscarried before anyone knew about my existence, or buried as a stillborn baby who never lived to see the light of day?”
Then Job tells us why he says these things. Death, he says, has more appeal than life. He idealizes death, viewing it as a place of rest, the great equalizer, and deliverance. Job says,
“Now I should have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept. Then I had been at rest with kings and counselors of the earth. The small and great are there together. There the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest. There the prisoners rest together and hear not any more the voice of the oppressor. There the servant is free from his master.”
These words of Job reveal his depression. These words of Job are not randomly and thoughtlessly expressed. They are not the words of someone who is simply feeling down for a day or so. But Job has been sitting in misery and pain and thinking through his situation now for a week, and in this chapter he carefully puts his thoughts together in a lengthy poetic speech, and this is what he comes up with. Who says, “I wish I were never born,” or, “death right now would be better than life,” but a depressed person? There is something wrong with Job. This is not the way a believer generally speaks.
We see Job’s depression also in what he desires. Job has an intense desire to die. This he expresses in verses 21 and 22. It is the longing of a hungry man for food or of a thirsty man for water. He says that he longs for death, but it does not come. That he searches for it like a man who is digging for hidden treasure. He would rejoice to find the grave, it would make him glad, but he cannot find it.
Again, this desire of Job reveals the depths of his depression. He finds no joy in life and sees death as an escape. When God created us, He created us with a natural desire to live, to protect our own life. We have an aversion to death. Ephesians 5:29 says, “No man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it.” That is describing how a person normally views life and cares for himself. But Job, now, is so depressed that he longs to die.
Is it always wrong to want to die? No, there are in the Bible at least two appropriate reasons to want deliverance from this life.
One reason is to be delivered from, not the pains and afflictions of this life, but the spiritual struggles with sin. In Romans 7, after Paul has described his own daily struggle with sin, he says, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death.” He desires to die in order to be delivered from the ongoing and exhausting struggle with sin.
The other reason that a believer might want to die is that he desires richer and closer communion with Christ. This is what Paul is talking about in Philippians 1 when he says that he has a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better, and when he describes death as gain for the child of God. The gain of death is this, to be with the Lord, to see him face to face, and to know Him as He is.
But behind Job’s desire for death here we do not see either of these reasons. He is simply sick of life, because of its troubles, and he does not speak of the gain of death here in terms of eternal life. He is actually mistaken and wrong about death. It is not rest for all. It is not the great equalizer. It is not deliverance from bondage for all. And later in the book of Job, his perspective changes, but here, he has this very dark and wrong desire for death. And what it shows is his severe depression.
Then also we see Job’s depression in what he asks, in his questioning, which is directed not to his friends, but primarily to God. You see his questions in verses 20 and 23. Job asks in verse 20, “Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter of soul?” And then in verse 23, “Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?” Job is asking, “If God could simply end it all for me now, then why doesn’t He? Why does He drag it out? Why must I go on in my misery? If God is sovereign, why does He allow this pain?”
In asking these questions Job expresses the chief part of his torment and suffering. What Job says and desires and asks are simply an expression of a deeper experience, the experience of overwhelming sadness and pain in soul. In verse 20 he tells us that he is “bitter of soul” (v. 20). The soul of man is the spiritual aspect of his being, the part of us that makes us different from animals, the part that makes it possible for us to live in a relationship to God. When Job says his soul is bitter, he means that he has no experience of God’s love to him. This he describes in verse 23 when he says that his way is hid and that God has hedged him in. This is what makes his suffering so severe. In verse 25 he says, “The thing which I greatly feared is come upon me.” That fear was not just the loss of all his possessions and family and earthly relationships, but the loss of communion with God. When he goes to God with his questions, God is a wall. He feels that he is trapped in a deep dark pit with no way out—God, he says, has hedged me in, I’m trapped. He could take the loss of his children and the loss of his health, but now when he turns to his God, there is an awful blackness and a silence. God has removed His gracious presence, and Job has fallen into a deep and dark spiritual well.
