Everyone loves a happy ending. At last, we think, after all this struggle, all this pain, we can stand and with wide smiles proclaim that all’s well that ends well. Plus, it’s not just a happy ending; it is restoration. All that was lost is now returned and increased. How can we not rejoice in this turn of events?
Tread carefully, preacher. Many commentators warn the resolution hungry proclaimer to be wary of taking the bait offered here on what seems like a silver platter. (See, for example, Gary W. Charles, “Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4, Bartlett and Taylor, General Editors, W/JK Press, 2009, pp.194-198.) After such a profound wrestling with the deep issues of suffering and faith, to wave it all away with an apparent magic wand might cheapen the good work already done.
Yes, we can preach restoration; yes, we can claim happy endings, because they do happen in this world. Perhaps some recitation of more local happy endings would be appropriate as this word is brought. While we are good at soliciting prayer requests, we are often not as good at reporting on answers to prayer. Surely there are stories in the life of the congregation of answered prayer, of journeys of suffering that have come to an end. We need to hear how the “Lord blessed the latter days” of all the Jobs arrayed before us.
We can even find a hint of grace before the restoration. In the first part of the text, there is a somewhat confusing speech that is really a dialog. Ask yourself, who speaks verse 4? It reads as though it is all Job, his turn in the chapters long concluding scene. But is it really? The NRSV puts verse 4 in quotes, meaning if it is Job, then he is reciting someone else’s words. But maybe, in an even deeper act of condescension, God sits beside Job as Job stumbles out with his words of awe and humility and says “talk to me Job. Let me ask you and I’ll listen to your words, your heart, your hurt. Tell me, in this face-to-face moment; tell me what I already know, what I already see in you. Speak to me, Job.” There is a sign of a restoration of relationship that comes before the restoration of fortune and family, a restoration of the bond that was tested but never broken, but now needs tending in order to heal—In order to lead to this further restoration—to this happy ending.
But . . . True, if this is a story, a parable, a fairy tale, then happy endings have come to be expected. But that isn’t the whole story. The restoration doesn’t sweep away what was. The children born in the latter days don’t erase the memory of the ones lost before. Job died, old and full of days, true. But what were those days full of? Memories, tears, lingering effects of all that he suffered. At least that is how it works in the world where we live.
Maybe Job gazed at his image in the mirror as he shaved each morning, seeing the scars left by the disease that marked his body or were the result of the scraping of the potshard trying to find an ounce of relief on that ash heap of pain. Maybe as he looked into his eyes, eyes that had seen far too much, and saw the ghosts of his first children slipping into the shadows of his memory. He wipes the mirror, and they slide away but never really leave him. “I repent,” he said to the powerful voice. “I despise myself,” he whispers to his unshaven face. Was his despising because he dared to challenge God at the height of his suffering? Because he dared to question the ineffable justice that didn’t feel all that just? Or was that statement, that repentance, a summation of all that had happened, all the pain that he bore and the loss that he suffered?
Why spoil it, you might ask? Why not let happy endings be happy? Because the Christ we proclaim declared himself to be the Truth. I am the way, the truth, and the life. So, how can we be less than truthful when proclaiming this Christ?
What happened to Job and sometimes happens to us is that our eyes are opened. We see the world as it is, even as we glimpse the kin-dom that is not yet. We see deeper, and those who have suffered, or are suffering, see something others haven’t yet seen. And that seeing makes us humble. Or it could make us bitter, withdrawn, angry at a world like this. Humble is so much better. It allows for joy in restoration, even while in tune with the world’s pain. This is what it means to be like Christ. To suffer the abandonment of the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” and the sting of death, bearing the wounds of suffering, even as we embrace Resurrection. Now my eyes have seen, and nothing will ever be the same.