Note - I am grateful to Journey with Jesus and enfleshed for the lectionary resources upon which I drew heavily for this week's sermon!
Scripture - Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Job 42:1-6, 10-17
42Then Job answered the Lord: 2“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 3‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 4‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.’ 5I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; 6therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
Don’t read this: 7After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has done.” 9So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.
10And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. 12The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. 13He also had seven sons and three daughters. 14He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. 15In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. 16After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. 17And Job died, old and full of days.
So this is the part of Job I don’t like. I remember a class in seminary where we had to take a look at this passage and argue whether the ending was a good one or a problematic one. On the one hand, Job’s fortunes are restored, he goes on to have more children -it’s a happy ending. On the other hand, do new children ever replace the ones that were lost? Why does his restoration come after his acknowledgment of humility? Did God really think Job was going to forget his suffering? What do we do with it?
Debie Thomas: “I think we’re meant to engage it, talk back to it, question it, lament it. As with the rest of the Bible, we’re invited to approach Job’s story honestly, trusting that God’s Word doesn’t need our pious shielding.”
So let’s dive in.
Last week we mentioned how a lot of times the book of Job is framed as a book that explores the question “why do bad things happen to good people?” It’s written like a fairytale; Job is not a real person here, but rather a hypothetical scenario meant to explore a principle - as Min. Candace Simpson puts it, “once upon a time there was a man whose story is going to reveal something about the human condition and our concept of God.”
But back to Job - one of the points that the author makes is that Job was a wealthy man. The author even goes so far as to enumerate some of that wealth in terms of livestock and land and servants. So when Job loses that wealth, it’s not like he was an administrative assistant or like a cashier at the grocery store who loses their job. He was more like a Wall Street executive who loses everything when the market crashes - and much like happened in the days following the stock market crash of 2008 when banks were deemed to big to fail and we watched as Wall Street was restored, Job here at the end regains everything again and more than what was lost.
It raises uncomfortable questions, right? What happens for those who don’t have safety nets around them when their suffering hits? The unexpected diagnosis? The lost job? The unjust firing? The eviction? What happens if what others have lost don’t get “restored” in the way that is hoped or longed for? Or - what happens when there is such incredible social, political, spiritual even pressure to “get over” our suffering as quickly as possible and get back to “normal” living.
I was listening on Friday afternoon and NPR's Sarah McCammon talked with Patricia Oliver on All Things Considered. Patricia Oliver is the mother of Joaquin Oliver, a 17 year old who was killed in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla in 2018. The gunman pled guilty this past Wednesday. During the interview, Patricia talked about the wonderful healing work that had occured for her through a non-profit that she and her husband started called Change the Ref to bring awareness to the impact of gun violence through art. And yet - as Patricia was asked about the upcoming sentencing, she talked about the daily absence and suffering she and her husband experienced not physically having their son with them - and that no law or no punishment would ever fill that absence.
Nelba Marquez-Greene, a mother who also lost a daughter to gun violence at the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, and who is also a therapist specializing in grief, loss, and trauma, writes: “We are not good at sitting in the suffering of people, especially when there is no resolution for example in gun violence and other tragic losses.”
In the face of deep suffering - even when things look normal again, even after and in the midst of healing - the suffering still exists. The loss and its impact will never go away. The truth of the matter is - even though Job is this wealthy man who has so much more restored to him than what he lost - he still lost and suffered. The replacement of his wealth, the birth of additional children, does not negate the suffering he experienced; Job will carry that experience with him for the rest of his life.
Perhaps, in this way, the ending is meant to sound ridiculous - like everyone knows that life actually doesn’t turn out this way, despite our very human desire to have a nice, happy, rainbow ending at the end of every difficult stormy period in our lives. Perhaps the author of Job writes this ending to provoke this reaction in us. The ending is not prescriptive of the human condition; we’re not meant to take our suffering before God in humility so that God can bless us and restore us beyond our wildest imaginings because we know that this is not how life works.
Perhaps, then, the ending reveals how futile it is to have this desire...and invites us to reflect on why it is we want that so much -- and what, instead, can God do about it? And what, instead, can we do about it?
I think, instead, about resurrection - resurrection as something wholly different than restoration. We think of restoration as getting back to normal - something that was broken is now whole. Something that was missing a piece -- that piece has been found. Resurrection is something different entirely. We look at Jesus and we look at his resurrected body, a body transformed by God, raised to new life -- and yet he still had the physical evidence of his crucifixion scars. Restoration would have erased the evidence of those scars - brought him back to “normal.” Resurrection instead takes those scars and enfolds them into part of a larger story.
Suffering, pain, loss, trauma, grief - they stay with us, even as we heal. Those who have lost a loved one know this. Those who have worked through traumatic experiences know that these things never go away. They are embodied - the spiritual and emotional trauma I went through this summer lives in my body as well as in my memory.
Resurrection doesn’t erase the past - but makes a way forward that honors the suffering and hardship that we carry and enables us to bear them with resilience and hope - and in this we witness to a God that redeems, that brings forth life out of dead and barren places, that transforms the scars into a witness of something greater than we can ever fully articulate. Resurrection is a gift if we are open to receiving it.
And I have to wonder - and perhaps the author of Job wanted readers to think about this too - is...what does life look like on the other end of deep suffering? What if we are invited to live again - and what if we take that invitation? Ellen Davis, author of Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament, writes, “This book is not about justifying God’s actions; it is about Job’s transformation. It is useless to ask how much (or how little) it costs God to give more children. The real question is how much it costs Job to become a father again. How can he open himself again to the terrible vulnerability of loving those whom he cannot protect against suffering and untimely death?”
We see a Job, at the end, fully engaged with the present, though I am sure he carried the wounds of his suffering with him to the end of his days. Job chooses life. Courage. Love. Generosity - the bible specifically mentions that he gave his daughters an inheritance - a right normally reserved for sons.
What does choosing life look like when suffering has so long endured? What does choosing life look like for those for whom suffering is a constant companion?
Debie Thomas ends her reflection on this passage with these words, and I thought what she says is a helpful reminder - I know it has been a source of comfort for me this week, as this week, the pain and wounding of Annual Conference was a close companion. I hope it is a helpful reminder and a source of comfort for you as well. She writes this:
“This is the choice that lies before us, too. When suffering comes, when loss shatters our belief in a predictable world and a “safe” God, what will we do? Will we opt out? Will we close our hearts around our wounds and never risk life again? Or will we participate in the lavish, unbounded love of God, who adores a created cosmos that includes contingency, chaos, destruction, and disorder? We are free to choose — just as God is. We are free to risk our hearts or not — just as God is. Can we love what we do not control?
Job is a remarkable book. A difficult book. A book to struggle with. What I’ve found in these last few weeks of wrestling with this timeless story is that God meets me in my resistance and doubt, just as much as God meets me in my trust and surrender. The Spirit is more than equal to everything I bring to the pages of scripture, because my wrestling is always in the arms of God — and so is yours.”
May we know that in all things - times of struggle and challenge, times of suffering and hardship, times of faith and abundance - that we are all held and carried by the God who knows and loves and carries us and all of creation - that the suffering of one is the suffering of all - and that we are bound together with our creator as we move toward a world of hope, flourishing, and resurrection for each one. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.