By Sherry Black

Reading from Job 6:1, 7:1-21

1 Then Job answered:

1 “Do not human beings have a hard service on earth, and are not their days like the days of a laborer? 2Like a slave who longs for the shadow, and like laborers who look for their wages, 3so I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me. 4When I lie down I say, ‘When shall I rise?’ But the night is long, and I am full of tossing until dawn. 5My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt; my skin hardens, then breaks out again. 6My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and come to their end without hope.

7 “Remember that my life is a breath; my eye will never again see good. 8The eye that beholds me will see me no more; while your eyes are upon me, I shall be gone. 9As the cloud fades and vanishes, so those who go down to Sheol do not come up; 10they return no more to their houses, nor do their places know them any more. 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. 12Am I the sea, or the Dragon, that you set a guard over me? 13When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint,’ 14then you scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions, 15so that I would choose strangling and death rather than this body. 16I loathe my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone, for my days are a breath.

17 “What are human beings, that you make so much of them, that you set your mind on them, 18visit them every morning, test them every moment? 19Will you not look away from me for a while, let me alone until I swallow my spittle? 20If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of humanity? Why have you made me your target? Why have I become a burden to you? 21Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be.”

Meditation

As I write, we’ve reached the 150,000 deaths milestone. 150,000 men, women, and children. Gasping. Afraid. Alone. Feeling as if they’re drowning. That’s what it’s like to die of COVID-19, unless you are “lucky” enough to be sedated and on a ventilator.

It’s been four months since George Floyd was killed, uttering the words “I can’t breathe.” This, too, speaks of unimaginable anguish.

What are we supposed to do with this?

Job is utterly devastated by loss and illness, and today’s reading is an angry lament of a prayer, the cry of a man in anguish, in pain by day and restless at night, hoping only for death.

But in his anger and rage at his situation, Job’s relationship with God starts to shift. He is speaking and complaining — to God. And this is prayer — fierce, angry, antagonistic prayer, finally acknowledging God: “Why are you doing this to me? . . . Leave me alone!”

Job’s anguished rants affirm what he doesn’t feel: God’s presence. In the midst of suffering and pain and horror, it is still good and right to cry out to God. It is honest. Raw. It is not polite. God is always present in suffering. And he is present with those who pour out their hearts to him.

In light of the horrors that surround us on every side, we can echo Job: “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.” Our Lord is no stranger to anguish. Let us draw close to him, even in our anger — even if we have anger at him.

The Very Rev. Sherry Black is a second-career Episcopal priest, and has been a full-time hospital chaplain for nine years. She also serves a small mission church as priest-in-charge, and is dean of her deanery.

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