Monday, November 10, 2014

Job, Assisted Suicide, and Words Meant For the Wind

"Do you intend to reprove my words, 
when the words of one in despair belong to the wind?" 
(Job 6:26 NASB)

Sometimes, out of deep suffering, people say things they don't mean. Job - the poster child for righteous suffering - was no exception. Among the words he uttered out of his pain were these tragic pleas:

"Let the day perish on which I was to be born, and the night which said, 'A boy is conceived.' 
Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?" 
(Job 3:3, 11 NASB)

"Why is light given to him who suffers, and life to the bitter of soul, 
Who long for death, but there is none, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures," 
(Job 3:20-21 NASB)

In the darkness of his pain and suffering, Job wishes that he'd never been born and longs for death, even thinking it wrong that he has to go on living. In ways I cannot grasp, Job could relate to those whose suffering leads them to ask for the pain to end, for the blessed relief of death. He knew what it meant to lose the will to live. 

And yet he lived on, honestly working through his struggling and pain, remaining blameless before God. That's why Job's words in Job 6:26 are so instructive about how we react to the words of those in deep suffering. Job says these sorts of words "belong to the wind". In other words, they should just be carried away like the wind carries away debris. 

In an exceptional blog post on this verse, John Piper explains:
There are words with roots in deep error and deep evil. But not all grey words get their color from a black heart. Some are colored mainly by the pain, the despair. What you hear is not the deepest thing within. There is something real within where they come from. But it is temporary—like a passing infection—real, painful, but not the true person.
What Piper writes of individuals who lash out at us out of pain is also true of those whose words of despair take them in the direction of assisted suicide. Sure, some might truly want to die. Others might be speaking out of the pain and suffering, or out of a desire to not "be a burden".

That's why the church (and our society) should strongly oppose assisted suicide. Will there always be people whose pain makes them want to end their own lives? Of course. We cannot always stop that -- but we should not step in and make it easier, either. When we take it upon ourselves to determine the genuineness of someone's professed wish to die, we step into the realm of the spiritual. We take a great risk at saying that we know "the deepest thing within". We put ourselves in God's place.

It's important to remember that when God finally speaks into Job's situation (started in Chapter 38), He affirms what Job has said about God -- but still reveals to Job areas where he was speaking out of turn. When Job responds, he repents:

Then Job answered the LORD and said, "I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' 
Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 'Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.' I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes." 
(Job 42:1-6 NASB)

We know from Job 42:7 that Job spoke rightly about God - so he is not repenting of anything false against God, like his friends would have to do. Instead, Job repents of talking about things he couldn't understand. Things like the meaninglessness of his suffering. Things like how it would be better to die.

Job never knew why he suffered. We see the spiritual battle behind the scenes in Job 1-2, but there is no indication that Job knew about that. Much is made of Job's restored fortunes, but the real victory for Job came not in understanding his suffering or in being restored. Instead, the real victory came in growing to know God more personally - not just hearing, but seeing. Job uttered words that were meant for the wind -- but on the other side of his pain, he found a deeper relationship with God. As people of God, we should weep with those whose pain makes them weep, and then walk alongside them into a deeper understanding of their Creator. What we should never do is promote actions based on words meant for the wind.

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