Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | October 25, 2009

2009.10.25 “And They All Lived Happily Ever After – The Story of Job, part 4”

Central United Methodist Church

“And They All Lived Happily Ever After –
The Story of Job, part 4”
Job 42: 1 – 6; 10 – 17
Pastor David L. Haley

October 25th, 2009

“I know that you can do all things and nothing you wish is impossible.

                   Who is this whose ignorant words cover my design with darkness?

I have spoken of the unspeakable and tried to grasp the infinite.

                   Listen and I will speak; I will question you: please, instruct me.

I had heard of you with my ears; but now my eyes have seen you.

Therefore I will be quiet, comforted that I am dust.”

(10-17) Then the Lord returned all Job’s possessions, and gave him twice as much as he had before.  All his relatives and everyone who had known him came to his house to celebrate. They commiserated with him over all the suffering that the Lord had inflicted on him.  As they left, each one gave him a coin or a gold ring.

          So the Lord blessed the end of Job’s life more than the beginning. Job now had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters; the eldest he named Dove, the second Cinnamon, and the third Eye-shadow. And in all the world there were no women as beautiful as job’s daughters. He gave them a share of his possessions along with their brothers.

          After this, Job lived for a hundred and forty years.  He lived to see his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren. And he died at a very great age.”

 (Job 42: 1 – 6, 10 – 17, The Book of Job, by Stephen Mitchell)     

     The most famous quote to come out of the Iraq War (so far) may well be the one spoken by General David Petraeus back in 2003, when he was only a Major General commanding the Army’s 101st Airborne during the invasion of Baghdad.  “Tell me how this ends,” he said.

      While the verdict is still out on that, “Tell me how this ends” might also be what we say today as we come to the end of a series of four sermons from the Old Testament book of Job.

       Of course, the reason Job still has significance to us is because “Tell me how this ends,” might also be a question we ask about our own lives.  Through all the twists and turns, the ups and downs of our lives we may sometimes wonder how we are going to turn out?  Will we be blessed or cursed, rich or poor, healthy or ill, left alone or surrounded by family and friends, happy or filled with bitterness and regret?

I’ve been thinking about this since earlier this summer, when I read an article by Joshua Wolf Shenk in the June 2009, Atlantic, entitled, “What Makes Us Happy?”  (See the Atlantic Online at http://www.theatlantic.com)

For 72 years, researchers in Harvard’s “Grant Study” have been asking this question, as they followed 268 men (sorry, ladies) who entered college in the late 1930s, through war, career, marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, and old age. The project is one of the longest-running and most exhaustive longitudinal studies of mental and physical well-being in history. Two of the most insightful books of the last 30 years also drew upon the Grant Study: Gail Sheehy’s 1976 best seller, Passages; and Daniel Levinson’s The Seasons of a Man’s Life.

The study’s longtime director, George Vaillant, a psychiatrist, may be in many ways trying to answer some of his own life questions. One afternoon in 1945, his father, at the age of 44, an accomplished man who showed little trace of doubt or depression, went out into the yard after a nap and shot himself, committing suicide.  His elder son and namesake, George, at the age of 10, was the last to see his father alive. Sometimes, it seems, we never suspect just how things are going to end.

      So let me be clear:  the reason the book of Job is so universal, so enduring, so classic, is because its asks questions which are as old as human suffering:  not only why we suffer – even when we have done nothing to deserve it – but how ultimately, our blessings and our sufferings can transform us into stronger, more sensitive, more authentic, more faithful persons.  Now we may try to answer this with longitudinal social studies; back then they did it with stories.

      So far in the Book of Job we have seen how – due to a bet made in heaven – Job, one of the wealthiest, most influential, most upright men of the ancient near East, suddenly lost everything: his possessions, his wealth, his beloved sons and daughters, and even his health and reputation.  Would his faith falter or remain firm?

