Shootings, Outrage, and the Book of Job

We have had much to grieve recently, and we aren’t doing it well. Shootings, bombings, death, illness, divorce. The parade of tragedy plods endlessly along in our country, our churches, and our families. As a culture, we are used to responding in one of two ways: we get mad, or we get busy. We either try to fix the problem, or we shout down those we think responsible for the problem. Every Op-Ed page and cable news station illustrates the point. Our post-enlightenment minds see every human endeavor like a machine to be fixed. And our post-Genesis-3 hearts interpret every tragedy as a reason to take offense.  

But wisdom invites us to a different response.  

The ancient Book of Job tells the story of a man who experienced tragedy. He lost everything — his possessions, his good name, his health, and even his family. Job found himself sitting in the dirt, scraping pus from his painful skin disease, utterly alone, and wishing he had never been born. Job had three friends: Bildad, Eliphaz, and Zophar. And it’s at this point — at the deepest part of Job’s grief — that his friends do the wisest thing possible: they keep their mouths shut.  

So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great.  
—Job 2:13

It’s only after Job’s friends start to speak that they become less helpful in the story. In fact, their efforts to explain and place blame serve as a foil for the deeper message about suffering delivered by God himself in the book’s later chapters.  

In every case of recent national tragedy — Dallas, Orlando, Charleston, Ferguson, Baltimore, San Bernadino, and on, and on — our national mourning has been cut short. Rather than respectful silence, our modern Bildads have shown a news-cycle-driven eagerness to be the first to speak. And the blather is crippling us emotionally. Our nation is not closer to solutions and no better for the blaming. The violence is bad enough. Our words only keep the wounds from healing.  

That is, except in church. A pattern has reemerged in some American churches in recent years — a pattern of lament without agenda. Pastors lead their congregations to mourn the dead, to bring their anguish to God, and to leave it there. This is wisdom, because it's the same pattern given to us by the Book of Job. Heaven is where all our questions about just deserts come to rest. Pundits are struck dumb when God speaks.  

We are all eager to improve our society, to reduce the likelihood that these things will happen again. But the wisest response — the countercultural response — is to grieve before we get mad. To sit with our helplessness in the presence of the one who can help.