1 “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. 2 He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not. 3 And do you open your eyes on such a one and bring me into judgment with you? 4 Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one. 5 Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass, 6 look away from him and leave him alone, that he may enjoy, like a hired hand, his day. 7 “For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. 8 Though its root grow old in the earth, and its stump die in the soil, 9 yet at the scent of water it will bud and put out branches like a young plant. 10 But a man dies and is laid low; man breathes his last, and where is he? 11 As waters fail from a lake and a river wastes away and dries up, 12 so a man lies down and rises not again; till the heavens are no more he will not awake or be roused out of his sleep. 13 Oh that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath be past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me! 14 If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my service I would wait, till my renewal should come. 15 You would call, and I would answer you; you would long for the work of your hands. 16 For then you would number my steps; you would not keep watch over my sin; 17 my transgression would be sealed up in a bag, and you would cover over my iniquity. 18 “But the mountain falls and crumbles away, and the rock is removed from its place; 19 the waters wear away the stones; the torrents wash away the soil of the earth; so you destroy the hope of man. 20 You prevail forever against him, and he passes; you change his countenance, and send him away. 21 His sons come to honor, and he does not know it; they are brought low, and he perceives it not. 22 He feels only the pain of his own body, and he mourns only for himself.”
In 2007, a book of Mother Teresa’s letters was published under the title Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. It was immediately controversial because, in some of the letters, Mother Teresa expressed great doubts. An August 30, 2007, Christianity Today review of the book was entitled, “Book Uncovers a Lonely, Spiritually Desolate Mother Teresa.” The review quotes one of Mother Teresa’s letters from 1961 as follows:
Darkness is such that I really do not see—neither with my mind nor with my reason—the place of God in my soul is blank—There is no God in me—when the pain of longing is so great—I just long & long for God. … The torture and pain I can’t explain.
Christianity Today then quoted Rev. James Martin as stressing “that Teresa’s belief in God never wavered—just her feeling of connection to Jesus, especially after her intense mystical experiences.” “It’s one thing to feel that God is not with you,” Martin said, “It’s another thing to believe that God doesn’t exist,” he said.
Time magazine’s piece on the book was entitled, “Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith,” and contained this:
In more than 40 communications, many of which have never before been published, she bemoans the “dryness,” “darkness,” “loneliness” and “torture” she is undergoing. She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God. She is acutely aware of the discrepancy between her inner state and her public demeanor. “The smile,” she writes, is “a mask” or “a cloak that covers everything.” Similarly, she wonders whether she is engaged in verbal deception. “I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God–tender, personal love,” she remarks to an adviser. “If you were [there], you would have said, ‘What hypocrisy.’” Says the Rev. James Martin, an editor at the Jesuit magazine America and the author of My Life with the Saints, a book that dealt with far briefer reports in 2003 of Teresa’s doubts: “I’ve never read a saint’s life where the saint has such an intense spiritual darkness. No one knew she was that tormented.” Recalls Kolodiejchuk, Come Be My Light’s editor: “I read one letter to the Sisters [of Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity], and their mouths just dropped open. It will give a whole new dimension to the way people understand her.”
Perhaps most interestingly, the Time reviewer was struck by the fact that Mother Teresa made a very clear and strong statement about her love for Jesus in one letter and then, eleven weeks later, made a statement to somebody else about her great doubts.
The two statements, 11 weeks apart, are extravagantly dissonant. The first is typical of the woman the world thought it knew. The second sounds as though it had wandered in from some 1950s existentialist drama. Together they suggest a startling portrait in self-contradiction–that one of the great human icons of the past 100 years, whose remarkable deeds seemed inextricably connected to her closeness to God and who was routinely observed in silent and seemingly peaceful prayer by her associates as well as the television camera, was living out a very different spiritual reality privately, an arid landscape from which the deity had disappeared.
This is all very interesting. We cannot, of course, see into the heart of any man or woman so our opinion of the ultimate state of Mother Teresa’s soul is irrelevant. Most of us, I assume, will point to her numerous statements of her love for Jesus as well as her life of service and charitably choose to believe that Mother Teresa did indeed believe and has now gone to her reward.