When a believer goes through severe depression, that is exactly his experience. There is no joy in life, one feels trapped by his circumstances, and God seems to be ignoring him.
Even though, as we will see, these things are not true, this is exactly how a depressed person sees it.
We should realize and understand that many believers will and do experience this in life. We understand that Job is a believer here.
This is the same man of whom God said, “there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?” This is the man who confessed after he had lost everything, “the Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away, Blessed be the name of the Lord.” This is the man who said to his wife, who told him to curse God and die, “What? Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil?”
Even here in this chapter we see evidences of the faith of Job. Though he curses the day of his birth, he does not curse God. Though he longs for death, he never takes that into his own hands. And, even though he speaks unadvisedly, he still directs his thoughts and questions toward God. That in itself is a kind of prayer and an expression of his faith.
As a believer, he goes through this dark valley of depression.
What are the reasons for it? We need to answer that question so that we ourselves can find answers in depression. Looking at Job, we see that the reasons are multiple. Job suffers on every level here all at once.
He suffered physically, so traumatized by his pain that he could not eat or sleep. His pain was so severe that he found no satisfaction in even the simple pleasures of life. In verse 24 he says, “my sighing cometh before I eat,” that is, instead of food, there is just wailing from pain.
Along with this, Job suffered emotionally, dealing with grief in the loss of his children, and loneliness in the opposition he experiences from his wife. In verse 26 he says that he has no rest and no quietness. In verse 24 he compares his roaring to a continual fountain.
He suffered mentally, that is, in his mind he is confused, his mind is flooded with unanswered questions.
From these things we see that sometimes some of the causes for depression are outside of ourselves, and outside of our control. We should not think that depression is always caused by a particular sin that a person has committed. There are circumstances and trials of life that bring us very low, and make us weak and susceptible to periods of doubt. And then sometimes we need help, professional help, to deal with these things, especially when we get as low as Job did, and think that death itself would be better than life.
But we also see here that there is a spiritual dimension to depression that can be answered only from God’s Word. Depression gets down into the soul of a child of God, and causes doubt about one’s standing before God. Satan comes attempting to draw us away from God, wanting to make us doubt that we are truly saved. That is what we see Satan doing here. His whole aim in Job’s trials is to get Job to curse God, and to achieve that end he seeks to undermine Job’s trust in God. Job’s faith here is very faint and weak. And though he does not curse God here, he does sin with his lips, in his desires, and with his questions.
It is wrong for the believer to want to die simply for release from the troubles of life, especially when it is clear to him, as it was to Job, that God’s will was for him to live. It is wrong to question the purposes of God in the way Job does. Later in this book, God will reprimand Job for this, and Job will repent of it and admit that he needs to be silent before God in his suffering. So, we see, there is a spiritual dimension to Job’s depression. Though he did not sin to bring this suffering on himself, still, because he is a sinner, his response is not as it should be before God.
Well, what is the remedy to Job’s depression?
The first thing to note from the book of Job, and this is very important for us from a practical point of view, the first thing we should say is that one does not remedy severe depression by coming at the one who is suffering with specific accusations of sin.
Yes, we acknowledge that as we live in this sin-cursed world, and as we all wrestle with sin, there are sinful inclinations and thoughts that we have to deal with as believers and that these are going to be a part of what we have to deal with as we counsel for and recover from depression. We also acknowledge that there can be cases of depression that are brought by a person’s sinful lifestyle. A man who is an adulterer, and who is weighed down because of his sin, may well become depressed, and his sin must be addressed if he is to recover from his depression.
But the remedy, when a person is in the throes of depression, is not to come with guns blazing and fingers pointing. This was exactly the problem with Job’s three friends, as we will see in our next message. All they heard were Job’s words, and they had no understanding or sympathy for the depths of suffering in his soul, and so they concluded, “Job, you must have sinned, and God is correcting you.” And for more than 20 chapters they go on and on in this way, trying to help Job, but it is no help at all, except to demonstrate that Job’s faith is more mature than theirs.
