Some of you will recognize my heading as coming from John Bunyan’s classic book “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, written in 1678 while Bunyan was imprisoned in Bedford County Jail for violations of the Conventicle Act of 1664, which prohibited the holding of religious services outside the auspices of the established Church of England.
The plot centers on the main character, “Christian”, as he sets out on a journey from his hometown, the "City of Destruction" ("this world"), to the "Celestial City" ("that which is to come": Heaven) atop Mount Zion.
Christian is weighed down by a great burden—the knowledge of his sin—which he believed came from his reading "the book in his hand" (the Bible). This burden, which would cause him to sink into Hell, is so unbearable that Christian must seek deliverance.
He meets Evangelist as he is walking out in the fields, who directs him to the "Wicket Gate" for deliverance. Since Christian cannot see the "Wicket Gate" in the distance, Evangelist directs him to go to a "shining light", which Christian thinks he sees.
Christian leaves his home, his wife, and children to save himself: he cannot persuade them to accompany him.
His “friends”, Obstinate and Pliable, go after Christian to bring him back, but Christian refuses. Obstinate returns disgusted, but Pliable is persuaded to go with Christian, hoping to take advantage of the Paradise that Christian claims lies at the end of his journey.
Pliable's journey with Christian is cut short when the two of them fall into the Slough of Despond, a boggy mire-like swamp where pilgrims' doubts, fears, temptations, lusts, shames, guilts, and sins of their present condition of being a sinner are used to sink them into the mud of the swamp.
It is there in that bog where Pliable abandons Christian after getting himself out. After struggling to the other side of the slough, Christian is pulled out by Help, who has heard his cries and tells him the swamp is made out of the decadence, scum, and filth of sin, but the ground is good at the narrow Wicket Gate.
I leave it as an exercise to the reader — a simple Google search will help — to discover how the story resolves, but the similarities to Job’s plight are unmistakable.
As we have already seen, Job does not blame God for his pitiful circumstances, although he is unable to discern that they are Satan’s doing, but that does not stop him from trying to discover their purpose.
In keeping with the beliefs of his time, reinforced by the observations and opinions of his family and friends, Job is sure that he must have done something very displeasing to God. He believes his transgression has put him in a state where he is no longer in communication with God. He feels cut off, forsaken.
Job falls into clinical depression. While he never contemplates suicide — the option of ending his life he always leaves to God — he certainly questions why he was ever allowed to live.
Let the day of my birth be erased, and the night I was conceived. Let that day be turned to darkness. Let it be lost even to God on high, and let no light shine on it. Let the darkness and utter gloom claim that day for its own. Let a black cloud overshadow it, and let the darkness terrify it. Let that night be blotted off the calendar, never again to be counted among the days of the year, never again to appear among the months. Let that night be childless. Let it have no joy. Let those who are experts at cursing— whose cursing could rouse Leviathan— curse that day. Let its morning stars remain dark. Let it hope for light, but in vain; may it never see the morning light. Curse that day for failing to shut my mother’s womb, for letting me be born to see all this trouble. Job 3:3-10 NLT
Job was expressing the universal inquiry of the human race — why am I here? What is my purpose?
The philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote that every human being has a “God-shaped hole”, a void in his soul/spirit/life, that can only be filled by God.
That “God-shaped hole” is the innate longing of the human heart for something outside itself, something transcendent, something “other.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 refers to God’s placing of "eternity in man’s heart."
God made humanity for His eternal purpose, and only God can fulfill our desire for eternity.
All religion is based on the innate desire to “connect” with God. This desire can only be fulfilled by God, and therefore can be likened to a “God-shaped hole.”
In the same way Job pleads with God to reveal what his purpose is, or what his sin is:
If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of all humanity? Why make me your target? Am I a burden to you? Why not just forgive my sin and take away my guilt? Job 7:20-21 NLT
Job is frustrated that he cannot discern what God’s answer is. Either God has not answered or Job is unable to hear His reply. Nevertheless, the sucking, choking, bog of despair and despond clutches at his soul, exactly as Satan had purposed.
Could it be that this level of affliction would finally sever his trust in the God he worshipped?
Although he cannot understand and believes that he might not have the capacity to understand God’s purposes, Job still declares:
The fear of the Lord is true wisdom; to forsake evil is real understanding. Job 28:28 NLT
Job fervently wishes to be rid of his suffering, by death if necessary, or to understand his deficiency, but no earthly suffering can separate him from the love of God. This is the same hope the Christian martyrs have had down through the centuries up to our present time.
When we find ourselves bogged down in the slough of despond, it is helpful to remember Job’s response that he knows his redeemer lives and that he will be vindicated in the end. It’s not pleasant, but it is temporary! As my father used to say, “Satan can surround you with a wall, but he can’t shut out the sky with a roof!” Wise words!
In the doubt, in the fear, in the loneliness, In the struggle of right against wrong: Somewhere amidst the confusion, There will be hope, there will be love, There will be God. Joy Webb
Blessings on you and yours