Regardless, to the general point of whether or not a person can truly love the Lord and simultaneously go through periods of doubt or struggles with faith, the answer seems much clearer: yes. In fact, it should be pointed out that you could likely put Mother Teresa’s letters over the statements of Job and you would find the same kind of “extravagant dissonance,” to quote Time magazine. That is, you find also in Job amazing statements of faith and amazing statements of doubt.
In terms of word count, Job 14 is a statement of doubt. Even here, however, there is a faint glimmer of hope in Job. As with Mother Teresa, so likewise with Job, people read this chapter and try to figure out exactly where Job’s heart and mind really was. Whatever we conclude, this much is clear: Job was a human being in trying circumstances and sometimes, in the midst of such, our faith is anything but nice and neat and tidy.
Job allowed his despair to drive him to fatalism but not to atheism. The result was that he saw life as a cruel trial and begged God to leave him and humanity alone.
The chapter begins with an undeniable note of despair.
1 “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. 2 He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not. 3 And do you open your eyes on such a one and bring me into judgment with you? 4 Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one. 5 Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass, 6 look away from him and leave him alone, that he may enjoy, like a hired hand, his day.
Job returns again to the idea of birth and notes that the days of man are “full of trouble.” The word for trouble is rogez and it comes from the word rgz which means “to shake or tremble.” This is apt. Job is trembling in fear before the God he is struggling to understand.
But Job is not discussing “trouble” in a vacuum. It is trouble that arises from being born and, specifically, from being born in sin. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one.” Man is therefore a sinner born of a sinner. This is an important point. It means that Job does not deny human sinfulness as a reality. It simply means that Job does not believe that his particular trials can be attributed to particular sins he has committed.
Alongside Job’s acknowledgement of the sinfulness of humanity, we find two other ideas. The first is fatalism, the idea that what will be will be and that man’s days are set. Man’s days are indeed set, but Job sees this as a cruel thing from the vantage point of his intense suffering. He seems to be suggesting that God is almost toying with man, that man is caught like a rat in a maze and only God knows when He will kill the rat.
This leads to Job’s second idea, namely, that God should therefore “look away from him and leave him alone.” He is speaking here not only of himself but also of all mankind. If God is not moved to deliver suffering mankind from his miseries, then perhaps God should at least avert His gaze or stop poking His poor creatures so that they can muster some semblance of joy out of their miserable lot. The picture Job is painting is not, it should be noted, one of atheism. Rather, it is a picture of a poor creature prodded and tortured in the midst of his bleak and brief life.
Truly Job’s picture of God is mistaken, but we should at least note that God is on Job’s canvas.
In John Piper’s great poem on the life of Job, he envisions Job before the altar upon which Job had so often offered sacrifices to God. Piper has Job say this:
O God, I cling
With feeble fingers to the ledge
Of your great grace, yet feel the wedge
Of this calamity struck hard
Between my chest and this deep-scarred
And granite precipice of love.
Perhaps that is a good description of what is happening to Job. He is “clinging with feeble fingers.” His fingers have not let go, but he is holding on at this point barely and only by the tips.
Job nevertheless seems to oscillate between despair and hope…though more despair than hope.
Job’s feeble faith can be seen in verses 7-22. Here, Job oscillates between despair and hope. He does so in such a way that commentators are divided on what to make of it. Let me suggest that this section can be divided like this:
Despair: verses 7-12
Hope: verses 13-17
Despair: verses 18-22
It will be helpful to hear the verses flow undivided. This hits the reader or the hearer with the full force of Job’s schizophrenic faith. I am using “schizophrenic” here in its general sense of “a state characterized by the coexistence of contradictory or incompatible elements.” Listen to Job:
7 “For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. 8 Though its root grow old in the earth, and its stump die in the soil, 9 yet at the scent of water it will bud and put out branches like a young plant. 10 But a man dies and is laid low; man breathes his last, and where is he? 11 As waters fail from a lake and a river wastes away and dries up, 12 so a man lies down and rises not again; till the heavens are no more he will not awake or be roused out of his sleep. 13 Oh that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath be past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me! 14 If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my service I would wait, till my renewal should come. 15 You would call, and I would answer you; you would long for the work of your hands. 16 For then you would number my steps; you would not keep watch over my sin; 17 my transgression would be sealed up in a bag, and you would cover over my iniquity. 18 “But the mountain falls and crumbles away, and the rock is removed from its place; 19 the waters wear away the stones; the torrents wash away the soil of the earth; so you destroy the hope of man. 20 You prevail forever against him, and he passes; you change his countenance, and send him away. 21 His sons come to honor, and he does not know it; they are brought low, and he perceives it not. 22 He feels only the pain of his own body, and he mourns only for himself.”
