If anyone suffered as much as Job, it was Job’s wife. Together the two had lost all of their livestock and most of their servants. Together they mourned the deaths of their sons and daughters, who had perished in a hurricane. But finally, even their togetherness in suffering was taken away from them. Job’s affliction of boils drove him to the city ash heap where he did nothing but sit and scrape himself with a piece of pottery. Job’s wife was left to bear her grief alone and to care for Job as best she could.
Jewish legend says that the once wealthy woman became a water carrier to support Job and herself. But when her employer learned that she was Job’s wife and that she was taking him bread, he refused to have her as a servant. Job’s wife then had no choice but to sell her hair for food.
So Job’s wife suffered greatly. She had lost her livestock, her children, and her healthy husband. She was forced to support Job and herself in a society in which women had few options for employment. She experienced hunger and public humiliation.
When she went out to see Job sitting on the ash heap, she cried out in anguish and despair over her husband, “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9).
Perhaps her words were the words of the devil as Augustine, Calvin, and others have argued. But I imagine them more as desperate words, despairing, angry, and helpless words, uttered by one sufferer to another.
And for all their anger and despair, in my view the words of Job’s wife also seem curiously faithful, for in them she acknowledges God’s presence and power over life and death. In their honest anger, her words express God’s power at the same time they express her own sense of powerlessness.
The book of James tells us that even the demons believe in God (James 2:19), so perhaps we should not make too much of the faith of Job’s wife. Yet in her position, many of us might have difficulty maintaining enough faith even to be angry at God. Instead, our response could well be one of disbelief and denial: if there is such suffering, then God is dead.
That temptation to deny God is very much with us today. On the ash heaps of our own world, people still suffer–from hunger, poverty, disease, disaster and a host of other afflictions visited upon them that are so unfair, unreasonable, undeserved. And try as we might to care and work for change–for all we visit the sick, donate money, engage in local and overseas work to address injustice, limit our consumption, recycle our goods, pray for peace and justice–human suffering continues.
At times we may feel as angry and as helpless as Job’s wife. We may be tempted to deny or doubt God’s existence and power. We may be tempted to turn away in despair and unbelief. Why curse God, we might say, for God is dead.
But like many of the psalmists, Job’s wife had the courage to give voice to her anger and despair, blaming God for her devastating suffering, even as she acknowledged divine presence and power. So let us also lament over evil. Let us lament over suffering. Let us lament when God seems far away, and we feel powerless. At those times, may we hold on to hope, hold on to God, even in our anger and anguish.
Writing/Reflection Prompt: When have you expressed anger or anguish to God? What helps you hold on in faith even in the face of suffering?
This article is adapted from “Honest Anger” in Remember Lot’s Wife and Other Unnamed Women of the Bible.
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