Is Everything Back to Normal? – Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 23B (Job 42)

Is Everything Back to Normal? – Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 23B (Job 42)

William Blake – Job and his daughters
 
42 Then Job answered the Lord:
“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘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.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”
 
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10 And 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. 11 Then 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. 12 The 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. 13 He also had seven sons and three daughters. 14 He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. 15 In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. 16 After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. 17 And Job died, old and full of days.
*****************
                It seems that all it took was a bit of humility, a word of repentance, and a recognition on Job’s part that he didn’t know what he was talking about to get his life back. The ending of Job has always given people pause. After all the speeches on the part of the “friends,” urging Job to repent, which he rebutted, and the back and forth between Job and God as to why Job suffering (he may have cursed his own life, but Job never cursed God) in the end Job gives in. Maybe God just wore him down. Starting in chapter 38, God began assailing Job with questions. There is a brief response on Job’s part in chapter 40, but it’s a brief respite, as God starts right back up and continues the diatribe on through chapter 41. The message appears to be that there’s a lot that Job doesn’t know, and thus he needs to be careful with his responses. Job seems to agree, at least that’s what it looks like here in chapter 42. After that gets cleared up, everything returns to normal. Isn’t that the way we like things? Don’t happy endings make for a good story? After all, who doesn’t want to live happily ever after, as is always the case in a Disney story?
                This reading from Chapter 42 is the fourth lectionary choice, and it brings the story of Job to a close. It might not have been the way we would have expected it to end, considering how things started, but maybe ending on a high note is for the best. The lectionary creators, as is their penchant, do a bit of editing to the chapter, excising verses 7-9. In these verses we find God giving the “friends” a tongue-lashing. It’s a bit harsh and may not fit the intentions of the lectionary creators, but this omission is unfortunate because it essentially justifies Job’s complaint. Consider this word: “After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, he said to Eliphaz from Teman, ‘I’m angry at you and your two friends because you haven’t spoken about me correctly as did my servant Job.’” (Job 42:7 CEB). Yes, Job is in the right, and the friends are not.
Before we get to this excised response on God’s part, we must first attend to Job’s response to God’s diatribe. Job had asked plenty of questions of God, but in the end, he admits that when it came to God’s questions, he simply doesn’t have any answers. After all, God, seems to know everything and whose plans can’t be thwarted. In seems as if Job is defeated by God’ outburst, and yet there is a sense of vindication in that God deals directly with Job. In Job’s response, we hear him say that whereas before he had only heard God’s voice, now, having encountered the whirlwind, Job has seen God with his own eyes. With that, all Job can do is repent with dust and ashes. I wonder, is he repenting of his questions or simply affirming his lack of knowledge and understanding. Job recognizes that he is not God. With that, I prefer the latter explanation. Job isn’t repenting of us questions, just his lack of understanding. This is good news, as I appreciate the questions.
Job’s response, which might have been the original ending of the book, gives way in verse 7 to God’s response to the three friends, who learn that their response was incorrect.  They simply didn’t know what they were talking about. Job, on the other hand, while there might be much that he doesn’t understand or have knowledge of—after all, he wasn’t there to witness many of these things first hand—he was right in this—Job’s “misfortunes” were not the result of unrighteousness or sin. God directs the three friends to atone for their mistake by offering seven bulls and seven rams as a burnt offering, asking Job to offer a prayer of forgiveness. It wasn’t God who was to receive this offering, it was Job, the righteous one.  It’s unfortunate that this is missing because God does admit that Job was correct all along (though God doesn’t repent for putting Job in this predicament).
When we return to the text chosen by the lectionary in verse ten, it seems as if everything has gotten back to normal. It was a series of unfortunate events, that cost him family, land, his own skin (suffering on his part), but now everything is good. After Job prayed for his “friends,” God restored everything that was lost, only this time he is doubly blessed. He was faithful, and therefore he was rewarded. I know this doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the book. Wasn’t the prior message that Job’s misfortunes had nothing to do with a lack of faithfulness, so how could this act of blessing be a sign of faithfulness?  In any case, standing at the center of this blessing is the provision of children, specifically three daughters, as well as seven sons. The sons aren’t named, but interestingly the daughters are—Jemimah, Keziah, and Keren-Happuch. Of these three daughters, the author of Job declares “in all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters.” They even received an inheritance, along with their brothers—that mention is made of this suggests that this is unusual. But perhaps the message here is that even as Job is blessed, so are his children. After all, as we learn in chapter one of Job, he had always taken good care of his children, offering sacrifices for them so that if they had fallen short of righteousness they were covered. Of course, faithfulness and blessing involve a long life—one hundred and forty more years to be exact, so that the one who lost his original family was able to see four generations of children born. Interestingly enough, no mention is made of Job’s wife. I wonder why? Has something happened to her? Why is she not sharing in the blessings, at least not by name?
When we read Job, I’m not sure we encounter a God we wish to embrace. Here is a God who makes wagers, and seems to be a sort of bully, pummeling Job with unanswerable questions. But maybe this isn’t about God, it’s about our own understandings of righteous and relationship. After all, in the section omitted by the lectionary creators, God does affirm one thing about Job. He was right, and the friends wrong about the cause of misfortune. Deanna Thompson spends a good deal of time with Job in her book Glimpsing Resurrection. She explores the question of trauma in light of the Job story, and she concludes:

And perhaps most important, the book of Job models a relationship with the Divine that allows for anger, grief, complaint, and protest, a relationship that may not yield clear answers regarding the reason for suffering but one that can move between tragedy and joy, and one that dares to include laughter even when the risks of living are intimately understood. [Glimpsing Resurrection, p. 99].

Perhaps that is the message of Job for us. This isn’t really a theodicy. It doesn’t give a full answer to our questions concerning God and suffering, especially if we wish to insert love into the equation. After all, God seems to respect Job, but not necessarily express this in terms of love. The message appears to be that when it comes to suffering and trauma, there are no clear or easy answers. We may want clear answers, bit they always seem elusive. With that the story might have ended, but the creators of this story have chosen to end on a high note. Job is blessed at the end, but not everyone is so fortunate. Sometimes all we can do is end with where things stand at the end of verse 6. We may need to simply kneel before God in sack cloth and ashes and repent, even as we continue to ask why.

10646937_10204043191333252_4540780665023444969_nRobert Cornwall is the Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church in Troy, Michigan. He holds the Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of a number of books including Out of the Office (Energion, 2017), Marriage in Interesting Times (Energion, 2016), and Freedom in Covenant (Wipf and Stock, 2015) and blogs at Ponderings on a Faith Journey.

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