“Will you never look away from me,
or let me alone even for an instant?
If I have sinned, what have I done to you,
you who see everything we do?
Why have you made me your target?
Have I become a burden to you?” Job 7: 19-20 NIV
When Job speaks these words he is beyond rock bottom. He’s had everything suddenly taken away from him: his children; servants; livestock; livelihood; reputation; health. He has nothing left but his God, so he speaks out his anguish. The truly amazing thing about Job is that he never curses the Lord, despite even his wife advising him to. He only asks why, because the wisdom that has been handed down to him says that disaster has befallen him as a punishment, and yet he knows that he has not sinned. Even the religion that he has practiced all his days is no comfort to him, it makes no sense in the face of his huge suffering. All he has left is what he knows in his heart, that God must be good.
He is hurting and broken and sick, and wants to be left alone. He wants God to avert his eyes and let him die. No wonder he feels that God is using him for target practice. He wants the pain to end, he wants to crawl into a hole and be done with life.
As with Micah yesterday, I want to point out that this is not self pity. It is a normal, reasonable, grief-stricken reaction from Job to what is happening to him. It should pull at all the heartstrings of our compassion and make us want to come and sit silently on his dung heap with him and help him keep the vigil of tears and outrage and broken-heartedness. Instead of which of course, Job is visited by friends who do not know the value of silence or understand his suffering. More on that another day.
The feeling of being targeted is a horrible one. We can be targets for bullying, insults, mockery, lies, abuse, perjury, theft and assaults of all kinds. When these things happen we too might want to crawl away and hide, even from the eyes of God. But as the psalmist tells us (Psalm 139), and as God declares to Jeremiah, there is nowhere where this is possible. “Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the LORD. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the LORD.(Jeremiah 23:24 NIV)
The answer to Job’s first question is that God will not leave him alone. God never leaves us alone or turns his eyes away, despite all the times it might feel this way. The difference between wanting to hide from God and wanting to be his dwelling place is really one of trust. None of Job’s questions are answered the way he (and we) want them to be. For the answer is not theology, not a detailed explanation of why suffering exists or why it is visited on some of us in bucketloads, nor does God present Job with a neatly packaged understanding of his own life and its errors and hardships. No, God’s answer is not explanation, but encounter. He shows Job who he is. It is, perhaps strangely to us, all he needs. It makes sense to me that seeing, hearing and experiencing God’s majestic goodness leaves us able to trust him, and live without those reasoned, helpful answers that we long for. God’s presence is overwhelmingly enough and more, and it shows Job that he is a target only for the love, faithfulness and mystery of God and his holiness.
Cartoon by Gary Larson, which I had to use, as it fits so well, but I’ve no idea where to apply for permission, since his work is so successful all over the net, I will hope to be forgiven this once. If you haven’t come across him, do check out his work, he is my favourite cartoonist ever. 🙂