The Book of Job: A Three Thousand-Year-Old Story of Grief
By Rev John T. Schwiebert, MDiv
Part Three: "Am I Going Crazy?"
In my previous reflection on the grief of the Biblical character named Job (the second in a series), I spoke of the problems that friends can bring to the grieving process.
Using examples from Job’s story, I observed that sometimes the pain of a personal loss is complicated by a further loss—the sudden or gradual fading of friendships when “friends,” for a variety of reasons, cannot deal with their discomfort in the face of another person’s grief. I noted the frustration that grieving persons often experience because of “miserable comforters” who make things worse by trying to minimize, intellectualize or rationalize the bereaved person’s loss.
Mostly Job is able to fend off his friends’ unhelpful suggestions that he bears the blame for his loss, or that he somehow deserves the pain that his loss brings. Although he is dismayed at what seems like unfair treatment that he attributes to God (more about this in a future essay!), Job proclaims his innocence of wrong-doing:
If I go forward, [God] is not there,
or backward, I cannot perceive [God]
On the left [God] hides, and I cannot behold [God]
I turn to the right, but I cannot see [God].
But [God] knows the way that I take;
when [God] has tested me I shall come out like gold
My foot has held fast to [God’s] steps;
I have kept [God’s] way and have not turned aside.
I have not departed from the commandment of [God’s] lips;
I have treasured in my bosom the words of [God’s] mouth.
--Job 23:8-12 (NRSV)
Because of the way the story is written, Job has every right and reason to deny that he bears any blame for his loss. For in the prologue to the story, God has already recognized Job to be “blameless and upright” (See Job 1:8). And we do know that in our time also bad things can happen to good people as well as to those who are not without blame.
On the other hand there are moments in Job’s discourse with his friends when he is filled with self-doubt, times when he is on the verge of acknowledging that maybe his friends are right:
Though I think myself right,
his mouth may condemn me;
though I count myself innocent,
it may declare me a hypocrite.
But am I innocent after all?
Not even I know that . . .
--Job 9:20-22 (JB)
The self-doubt is further intensified when Job—the bereaved parent—sees other parents with less integrity than he, who are enjoying themselves and their children while he grieves . He wonders not only why bad things happen to good people, but why good things happen to bad people!
Why do the wicked still live on,
their power increasing with their age?
They see their posterity insured
and their offspring grow before their eyes.
The peace of their houses has nothing to fear,
the rod that God wields is not for them . . .
They let their infants frisk like lambs,
their children dance like deer.
This confusion, this uncertainty about what is true and what is real or not real is not uncommon in the grieving process. We have heard bereaved persons say things like, “I feel like I am going crazy!” “Or” Nothing makes sense!” Or “It’s like the ground is shifting beneath my feet.”
Caught in this craziness, some bereaved persons turn to psychotherapy and/or mood altering medications, hoping to be relieved of their pain, and cured of their unrelenting grief.
But in truth grief is not an illness, and should not be treated as if it were. Pain is a normal and natural response to loss. Grief is not something that can be cured by treating symptoms, but something that has to be faced in order to get through it.
Job suffers greatly through his ordeal. He experiences the same craziness that the rest of us have felt in our times of grief. But at some deep level he knows that he will be able to move beyond the despair of the moment and come to a place of hope.
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth,
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God . . .
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(More reflections on Job to come, in future issues of this news letter)