Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Do you remember the childhood story books that you read when you were a little person? One of the books I remember was the story of Bambi. It is about a new-born deer, whose father was the prince of the forest, a title that Bambi was going to inherit when he grew up.
What I remember especially in the story is the page where Bambi’s mother is killed by a hunter. Wanted to skip quickly over that page each time I read it. But the book had a happy ending. On the last pages Bambi has grown into an adult deer and becomes the prince of the forest. And the message for little children? There will be challenges in life, including the big one of death of loved ones, but you will grow through them and become all you are meant to be. So a fine encouragement to young readers.
But happy endings - don’t we wish that all life were like that? Yet as adults we know it doesn’t always happen that way. However, as Christians we are given faith to believe that, as the prophet Jeremiah says, we have ‘a future with hope.’ (Jeremiah 29.11)
We have been making our way through the book of Job in the Old Testament. Today we come to its last chapter and ending. It is a story like the parables of Jesus, meant to teach us something. But I’ve always had doubts about the happy ending.
On every other occasion in my life when I have looked at Job, I have been confused and disappointed by the way it ends. The story is about a very wealthy man named Job, who had everything, riches, family, and health. And then tragedy strikes him, and he loses everything. The ending I have always had trouble with is this: in the end of the story, Job recovers everything: riches, family, and health. And he lived happily ever after, to the age of 140.
This is so difficult to understand, I decided to see what Jewish teachers say about the book, which is of course a Jewish story from the Old Testament. What do the rabbis say about Job?
The book of Job is asking what we often ask. Good people experience bad things, and bad people seem to cruise through life without any cares or worries. Where is the justice in life? Or to put it another way: if God is good, then why is life so hard? Why would a loving God make a world that is so full of suffering?
This question has been talked about so much down through the centuries that it even has its own special name. It is called the problem of theodicy. Today it is usually given as the reason why many people say they cannot believe in God. Look at the suffering, they say; where is God, why does he allow it to happen if he is real?
In the story of Job, his friends thought they knew how God works. They thought the problem was quite simple: if you are suffering, it is because you are being punished for your sins. Job says he will have none of that. He denied the truth of everything people of faith thought they knew about the way God works.
Job said he was innocent, so why should he suffer? In that respect he represents most of us. There is no connection between sin and suffering. Jesus even said so. There was some kind of construction accident in the town of Siloam, a tower collapsed and 18 people were killed. Jesus said those 18 did not die because they were worse sinners than anyone else. (Luke 13.1-5) Yet there are still those who would say that if you are good, God will reward you with riches and success in this life. Like Father Christmas. How unlike this is to Jesus, who calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him.
In Job’s story, he argues with his friends’ view of how the world works, and he also demands to have an audience with God, where he says he would argue his innocence with God. In the end Job gets his audience with God. But the experience turns out to be totally different from what he expected. What he experienced was an overwhelming vision of the awesomeness of God and his own smallness before God. When Job saw God, it blew his mind.
What is the story saying to us? It is saying that faith is not primarily about knowing how God works, as nice as that would be. Yes, study of the bible is essential. As Jesus said, we will find eternal life in the bible, because its pages point us to him. (John 5.39) But head knowledge is not everything when it comes to faith. God is known through a meeting with him. This is something like what Jesus said to Nicodemus, who was a Jewish ruler and would have known very well the teachings of his faith. Jesus told him, ‘You must be born again (or born from above).’ (John 3.1f) Faith is the movement of the Holy Spirit on our hearts. It is a personal meeting with the living God, as Job found out.
In the end we have no choice but to live in a world of injustice. Our proper occupation as people of faith is to strive to love God, and to serve him. How do we serve him? With acts of love. With every small act of love we defeat injustice and all its consequences. We draw limits around injustice, and occasionally we win battles. But the good news is that the war has already been won for us, in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The conclusion of the book of Job is perhaps the way it is because of the time in which it was written. It comes from a time when the expectation was that justice had to be found in this life. So after losing everything, Job must find justice by getting everything back - he becomes rich again.
Now we live in a different age, the age of the Spirit. Now we know the gift of God’s Son. In him is all justice, and rightness, and truth. We have the expectation that, as Jesus said, ‘The time has come and the kingdom of God is near.’ (Mark 1.15) And we look forward in hope for the new heaven and new earth that will come down out of heaven from God. (Rev 21.1-2) So yes, there is a happy ending, just as Job experienced, but worked out in a different way, yet still wholly dependent on God. As the prophet Jeremiah says, God gives us a future with hope.