Holding On

Daily Devotional for Thursday, September 10, 2020 from Rev. Eric Douglass

Job 7:11: “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth;
I will speak in the anguish of my spirit;
I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.”

This verse comes at a time of great suffering for Job. He has just lost his sons and daughters. He falls to the ground, tears his robes, and shaves his head. Such is his grief. More disasters happen, with Job getting sick and disfigured. His wife, observing all of this, tells him to “curse God and die” (2:9). But Job knows that God is in control of his life. His faith is not shaken. So he responds: “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”
But therein lies the problem: Job saw that God was in control of his life, so the place to go when disaster strikes is God! His life is ruined, and he doesn’t know why. He is in despair. He wonders: “Where is God?”
“If I go forward, he (God) is not there;
or backward, I cannot perceive him;
on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him;
I turn to the right, but I cannot see him” (23:8-9).
So he complains, like a child complaining to his mom and dad…though here it is more like a person in the divine courtroom bringing a lawsuit against God. “Come meet me in court,” he says, “and I will lay out my case. I will prove that I have followed You faithfully…that I don’t deserve this.”
“Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
that I might come even to his dwelling!
I would lay my case before him,
and fill my mouth with arguments” (23:3-4).
Now, before we jump up and down and tell Job that he is wrong, let us remember what God says about Job: “There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” Indeed, God says this twice (1:8, 2:3)! Instead, it becomes clear that complaining to God is part of being “a blameless and upright” person! It is even acceptable to question God’s presence! Evidently, God would rather that we be honest in our prayers. God already knows that we struggle to understand the terrible things that happen. Telling God our feelings, both the good and the bad, amounts to trusting God…it’s treating God like a close friend.
But there is something deeper in this story. The one thing that we don’t hear—that Job never even talks about—is a rejection of God. Caught in the grip of fear and pain and confusion, Job refuses to let go. It’s almost like he is quarreling with his trusted friend, but still holding onto that friend’s shirtsleeve. Or like being caught in a dance with a quarreling spouse, but still refusing to let go. And so they go round and round on the floor, upset and confused and angry, but still in the dance. Step by step, arms around each other’s waist, they cry and shriek and hurt together. Commitment. Twirling through the ache in their hearts and the grief in their souls…hand in hand, holding on for dear life. Dancing through unbidden tears and deepest sorrows.
Then God speaks. God has heard all of the fear and pain and confusion. God has not abandoned Job. God has not forgotten him. God talks about the depth of the problems in the world, from its creation to its destroying nightmares. Then God asks Job—just as God asks us—to trust him. For God loves us.
And the dance goes on.

Our Lord:
We suffer here.
Virus. Death. Isolation.
We are confused and full of grief,
yet we hold on tightly, for you are our God.
You take our hands,
you lead us in the dance,
you wipe away all our tears,
and you lead us forward, step by step.
And we hold on for dear life.

About the Author
Eric Douglass is the covenant pastor at New Hanover Presbyterian Church, where his work emphasizes adult education. Writing meditations is a natural extension of this. During the current pandemic, his goals have been to ensure that the folk at New Hanover see the deep connection that they have to God and the community, even though the community can’t meet in person. This connection is not just one of continued fellowship, but of God’s presence in the community. God stands with us, no matter what path we are on. In this way, God acts like the father and mother who refuse to abandon their child, no matter how wayward that child, or how difficult the situation. Psalm 23 captures this perfectly: “The Lord is my shepherd.” Eric is a graduate of the University of Missouri, initially earning a degree in biology, and then his medical degree from that university’s Medical School. After practicing medicine for many years, he earned a Masters in Divinity and a Masters in Theology from Union Theological Seminary, here in Richmond. Since that time, he has authored two books, frequently delivers papers at the Society for Biblical Literature, and is an adjunct professor at Randolph-Macon College. But the work he enjoys the most is teaching at New Hanover. Whether in casual discussion during the coffee hour, or a structured Sunday School class, or a Wednesday night special event, this is where he finds authentic people engaged in living out their life with God. Eric lives in Mechanicsville, VA, with his wife (Felecia). He enjoys doing fine cabinetry work and hiking. He has two children, Michael and Daniel, who both live in the DC area. His family is especially fond of playing board games, though which they have whittled away many a winter’s evening.