At William’s memorial service back in March, my pastor focused his message on the book of Job, particularly the first chapter. I’ve been haunted by the following verse:
Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshipped.” ~Job 1:20
He did what?
I don’t remember much from the memorial service, honestly. Just a few things: the songs we sang, some of the people who greeted us, many tears, and this verse. A call to worship God in the midst of loss.
This doesn’t seem to fit with what worship in the modern church looks like. When I conjure up images of worship in my mind, I think of waving hands, faces glowing with joy, maybe a little bouncing around. The songs we sing reflect victory, joy, gladness, happiness, enthusiasm, excitement. None of these things make sense in the face of loss. Death is a defeat. Smiles are lies. We are not standing strong before the Lord, we are crushed and broken.
I’ve never seen someone looked crushed and broken at a worship concert.
In this passage in Job, he is in deep mourning. He’s lost his his wealth, his livelihood and all of his children. In the typical mourning style of the ancient world, he has torn his clothes, shaved his head, and has fallen to the ground. And yet he is worshipping.
There is no enthusiastic hand-waving here. Job isn’t jumping around declaring how happy he is. So how, I’ve been wondering, is he worshipping?
I’ve tossed this about in my head for a while – oddly dissatisfied in the happy-go-lucky exuberance of corporate worship, not even sure how to pray sometimes. I’ve had many long days where I sit before the throne and can do nothing but weep. Weep for myself, weep for those I love, weep for others who have walked a similar road. Weep because this world is broken, and in the darkness it seems as though death has won out.
I met a friend the other day, who I had not seen since William passed. She looked me in the eye and asked how I was – and I broke. Those things I’d been keeping to myself, bottling up so I could get through the day, rushed to the surface and spilled out in a torrent of tears. As she held me, I realized she was crying, too. In that moment, I had the strongest sense that the arms that held me were the arms of Jesus, and that the tears being spilled were his tears.
The truth sank in at that point: worship is declaring truth. Whether we are declaring with joyful voices that God is good, or whether we are struck to the ground weeping that death is evil – we are worshipping. The grief that I feel as I sit before the throne is an acknowledgement that all is not right with the world.
We don’t like thinking about how things are broken, flawed, and failing. We want so badly to be comfortable and happy that we will forsake grief and put on a happy face of blissful worship. I do not think this is what Job was doing when he fell to the ground with his head shaved and his clothes rent. The tears he spilled and the wailing that escaped his lips were in deep recognition of the fallen sinfulness of the world. They were an acknowledgement that we are helpless in our sin to escape loss and death.
The grief that I feel over the death of my son, this is worship, as long as it is focused on truth. When I grieve because death is a part of human existence, I am walking in the footsteps of Christ. My grief acknowledges a need for Him, and His salvation from the despair of death. My grief is a coin with a flip side of joy that Christ is master of death, and that my son in Christ is free of death. I suppose if we do not know how terrible death is, we cannot understand truly how wonderful the Resurrection is.
To walk through grief as Christ himself would walk, grieved and angered by death, but not defeated by it – this is perhaps the fullest act of worship one can accomplish. For the way we deal with death proclaims most loudly who we believe God to be.
So for now, my worship will be through tears. As I come to more fully understand that Christ has conquered death, and that I will again see those whom I have loved and lost, perhaps my mourning will turn into dancing. Until that time, I will not be ashamed of worship through tears.
How are you worshipping in the midst of the trials and tragedies of your life?