Searching for Glimmers of Hope in the Darkness

Have you ever considered the wonder of the “delete” key? As someone who spends most days tapping away at a keyboard—one with a sticky z key, no less—I can’t imagine where I’d be without this magnificent little tool. 

If I use the wrong word . . . delete.
If I use too many words . . . delete.
If I write something I shouldn’t, in a way that I shouldn’t . . . delete, delete, delete!

It’s truly a wonder. 

But have you ever wished there was a “delete” key that worked for other situations? Like when you drop something that makes a huge mess, speak words you immediately regret, or get bad news about a divorce, a death, or a diagnosis. 

Wouldn’t you love a “delete” key then? 

If you’ve felt this way, you’re not alone. There was a man in Scripture who wanted to hit the “delete” key long before the advent of the word processor: Job. And Job didn’t just want to delete a few words, a clumsy accident, or a single tragic event in his life. He wanted to delete his entire life. As we catch up with Job in chapter 3 of his namesake book, we find him in an extremely dark place. Maybe you’ve been there too.

Job’s Lament

At this point in Job’s story, he’s lost his family, his home, his health, and his possessions. Whatever comfort he took in acknowledging, “The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away.

Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21) seems to have waned, and with it, Job’s resolve not to “blame God for anything” (v. 22). Job’s wife has encouraged him to curse God and die (2:9), and his friends have been sitting with him in utter silence for a week (2:13). When Job finally opens his mouth it’s clear: he’s ready to hit the “delete” for good. 

Regarding the day of his birth he says, 

May the day I was born perish,
and the night that said,
“A boy is conceived.”
If only that day had turned to darkness!
May God above not care about it,
or light shine on it.
May darkness and gloom reclaim it,
and a cloud settle over it.
May what darkens the day terrify it.
If only darkness had taken that night away!
May it not appear among the days of the year
or be listed in the calendar.
Yes, may that night be barren;
may no joyful shout be heard in it.
Let those who curse days
condemn it,
those who are ready to rouse Leviathan.
May its morning stars grow dark.
May it wait for daylight but have none;
may it not see the breaking of dawn.
For that night did not shut
the doors of my mother’s womb,
and hide sorrow from my eyes. (3:2–10)

“Why was I not stillborn,” he asks, “why didn’t I die as I came from the womb?” (3:11). 

Delete.

He begins to fantasize about death, dreaming about what a relief it would be to finally be out of his earthly suffering and in Sheol (the realm of the dead in the Old Testament), whether he is there facing punishment or reward (3:13–19). 

Delete.

Finally, Job is left craving darkness, saying,
Why is light given to one burdened with grief,
and life to those whose existence is bitter,
who wait for death, but it does not come,
and search for it more than for hidden treasure,
who are filled with much joy
and are glad when they reach the grave?
Why is life given to a man whose path is hidden,
whom God has hedged in?
I sigh when food is put before me,
and my groans pour out like water.
For the thing I feared has overtaken me,
and what I dreaded has happened to me.
I cannot relax or be calm;
I have no rest, for turmoil has come. (3:20–26)

Delete.

As someone who has struggled with depression, I identify deeply with Job’s sentiments. His description is exactly how I would describe some of my own seasons of desperation. . . . “The thing I fear has overtaken me” . . . “I cannot relax or be calm” . . . “I have no rest” . . . “turmoil has come.” Ironically, Job is desperately trying to flee from God’s presence while at the same time deeply longing to be seen.

There is no happy ending to Job’s lament in chapter 3, and quite frankly, that makes us uncomfortable. After all, this is Job we’re talking about—one of our Old Testament heroes of the faith. Shouldn’t he of all people end his lament with praise? 

Wonders in the Darkness

While it is common for biblical laments to end in praise (consider Psalm 42 for example), this is not always the case. In her study on Job, author Lydia Brownback points to Psalm 88 as one that very much mirrors Job’s lament in chapter 3—and again, there is no happy ending.1 The similarities are striking:

  • The psalmist is crying out before God, day and night (v. 1). 
  • He is dreaming of death and imagines himself better off going to the pit of Sheol (vv. 3–6). 
  • The psalmist feels that God is oppressing him, and he is alienated from his loved ones (vv. 7–8).
  • He feels hedged in by the Lord in a negative way (v. 8), just like Job’s complaint in Job 3:23

And like Job 3, Psalm 88 ends on a seemingly hopeless note:

But I call to you for help, LORD;
in the morning my prayer meets you.
LORD, why do you reject me?
Why do you hide your face from me?
From my youth,
I have been suffering and near death.
I suffer your horrors; I am desperate.
Your wrath sweeps over me;
your terrors destroy me.
They surround me like water all day long;
they close in on me from every side.
You have distanced loved one and neighbor from me;
darkness is my only friend. (vv. 13–18)

Yet, tucked tightly into the middle of this psalm is a whisper of hope so soft you may need to lean in to hear it.

Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do departed spirits rise up to praise you? Selah
Will your faithful love be declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Abaddon?
Will your wonders be known in the darkness
or your righteousness in the land of oblivion? (Psalm 88:10–12, emphasis added)

Even through his questions the psalmist acknowledges that God works wonders . . . that He is worthy of praise . . . that His love is faithful . . . that His wonders and righteousness are worth knowing. They’re far from shouts of triumph, but these insights give us glimpses that even though the psalmist is wounded and afflicted—journeying through a dark valley—he has, clutched tightly within his fist, a mustard seed of faith.

But what about Job? Can we see even a tattered remnant of Job’s faith in his lament?

Look back at verses 20–23:

Why is light given to one burdened with grief,
and life to those whose existence is bitter,
who wait for death, but it does not come,
and search for it more than for hidden treasure,
who are filled with much joy
and are glad when they reach the grave?
Why is life given to a man whose path is hidden,
whom God has hedged in?

Did you catch that tiny glimmer of hope? It’s like when you drop a glass on a hard tile floor and the whole thing shatters. You sweep up the pieces—large, angry shards and small, fragile fragments. You think you’ve got it all until—out of the corner of your eye—you spot it: the slightest sparkle peeking out from between two tiles. You nearly missed it (the light has to hit it just right to be seen) but now it’s undeniable: the smallest glint of light reflecting off of a tiny piece of broken glass. It was there all along. 

Even through questions, perhaps through tears, Job acknowledges that it is God who has given him light and life. He knows that what comes after life for those who die in faith is worth more than hidden treasure—that there is joy and gladness to be found, even in the grave. And Job admits that though his path is hidden, this same God—the Author of light and life—is the one who has hedged him in. It’s a mercy Job can’t see at the time, but it’s there nonetheless. 

Faith Preserved

With just a shimmer of hope, we see that not only has Job’s life been hedged in and preserved by his faithful Father, but Job’s faith itself, though blanketed in darkness, has been preserved as well. And this darkness mingled with hope foreshadows a greater darkness and a greater redemption to be fulfilled by Jesus himself. 

If we read Job’s story through, we’ll see that Job does believe that the darkness will one day be lifted. In chapter 19, Job proclaims:

But I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the end he will stand on the dust.
Even after my skin has been destroyed,
yet I will see God in my flesh.
I will see him myself;
my eyes will look at him, and not as a stranger.
My heart longs within me. (vv. 25–27)

But here in chapter 3, Job is just struggling to hang on, as many of us do when we are confronted with deep suffering—when there’s no joyful ending to our lament in sight. Often, even mature Christians find their faith wobbling when intense trials come. 

When family members we love dearly lost their five-year-old daughter to the ravages of a rare brain cancer five years ago, a conversation I had with her dad reminds me that sometimes mustard seed faith, or the tiny sparkle of hope, is all you have to cling to. Her dad, a pastor, said something like, 

You hear of suffering people who say, “I feel such a peace in the midst of this trial” or “I’ve never felt closer to God than when I went through this horrible thing.” But I never felt any of that when my daughter was sick and dying. Not for a minute. It was awful. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt farther from God. I felt no peace. None.

A pastor, feeling no sense that God was near during this deepest trial? What are we to think about that? 

Here’s the thing: my friend Pastor Joe came through the other side of this trial with his heart broken and his faith bruised . . . but fully intact. How? Just like Job, Joe wasn’t putting his faith in a feeling of the peace that passes all understanding or in feeling the nearness of God. He was placing his faith—every broken piece and jagged edge—on the finished work of Jesus on the cross. He was placing his hope, not in the fact that he would one day be able to walk his daughter down the aisle to meet an earthly groom, but in the knowledge that her loving Bridegroom, Jesus, would take care of her through every moment of her life and for all of eternity. That’s a hope that is tailor made for dark days. 

The Joyful End

Dear reader, when you’re having a “Job moment,” when God feels far away and your faith is fragile like thin, delicate porcelain, when the darkness threatens to overtake you and the temptation to “delete” is nipping at your heels, lift your chin to the heavens and gaze upon the One who suffered so much to secure your redemption. In and through Him alone, you can persevere through your trial. And like Job and the psalmist, while your present lament may not quickly resolve to rejoicing, it will one day come to a joyful end—that which awaits at the end of every believer’s hard story: Jesus, the incomparable Christ. 

Thank you, Lord, for glimmers of hope in dark places. Thank you for preserving our faith when we walk through dark valleys. And thank you, Jesus, for so great a salvation that we can bank our entire existence on Your faithfulness, on Your victory, on Your love. In Jesus name, amen.
 

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1 Lydia Brownback, Job: Trusting God When Suffering Comes (Crossway, 2023).


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