Job reminds us: God doesn’t judge us for how we feel
A Reflection for Tuesday of the Twenty-Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
Why did I not perish at birth,
come forth from the womb and expire? (Jb 3:11)
When I tell people that Job is my favorite book in the Hebrew Bible, I get one of two responses. Either people’s faces light up and they affirm this with an enthusiastic “yes!” or they take two steps backward, as if I might infect them with my malaise. But the truth is that I love the Book of Job because Job is so willing to talk to God in ways most of us can’t always manage.
In her book You Can Talk to God Like That: The Surprising Power of Lament To Save Your Faith, Methodist pastor Abby Norman writes that “our anger, our sadness, our frustration won’t scare God from us.” Both Job and the Psalmist for today go so far as to wish that they’d never been born, which can feel like a shocking extreme. But they share this lament with millions of people around the world who deal daily with the anxiety and depression that have grown into a global crisis since the arrival of Covid-19.
But just as we have barely paused to grieve the loss of the pandemic, so do we rarely grant ourselves the opportunity to take our rage, frustration and despair into our prayer lives. Rev. Norman reminds us we have permission to do this when she writes that “God isn’t judging us for how we feel.” Job certainly understood this. When he asks why life is given to the bitter in spirit, he is speaking for all of us who have experienced suffering.
God isn’t asking us to move on or let go; like a trusted friend or a good therapist, God simply receives our sorrow and desolation, and gives it a place to go.
When the Psalmist says “my soul is surfeited with troubles,” that, too, is an experience every human being shares. Suffering is part of human life, and God understands that. But many of us were brought up understanding that prayer is a time to praise God, not to rage at God. Yet Scripture, literature and art all give us plenty of examples of people doing just that.
Because God can handle our anger and our sadness, by bringing those emotions into our prayer, we can learn to avoid using them to damage other people or ourselves. When Jesus admonishes the disciples who want to destroy an unwelcoming village and instead simply leads them on to another village, he is mirroring the ways God receives unpleasant emotions in prayer. Yes, you’re angry. Yes, you’re sad. God is present to us in those states of emotional turmoil, too. But God isn’t asking us to move on or let go; like a trusted friend or a good therapist, God simply receives our sorrow and desolation, and gives it a place to go.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit” is not just a phrase; it’s an action, moving from God to us. Today’s readings are a reminder that even in our deepest state of despair, love also exists.