This fascinating text raises a very important question: is Job despairing with a momentary lapse into hope or does Job hope in the midst of long periods of despair? Among Old Testament scholars and lay readers alike, the opinions vary.
Francis Andersen argues that Job actually does have hope, though he goes through long periods of despair. Andersen writes that “Job’s utterances seem to oscillate between hope and despair” and that “a uniform mood cannot be imposed on them, nor can a steady trend be found.” Nevertheless, Andersen argues that verses 14-17 give “clear expression to the belief that, even after he lies down in Sheol, God will call him out into life again” and asserts that those who maintain the opposite “are influenced, not only by their a priori belief that the idea of resurrection arose quite late in Israel’s though, but also by expecting Job to use Western logic in constructing his discourse so that an argument is followed through step by step until the result is reached at the end.”
On the other hand, an Old Testament scholar like Tremper Longman III argues the opposite, pointing out that “Job has just categorically denied the possibility that he or any mortal could live after death” and concludes on that basis that “when Job asks in v.14a, ‘If a person dies, will he live again?’ we know he thinks the answer is no (see also 10:20-22).”
Robert Alden takes the position that “the question of v.14 is one question in the book where the answer is not certain.” Alden believes that Job’s question about life after death “is not a rhetorical question but really sounds as if Job were asking for information” and that “at this point he appeared to believe.”
How are we to understand this? It is hard to say at this point in the unfolding story. But what is clear enough is this: faith and doubt often reside close to one another in the heart of God’s suffering people. There are people who deny this. These are people who have never suffered. This is not to say that all who suffer walk the same path as Job in its particulars. But it is to say that the suffering tend to have empathy for the messy aftermath of catastrophe. They can at least appreciate the fact that the truly hurting oftentimes have thoughts they would rather not have.
The resurrection of Jesus provides us with the hope Job lacked.
What Job desperately needed in chapter 14, and what all of humanity desperately needs today, is a full doctrine of resurrection. Interestingly enough, in one of the earliest writings in the New Testament, Paul had to chide even the Christian church for the fact that some in the church were denying the resurrection of the dead. We find this rebuke and correction in 1 Corinthians 15, the great resurrection chapter of the New Testament.
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope[b] in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
This is interesting and troubling. It shows us that even on this side of the cross we can fall into the trap that Job himself seemingly fell into and denied the reality of life after death, of real life, of resurrected life.
After laying out the devastating implications of such a denial, Paul boldly asserts that, “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.”
It is the fact that Job most needed to hear in Job 14. “Christ has been raised from the dead…so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”
Here on this side of Bethlehem, on this side of Calvary, on this side of Easter, we may still struggle and even doubt in the midst of pain, but as followers of the risen Christ we must never act as if the grave is all that there is. To some extent, Job’s despair concerning the shadow realm of Sheol is understandable. For us, it is not. For we worship the King who died and then rose again, the Christ whose tomb is empty, the firstborn of all creation who brings with Him all who come to Him in repentance and in faith.
Perhaps in the midst of suffering our faith oscillates like Job. At the end of the day, however, it must swing back Christward and rest again in the nail-scarred hands of the One who bore our agonies for us and who offers us life abundant and everlasting.
 Tremper Longman III, Job. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012), p.211.
 Francis I. Andersen, Job. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. 14 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2008), p.182-183.
 Tremper Longman III, p.213.
 Robert A. Alden, Job. The New American Commentary. Vol. 11 (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishing Group, 1993), p.168.