The Birthday that Never Was
Imagine having a birthday that no one will ever remember. It’s pretty easy if you are born in December. It’s especially easy if you are born in the last half of December. I can remember as a child, years that only my mother, father, and sister even knew that I had a birthday. On the one occasion that I remember someone outside my immediate family mentioning my birthday, it was someone who handed me a gift and said, “Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday.”
I felt gipped.
Other people I knew had birthdays in the spring or the summer and had outdoor parties by the pool or the lake. They had, what seemed to me, to be tables of presents, lots of guests, mayhem, chaos, bedlam, and then some. I even knew one kid, whose birthday was five days before mine, who decided the best thing to do was celebrate half birthdays in June. Unfortunately for me, I was in my late teens before I heard about this, otherwise I would have celebrated on June 22nd instead of December 22nd.
Even my younger sister had a better time of it than I did since her birthday was in September. But no, not me. I tried to have a party one year and managed to find a few people who had not gone out of town to visit relatives. It was awkward and uncomfortable at best, especially since we watched a movie from the year before that everyone had seen but me.
I – Hated – It.
As an adult however, it’s kind of nice. My birthday disappears into Advent and all the festivities of the season hide another year’s passing in the birth of Jesus. I could conceivably claim to be twenty-nine forever if it weren’t for the grey hair, or what’s left of the grey hair.
Cursing the Day of his Birth
Yet as bad as childhood birthdays were, I never got to the place where I was ready to curse my birthday, wanting to have never existed. But missing your birthday isn’t nearly so bad as what Job experienced. After everything that happens in the first two chapters, we find Job sitting with his friends, having spent seven days and nights in painful, miserable silence. Suddenly, Job responds, breaking the silence in poetic fashion;
Perish the day I was born, the night someone said, “A boy has been conceived.” 4 That day—let it be darkness; may God above ignore it, and light not shine on it. 5 May deepest darkness claim it and a cloud linger over it; may all that darkens the day terrify it.
If it weren’t for the life situation that goes along with this tirade, you might think it the dramatic raving of an overly emotional teenager. It sort of reminds of the little song that they used to do on the show Hee-Haw,
Gloom, despair, and agony on me,
Deep, dark depression, excessive misery,
If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all,
Gloom, despair, and agony on me
Job only curses the day he was born, he curses the day he was conceived.
“May gloom seize the night…May that night be childless…May those who curse the day curse it… May its evening stars stay dark; may it wait in vain for light; may it not see dawn’s gleam, because it didn’t close the doors of my mother’s womb, didn’t hide trouble from my eyes.”
It’s not enough for Job to hate the day of his birth, but he goes on to say he hates the moment he was even conceived. For Job even the moment that he began the journey toward life is anathema. Just to be clear about the severity that Job treats these moments, the word cursed in Hebrew carries the connotation of saying, “May it be as though this never existed. So in essence, Job is saying, “I wish the day I was born and the moment I was conceived never to exist, as if they never were.” It is the idea of calling something or someone anathema, another word for cursed that implies hatred and disdain to the point of treating the person or the thing as though they never were.
A Little Help From Your Friends
This is the pain that erupts from the soul of Job as the silence ends and he begins the work of dealing with his grief and suffering. This is the work of dealing with loss. This is where we begin deciding how we are going to grieve the hard things and whether or not we will be able to work through them. Job is already past the first stage, denial and isolation, where he spent seven days in silence wrestling with his emotions. He bursts out this in his curses and enters the second stage of anger. Anger is healthy but it’s a lot like fire, if you don’t control it, it will consume everything in its path. Job’s wish in the moment is that it should do just that, obliterate his existence. But as we will see throughout this book, Job’s anger does not drive him away from God in bitterness, but to God as an inquisitor.
Yet, Job is not alone as he deals with the anger. While he was silent before in his denial and isolation, his friends are now engaged in the conversation as he addresses his friends as well as God in his tirade. I think there is a great lesson in Job’s honesty before God. Often we have this view of God that is more master-slave or king-subject and we treat God as an overlord or ruler rather than the father that he is represented as in the scriptures. I mean think about it, have you ever been mad at your parents? If you have ever been a teenager you have. It’s part of growing up to rebel against your parents as you grow into defining your adulthood.