      Friends arrive to comfort Job, but only make his suffering worse, – not unlike religious people sometimes do today – when they accuse him of being responsible for his sufferings, through unknown but unconfessed moral failings. For 35 chapters they argue, with Job eloquently and steadfastly maintaining his innocence, pleading if only God would hear his case, things would be made right.  “Job’s Comforters,” we should try not to be.

      Finally, in chapter 38, God shows up, and speaks to Job out of a whirlwind.  But instead of answering the question’s Job’s asks, God asks questions of his own:  “Who are you, Job?” “Where were you when I planned the earth?” “Have you considered the ostrich or the alligator?”

        After this – our equivalent of which might be an illustrated lecture by Stephen Hawking — Job’s first response is awe. He puts his hand over his mouth, appalled at his ignorance, and then concludes with a final speech.  Stephen Mitchell renders Job’s final words – which evidently are a difficult translation – this way:

“I know that you can do all things

                        and nothing you wish is impossible.

I have spoken of the unspeakable

                        and tried to grasp the infinite.

I had heard of you with my ears;

                        but now my eyes have seen you.

Therefore I will be quiet,

comforted that I am dust.”

Job has faced evil, has looked straight into its face and through it, into a vast wonder and love.  Like we ultimately must do, Job lets go of everything, and surrenders into the Light.

 “Tell me how this ends?”  The truth is, the Book of Job could have ended perfectly right there. In many ways it’s a good and appropriate conclusion to all that has gone before. Everyone is put in his place: God is exalted; Job is humbled though comforted. The painful questions raised throughout the book are given no easy answer.  Such an ending would be true to life, making this book a realistic evocation of the experiences of those who suffer.

But like a preacher who says “In conclusion” too many times, the poetry ends and the book continues with prose epilogue which is, well, prosaic.  God restores the fortunes of Job, giving him twice as much as he had before, even replacing his old sons and daughters with new sons and daughters, fully grown.

It’s no wonder this epilogue has upset and offended readers throughout the centuries, seeing it as something “tacked on.”  After just arguing for 39 chapters that blessings are not the reward of goodness any more than suffering is a punishment for sin, why does that seem to be exactly what happens here?  After all Job has been through, how can he so easily bear to enter a new life?  How could he possibly accept brand new children as a replacement for his murdered sons and daughters?

As Martin Copenhaver observes, “After all that has happened to Job — financial ruin, the death of his children, the pain of disease, all those agonizing and unanswered questions — the epilogue seems as jarring as a conventional Hollywood happy ending would at the conclusion of King Lear.” (“Risking a Happy Ending: Job 42:1-6; 10-17 – Living by the Word,” by Martin B. Copenhaver, The Christian Century, Oct 12, 1994)

Though we all like fairy tales and happy endings – after all, our Christian Gospel is about not Job but Jesus, a man who suffered and died and then rose from the dead — still, our experience makes us suspicious when stories end too handily, too happily. As the old saying goes, “The difference between an optimist and a pessimist is a little more information.”

Despite all this, there are some things that we can learn from this last chapter, whether we like it or not.

Number 1:  Job’s friends were wrong; God’s says so.  

“After he had spoken to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am very angry at you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.  So take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer a sacrifice for yourselves.  My servant Job will pray for you, and for his sake I will overlook your sin.  For you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.” (Mitchell, p. 91)

      It should serve as a warning for us, that just when we are most convinced we are right; we may not be.  As the ancient Chinese cautioned us in the Tao te Ching (also translated by Stephen Mitchell); “Those who talk don’t know; those who know don’t talk. (p. 56).  For all of us — like Job — waiting for the day when we will be finally proven right, whether in regard to our spouses or our critics, this text gives us hope.  Or not?

Second thing we learn, whether we like this twist in the story or not, in spite of all he has been through, Job’s fortunes are finally restored. Though really, on another deeper level, all the possessions, and the children, are outer and visible signs of Job’s inner fulfillment, beyond gain and loss.  Job’s earlier anxiety has vanished, and there is a peace present that was not there before.