You see, Job’s depression couldn’t be answered with man’s wisdom. It was only when God finally spoke in chapter 38 that Job’s life was changed. The sum of what God said was this: “Job, I am God alone, I made you, I know everything about you, in fact I know you better than you know yourself, and you’re not going to find the answer to your situation and your depression by asking WHY, but rather by asking WHO, that is, Who sent them?” “Job,” God says, “look to me.” It is because Job has taken his eyes off God that he becomes self-absorbed and obsessed with his problems. At the root of his depression, from a spiritual point of view, is selfishness, and Job needs to redirect his focus from himself and to God. He has lost his perspective, because he has taken his eye off God.
So the remedy is to look to God in faith, and as I say that I do not mean to sound overly simplistic. No, the road out of depression is long and hard, but the believer who goes through it needs, as an essential part of his recovery, to be directed towards God and His promises, and to trust in Him. All our hope and happiness, in the end, can be found only in the Lord.
Let me conclude by reminding you of several great truths concerning God that are an important part of the message of the book of Job.
Number one, we must remember, in the bleakest of times, that God is absolutely sovereign, that there is nothing that can or will happen outside of His sovereign control. That has already been Job’s confession. He knows that God has given and taken away, he receives the evil in his life from the hand of God, and he knows that God has brought him to this point, into this deep pit. And as he holds on to that truth, he will begin to receive light and hope in his darkness.
Number two, God is just, that is, there is no creature who has ever received what he truly deserves from God. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed. We see in our suffering the enormity of sin, not only in general, but our own sin. We realize that there would not be death or disease if sin had not entered this world. Our suffering is a testimony of God’s hatred for sin and a reminder of the torment of hell. So any suffering that we must endure in this life is minimal, is nothing, compared to what we deserve for sin. Too often we get the idea that God owes us better, when in fact we have much more than we deserve.
Number three, we see through our suffering the love of God for us in Jesus Christ. There is no better place for us to see and understand the cross than from the midst of our suffering. God brought suffering on His son, so that we would be spared what we truly and actually deserve. And all our suffering in the present is wrapped in love, the eternal love of God for us in Jesus Christ. What Job experienced and expressed, and what we must sometimes endure when God seems far off and silent reminds us of the suffering of Christ on the cross when He cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And we rest in those words of Christ. Because He was forsaken, we will never be forsaken. He carried the curse of our sin for us, to turn away the wrath of God, so that nothing could ever separate us from God’s love. And though Job does not see and experience God’s love for him, that does not mean that God has forsaken. No, God’s love, because it is eternal, is also unfailing. Jesus tells us that none of those whom the Father has given Him will ever perish.
Then, number four, God always has a sanctifying purpose for our suffering. He decrees pain and suffering for our good. Though we do not always see it, He is working through our pain to bring us to greater maturity, and to keep us dependent on Him. He is a loving Father, who does not afflict needlessly, but who with restraint inflicts pain, for our profit. A parent who loves his children will do the same.
And, so, the positive encouragement here for you, if you find yourself in the dark throes of depression, is to look away from yourself and your troubles to God, and to trust in Him and His unfailing faithfulness and love displayed in Jesus Christ.
This is how Jesus handled His suffering. We have a great example of it in Psalm 22, which is a Messianic Psalm, a prophetic Psalm concerning the suffering Savior. As Jesus endures the suffering of the cross, and as God turns His back on His Son, the Son moves His attention away from Himself and His suffering and He looks to God and His faithfulness.
I will just read the first few verses, but it is pattern in this Psalm. Psalm 22:1, 2. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.”
Then, turning from His suffering, He says (vv. 3-5), “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.”
And in verses 9 and 10, “But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly.”
And so He encourages us, in verses 23, 24, “Ye that fear the Lord, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel. For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.”
Let us pray,
Father, we do not always know the reason for our suffering, and sometimes it seems that we are all alone, and that even Thy hand is withdrawn. But, Father, we know that Thy love in Christ is unfailing, and so we ask Lord that Thou wilt encourage us by this truth, never to give up on Thee, but to continue in trust and hope, till the day of Christ. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.