Book Review: The Misery of Job and the Mercy of God

In Beyond Suffering: Discovering the Message of Job (linked to my review) author Layton Talbert referred a few times to a set of poems John Piper wrote called The Misery of Job and the Mercy of God. The poems are in book form there with some beautiful photography and a CD of John Piper reading the poems (at least, the used copy I bought from Amazon had a CD with it). The text and audio are also online here (although a few lines are missing from the text).

There is something about poetry that can express truth with beauty and poignancy, and Piper’s poems certainly accomplish that. They don’t cover every verse or every point made in the book of Job, and they include some scenes not in Job (a conversation between Job and God before Job’s calamities struck and between Job and his wife, who is treated much more tenderly here than in most sermons where I’ve heard her mentioned) which is just an imaginative way of telling the story and expressing what kinds of conversations may have passed. All in all they’re a faithful retelling.

I had wondered why Piper said early on, “And Job would lift his hands to God and wondered why he spared the rod of suffering” until I realized he was probably referring to what Job feared in 3:25 when he said, ““the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.” We’re going through Job in our church, and just recently discussed what it was that Job might have feared, and it could quite possibly be something along these lines, that God had blessed him so much that he feared that suffering of some kind was going to befall him at some point before it was all over.

There are some really beautiful sections. Here are a few of my favorites (p. 18):

Now tell me, with your heart,
Would you be willing, Job, to part
With all your children, if in my
Deep counsel I should judge that by
Such severing more good would be,
And you would know far more of me?”

What parent could answer that question? Yet we’re called to yield our children to God: they’re ultimately His.

On pages 32-33, shortly after all his trials came:

O God, I cling
With feeble fingers to the ledge
Of your great grace, yet feel the wedge
Of this calamity struck hard
Between my chest and this deep-scarred
And granite precipice of love.

Part of his response to his wife (p. 41):

O Dinah, do not speak like those
Who cannot see, because they close
Their eyes, and say there is no God,
Or fault him when he plies the rod.
It is no sin to say, my love,
That bliss and pain come from above.
And if we do not understand
Some dreadful stroke from his left hand,
Then we must wait and trust and see.

Part of Job’s response to his friends’ accusations (p. 58):

O that some door
Were opened to the court of God,
And I might make my case unflawed
Before the Judge of all the world,
And prove this storm has not been hurled
Against me or my children there
Because of hidden crimes. O spare
Me now, my friends, your packages
Of God, your simple adages.

And I think my favorite lines of all (p. 72):

Beware, Jemimah, God is kind,
In ways that will not fit your mind.

This book took me just under half an hour to read, and then I listened to it the next day in about the same amount of time while mostly following along reading the words. It was quite an enjoyable and beneficial hour, helping to feel some of what Job might have felt. I think I’ll be returning to this volume again and again.

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Misery of Job and the Mercy of God

  1. I’ve not yet read any Piper, and I had no idea he ever tried his hand at poetry. These remind me a little of Puritan poetry, or of hymns — theology wrapped in rhyme.

    I like the imaginative expansion poetry can give, and the new perspective that can come as a result.

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