What the epilogue does not say is that God restores Job’s fortunes and relationships in response to his words of repentance and humility. God’s reasons for giving things to Job are as unexplained as the reasons they were taken away. God may not explain suffering, but God does not explain blessing, either. They are mysteries; hidden from our view. “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

      I try to assure people, whether we are standing in front of their house which has just burned down, or just been told by their spouse that they are seeking a divorce, or after the death of someone beloved, when they wonder whether they will know happiness find again; I try to assure them (partially based upon my own experience) that, though they can’t believe it or see it now, that day will come.  For certain, neither us or our happiness will ever be the same, but the day will come.

      The third thing we learn is, whether or not Job has been transformed by his experience, it must have affected his brain, because why else would he name his daughters what translators other than Mitchell don’t dare translate:  Dove, Cinnamon, and yes, Eye-Shadow? (See, for those of you who were here last Sunday, when instead of cosmology, I said cosmetology, there is something to be said for cosmetology in the Book of Job after all?) 

      In fact, perhaps the most curious detail in the epilogue is the mention of Job’s daughters. They are given equal shares of inheritance as the sons; rare, even unheard of in the Old Testament and the ancient world.  Each is named, while the seven sons remain anonymous. And their names: Dove, Cinnamon, and Eye-Shadow, symbolize peace, abundance, and a specific kind of female grace. “In all the world there were no women as beautiful as Job’s daughters.”  Says Mitchell, “The story’s center of gravity has shifted from righteousness to beauty, the effortless manifestation of inner peace.” (Mitchell, xxx)

      The English genius/madman/mystic William Blake (1757-1827) is one of the few interpreters of Job to understand that the theme of the book of Job is not so much the meaning of suffering, as it is the transformation that suffering and its resolution can bring.

In his first illustration of Job, he draws the patriarch and his wife seated at evening prayer, with Bibles open on their laps, their children kneeling around them; the sheep are drowsing, the dogs are drowsing, they themselves look up to heaven in drowsy piety, with all their musical instruments hanging silent on the central tree. 

The last engraving, however, shows a world transformed: it is sunrise, the whole family is standing up, bright eyed, each exuberantly playing his or her favorite musical instrument.  (Their own little Happy Band?) (Mitchell, xxx)

      And, the very last word is a peaceful death in the midst of a loving family.  What truer, happier ending could there be than that?

      So the point of the Book of Job is not an answer to human suffering, we never get that; but that, it is perhaps more often through our sufferings than through our blessings that we are transformed into stronger, more sensitive, more authentic, more faithful persons.

In many ways, it gets to the heart of Director George Vaillant’s angle on the Grant Study. His central question is not how much or how little trouble these men met, but rather precisely how — and to what effect — they responded to that trouble.

When trouble and suffering come, it is our adaptations, our defense mechanisms, our responses to pain, conflict, or uncertainty that can spell our redemption or ruin.  If we adapt by becoming an alcoholic, our end will almost certainly be bad, as was one man’s, who while drunk, fell down the stairs and died.  On the other hand, if we adapt by strengthening our relationships, our end will almost certainly be good.  In an interview in the March 2008 newsletter to the Grant Study subjects, Vaillant was asked, “What have you learned from the Grant Study men?” Vaillant’s response: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”

        When Vaillant was to speak to a class of graduate students about what he learned, guess whom he chose to quote? William Blake, from Blake’s poetry, Auguries of Innocence.  I can’t help but wonder if Blake didn’t learn it from Job.  “Tell me how this ends?”

“Joy and woe are woven fine,

A clothing for the soul divine.

Under every grief and pine

Runs a joy with silken twine.

It is right it should be so:

Man was made for joy and woe;

And when this we rightly know

Through the world we safely go.”

[I acknowledge my debt to The Book of Job (Translated and with an Introduction) by Stephen Mitchell.  It is on my list of recommended books, and may be purchased on Amazon.com through our church website at www.skokiecentralumc.org, which enables a portion of your purchase to go to our church.

Also, “Risking a Happy Ending: Job 42:1-6; 10-17 – Living by the Word,” by Martin B. Copenhaver, The Christian Century, Oct 12, 1994]

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