Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Job 14) transports me to the inner chambers of a deeply troubled soul, despairing and depressed, aching from a life of suffering and loss. When people of faith experience loss of loved ones today, you often hear the question asked, How could anyone ever go through that without the hope of heaven? Read Job for an answer to that question. Lest we ever get too glib with grace, and expect the life of faith to be full of blessed days, we should occasionally read Job. It is a book that gives permission for the faithful to be angry, to cry out to God, to experience hopelessness, and still be faithfully devoted to the Almighty. Job here has come to a point in his life where he has been abandoned by hope. He feels like life is nothing more than a death sentence, and we humans are simply serving hard time, waiting for our release to the grave. He poses a question that is read at many funerals today: If a man dies, can he live again? For Job, though, this was not a question to assure grieving listeners of a resurrection day. It was the opposite; Job was asking it as a rhetorical question because he, along with the people of faith in his time, had no concept of resurrection life. For him, mortals lie down and do not rise again. The idea of eternal life came late to Judaism, after they had been in exile, where Persian religion was replete with afterlife imagery. But for those old time religion ancient Hebrews who later found a following among the Sadducees of Jesus’ time, life on earth was it.
What is most amazing about this book is how Job sustained and maintained faith in God in the midst of all his loss and suffering and abandonment. His love of God was not based on a hope in some great gettin’ up morning, some future day of reckoning where everything would be made right. Job’s only hope of release came in the promise of death, when the suffering of this life would end. As he pondered the prospect of resting in peace, he could have done an Elvis impersonation and sang There will be peace in the valley for me some sweet day; there’ll be no more sadness, no sorrow, no trouble I see, there will be peace in the valley for me. But this was not resurrection peace, it was the presence of peace coming in the absence of a sorrowful life. Job’s faith in God could have inspired the 16th century anonymous hymn writer, who wrote beautiful words of a love for God based on who God is, not on what we might gain through resurrection: My God, I love Thee; not because I hope for Heav’n thereby. . . Then why, O blessèd Jesus Christ should I not love Thee well? Not for the hope of winning Heaven, nor of escaping hell. Not with the hope of gaining aught, nor seeking a reward, but as Thyself hast lovèd me, O everlasting Lord! E’en so I love Thee, and will love, and in Thy praise will sing, solely because Thou art my God, and my eternal King.
I’m not that hymn writer. I’m not Job, and I’m not a Sadducee. I’m one who does believe in resurrection life; I maintain a comforting expectation of eternal life in God’s presence and in the presence of loved ones who’ve gone to glory. But I can only hope that my love for God would be just as strong if I didn’t have an eternal reward or family reunion to look forward to. If this brief time on earth were it, could I love God simply for who God is, and for what God has done for me through Christ on the cross? Could I cherish this life for what it is, with all its mixture of agony and ecstasy? While I’m pondering that, I’ll imagine all the Jobs of this world joining voices in an old Phil Ochs song: There’s no place in this world where I’ll belong when I’m gone, I won’t know the right from the wrong when I’m gone, and you won’t find me singin’ on this song when I’m gone, so I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here. I won’t be running from the rain when I’m gone, I can’t even suffer from the pain when I’m gone, can’t say who’s to praise and who’s to blame when I’m gone, so I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here. I won’t be laughing at the lies when I’m gone, I can’t question how or when or why when I’m gone, I can’t live proud enough to die when I’m gone, so I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here.
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.