Penetrating Our Darkness
Permit me to get dangerously transparent for a little bit. There are places, experiences, and days that parents dread. As the Psalmist admits, there are valleys of the "shadow of death" (Psa. 23:4). In early 2016, Alaina and I had one of those moments. Tears of joy anticipating another child turned to tears of frustration and anguish. Moments, plans, and teased names were ruined. There was a silence of which there is never full recovery this side of the resurrection.
All of this makes my encounters with Job 3 painful, to say the least. As most know, Job is the pitiful soul that God providentially decided to place before the Accuser (i.e. Satan). God permitted the Accuser to bring everything but the final inch of wrath upon Job's life. Job lost more kids in one day than Alaina and I have dreamed of having. He lost his property. His wife told him to curse God and die. He claimed she talked like the "foolish women"—apparently quite the insult.
Amidst this turmoil and cacophony of poor speech from Job's wife, an eerie silence occurs at the end of the second chapter. For whatever attack we might levy against Job's three friends, their introduction to the story is without fault. After weeping with Job, they spent seven days and nights in silence for "his suffering was very great" (Job 2:13). There is enough in those verses of silence to cover a whole Advent of meditations. In an effort to look forward to Christ, there is something more to be said—by Job and Christ—after this silence.
Frustration and Anguish
Many of us give credit to Job when he professes that "Though he slay me, I will hope in him" (Job 13:15). But few of us quote the full verse. The full citation finishes by saying:
"Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face." — Job 13:15
In the third chapter of Job, our suffering protagonist breaks his silence and seemingly breaks down completely. He begins to argue his ways against the face of God. He begins to rue his very existence and laments in explicit terms his day of conception and birth.
In summary, Job curses that he didn't come out stillborn (Job 3:16). He curses that a knee and breast were there for him (Job 3:12). He pleads "that night be barren; let no joyful cry enter it" (Job 3:7) that he might "have been at rest" (Job 3:13). It is painful to read. It is agonizing to imagine the suffering of Job that inspired the words. Nonetheless, in my own exalted piety, I want to pull out my beard, wail as Job's friends did, and proceed to slap him. After seven days and nights of silence, this is what Job has to say? I'm usually furious reading his lament.
Then I close my eyes. I look at the horror in the world. Mass shootings, global sex trafficking, children dying at the hands of awful parents, and other global crises. Those don't even account for my pettiest frustrations. In my panic and breathlessness, I scream at God for all of this to just be done. Send Jesus back. End the lives of the oppressors. Oh God, let us all just drop dead and be at rest. For one moment let us rest from the crushing oppression of evil and hatred.
I realize I sound like Job. While I cannot connect with how Job wishes God would resolve his pain, I can connect with Job's desire for God to do something dramatic in an effort to absolve this world from the pain we have introduced:
"For the thing that I fear comes upon me,
and what I dread befalls me.
I am not at ease, nor am I quiet;
I have no rest, but trouble comes.” — Job 3:25-26
We cannot feign ignorance of this pain. We may not know it on the Biblical level of Job, but we've felt it. We've all experienced the consequences of our sin—and the sins of others. Some of us will try to be quiet about it. Nonetheless, the rotting stench of sin, eventually, leads us to cry like Paul:
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? — Romans 7:24
We know the theological answer to this question. We know the answer in the mode and articulation that Paul will provide. But do we really know the answer?
Paul's answer—the birth of the Messianic baby—is precisely the event Job did not wish for himself. I find this to be ironic. It is also providentially educational. By digging into the depths of despair in Job, we can realize the depth of our own darkness. We can't hide behind "Though you slay me …" without announcing "yet I will argue." We need to hear beyond Job that Christ descended into on His own "silent night" to be slain Himself by God the Father.
Looking at the song "Silent Night" and its symbolic symmetry with Job helps us to prepare for Advent—a time of controlled darkness—and the dark(er) times of our life.
A Silent Night
There are many of us who downplay the darkness we experience in our personal lives. We prefer to experience the darkness exterior to us. That gritty we can handle. This attitude tends to go hand-in-hand with disparaging light and peaceful moments in art and poetry. Some of us even prefer Die Hard over White Christmas or It's a Wonderful Life. Grit! Reality!
Or for another less controversial example, I have known individuals who mock the anonymous "Away in the Manger" or Joseph Mohr's "Silent Night." The lyrics are deemed too peaceful—like the Thomas Kinkade painting of Christmas carols. The first stanza of Silent Night is particularly serene:
Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
The last time I read through Job 3, I was struck by the shared and ironic symbolism of silence in Job's death wish and the peacefulness of our Savior's birth. The two are practically antithetical to one another. Job wished his birth night had been silent. He wished the darkness and gloom had consumed it entirely:
Let that day be darkness!
May God above not seek it,
nor light shine upon it.
Let gloom and deep darkness claim it.
Let clouds dwell upon it;
let the blackness of the day terrify it.
That night—let thick darkness seize it! — Job 3:4-6
Job sought a silent night to end the terror of his existence. Job perceived that in a night of quiet stillness his perpetual rest would be found. In some perverse way, Job was correct. Not in the way he thought, though. No, Job's way was thoroughly wrong. In the moment, Job believed his destruction was the best deliverance God could provide. We too, in our moments of despair, often perceive that our deliverance will come solely at the final concluding existence of all things. But Job spoke of things he did not know. Perhaps even things that Job's third chapter is not meant to point to directly. Let me explain.
Job wished a quiet night for his birth. Incidentally, his Savior would be born with little fanfare. Job wished that he would be delivered stillborn. His Savior was born to death row —even death on a cross! Job wished that no breast would nurse him. The breast that nursed Christ would watch him take his last breath—gloom and darkness apparently won on that day. But we know better. Don't we?
In the darkness that consumed my analytical mind the days and weeks after our miscarriage, the natural theological questions presented themselves. Questions of sovereignty, election, original sin, and God's justice. But we can only stay quiet for so long. Like Job, whether in mouth or heart, there comes a point—no matter how brief—when one throws their hands up in the air and wishes God would end their existence. We all have cycles of life that are this way, and Advent is the portion of the church calendar that reflects this experience with the brooding silent night of Christ's birth on the horizon. The silent night indicating how wrong we truly are in disparaging our existence.
My comfort in dark days comes from the reminder that Jesus Christ entered the darkest day I have ever experienced. He entered into the darkest day that any of us has experienced. In the time fitting the design of God, He encountered a day darker than all the others combined. Advent is experiencing and enduring the darkness knowing Christ wins. The Nativity is the reminder that God has already entered the darkness with His impenetrable light. Advent is screaming in frustration and despair waiting for the baby who will quietly go to His death. The Nativity is the gentle voice of my Savior calling the weak and wounded.
Let the stars of its dawn be dark;
let it hope for light, but have none — Job 3:9
But Advent teaches us to sing:
Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love's pure light;
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.
The Advent season is the perfect time to reflect on our individual Job-like moments and realize that Christ is about to enter into them with healing in His wings. The Advent season prepares our heart, mind, and soul for the darkness that occurs throughout our life. It reminds us to rely not on any extinction of existence but the Christ who penetrated our deepest darkness and conquered them in His death.