My wife and I were talking a while back and frankly, sometimes I get to see myself as an educated idiot. We were on the edge of an argument but rather than just argue, I tried to avoid it and dance around the discussion. Those of you on church committees don’t get any ideas. I’m not afraid to fight, just not with Heather. We talked and finally she offered this nugget of wisdom that I have offered to others but didn’t really like to admit to – It’s okay to fight, if you do it the right way. By being honest, by saying what you think, and by remembering that in spite of the disagreement, you still love each other.
Interestingly enough, Job’s friend, Eliaphaz, offers advice to Job that Job had previously offered to others, “Isn’t your religion the source of your confidence; the integrity of your conduct, the source of your hope?” In other words, the same hope you have offered to others in your faith is the hope you should be relying on for yourself. It is a moment of growth that Job has to endure along with the rest of the tumult. The encouragement is honest and direct, as are most of the conversations in this book. It is the advice of a good friend to a friend in need, an opportunity for growth.
We go through the same spiritual and emotional growth patterns because they are born from relationships: those we have with God and those we have with people around us. As we grow in our relationship with God, we go through difficulty and trials and sometimes we sense the presence of God and sometimes we don’t. We feel the same sense of struggle and the same anger with God as we would with a parent and we wonder whether they really understand us and what we are going through.
This is where Job is in this section of the book. He says in chapter six,
Oh, that my grief were actually weighed, all of it were lifted up in scales; for now it’s heavier than the sands of the sea; The Almighty’s arrows are in me; my spirit drinks their poison, and God’s terrors are arrayed against me.
Perhaps another translation would be found in the Johnny Cash song, Hurt,
I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel.
I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real.
Job dares to speak to God this way because he is accustomed to being honest before God. He is owning the good, the bad, the indifferent. He is recognizing that God is still God but he is honestly standing before God, telling it like it is, because he knows that God’s character is ultimately love and Job is hanging on to that. This is the honesty that Job offers before God and the honesty that we can have before God.
Job finally returns to a desire for isolation as he responds to his friends in chapter seven. He can’t find peace anywhere and so he wants nothing to do with anything or anyone, “I reject life; I don’t want to live long; leave me alone, for my days are empty,” in verse sixteen.
Leave Me and Let Me Die
Have you ever been hurt by something and the only thing that you want to do is listen to that one song? You know the song; the one that someone wrote that captures every ounce of hurt that you could possibly feel. It’s a safe way, a safe place to go and be with the pain while you make sense of it.
We’ve all been there and as we look at Job, we can look back to those songs and that pain and know that there is a purpose in it. Psychologist Victor Frankl, a holocaust survivor and prolific writer once said, “Human life can be fulfilled not only in creating and enjoying but also in suffering…lack of success does not signify lack of meaning.” But Job can’t find the meaning yet. He questions what seems to be his punishment, a punishment he sees as being fit for the monsters of legend during the time when the gods of ancient Canaan called the world out of chaos and beasts like Leviathan had to be subdued. “Am I Sea or the Sea Monster that you place me under guard?” asks Job.
Job has simply had enough. Stripped of his family, his wealth, and now his integrity questioned, the pillar of the community and great example to the heavenly court calls God out and demands an explanation. Something that I think many of us should learn to do. Something I think Jesus would advocate as healthy as he says, “Be angry and do not sin.”
But there is a comfort that we have that Job did not. In Luke 17, Jesus tells the Pharisees that, “God’s kingdom isn’t coming with signs that are easily noticed. Nor will people say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ Don’t you see? God’s kingdom is already among you.” The kingdom Jesus spoke of is the kingdom that we are all a part of, all in the process of helping to make under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is come in the Holy Spirit that was promised by Jesus when he said,
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion, who will be with you forever. This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you.
In spite of the suffering and pain we face in this life, we are not left comfortless. We are part of the kingdom of God, a community of those who are living this life with us. We are not left without the presence of God as we experience the Holy Spirit within us. With this community and the Holy Spirit of presence, we can have the courage to question God, be angry with God, and seek a deeper relationship with Him.
A Few Questions
How can we be brutally honest with ourselves and with God when it comes to suffering and pain knowing we should be? How do we react to suffering, ours or that of someone else?