Job 42:1-6, 10-17 | Psalm 126
If you can sit quietly after difficult news;
if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm;
if you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy;
if you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate;
if you can fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill;
if you can always find contentment just where you are:
you are probably a dog.
– Jack Kornfield
I used to love the story of Job. Growing up in the church, the book of Job was this great story of one person’s steadfast commitment to god against all odds. At the beginning of the book, Job has it all. He has money, land, a great family, and perfect health. And then, over the course of the narrative, he loses it all—the oxen and the donkeys, the sheep and the camels, his sons and daughters. He loses his spouse. He loses all of his wealth. And to top it all off he gets really sick. He’s inflicted with painful sores all over his body and he sits in ashes. And, yet, through all of this, Job remains steadfast in his faith, believing that god is still with him and will one day bring him out of the muck and the mire that we call life. And so what does Job do? He endures. He pushes through and in the midst of all his turmoil, he utters those famous words: “I know my redeemer lives” (Job 19:25). And then, at the end of the story, after everything Job goes through, god “restores” Job’s life. God gives job more wealth than he had before, more children, and a bunch more camels. God gives all these things to Job, including a long, healthy life. And finally, at the very end of it all, the text says that “Job died, old and full of days.”
I used to love this story, I think, because it seemed to end on such a happy note. Despite everything that Job went through, it all worked out in the end. Job lived happily ever after. But lately, I’ve become more curious about the ending of this story.
One of the interesting things about the way this story ends is that we don’t hear anything from Job, which is completely different from the rest of the book. All throughout the story, we get an up-close and personal look at Job’s anguish. He cries out to god, asking all the questions that one might ask in that situation: “Why me? What did I do wrong? Is anyone for me? God, where are you? God, why?” When we come to the end of the story, however, after Job gets new camels, new children, and more money, we don’t hear a peep from Job. I think this silence from Job actually says a lot. After a long book full of dialogue after dialogue, conversations between god and job, job and his friends, we come to the end. And after all that’s happened, Job simply has nothing to say.
My heart goes out to Job. My heart goes out to the kind of life he lived and the way that god tried to make it better. Oh, your children are gone? Here’s some new children. Ah, you lost all your money and lived in poverty for most of your life, well now I’ll make you rich. Oh, you had to go through the traumatic experience of living with chronic pain, I’ll make you healthy for these last years. Job accepts all these things and the text tells us he died “full of days,” but I can’t help but wonder what those days were like? Were they days of peace, happiness, and joy? Or, were they days filled with the grief of losing those he loved? Was Job haunted by the memory of his losses and the pain he endured?
Although we can suspect how Job may have felt, we’ll probably never know. But it seems to me that one of the big questions that Job’s story gives us is this: what do we do when we feel like our lives cannot be made better? What do we do when the things we’ve lost cannot be replaced, the ugly and messy memories cannot be forgotten? What do we do when what’s happened to us throughout life cannot be taken back? What do we do when we find ourselves in the midst of things that seem so senseless? I can imagine there may be people here today asking similar questions. Why did I go through that breakup? Why did that friend of mine die so young? Why didn’t I get that job? Why is the traffic in Portland so bad?
Well, I don’t think I’ll ever understand how Job dealt with it, but the psalm we read earlier seems to offer at least one strategy for dealing with the senselessness that life throws our way. Do you remember the day, the Psalmist asks, when “the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion”? Do you remember what we were going through on that day? The Psalmist says “we were like those who dream.” And it was on that day, that day of great rejoicing that god’s favor shown upon us. It was on that day that we lifted our voices in praise and celebration that god had rescued us from the muck and mire. It was on that day that we said for the first time in a long time that “The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.” But the Psalmist also reminds us of the days before the day of rejoicing—the many days we spent moving about the earth in mourning, when our cries were heard aloud and the pain of our hearts was visible for all to see. Those were the days that we “sowed in tears,” the Psalmist says. What this psalm seems to point out for us today is these experiences in life are really two sides of the same coin. They’re very much two steps along the same path. Often, in life, it’s not until we feel truly lost that we are found. It’s not until we can express our genuine sadness that we can experience true joy. Is there anything in your life that you need to sow in tears this morning? Is there anything you need to tend to in your life, to put down, hoping that it will grow into something later—perhaps it’s time to mourn that loss from several years ago. Perhaps it’s time to tell someone about the fact that you can’t remember the last time you felt hopeful. I’m also wondering this morning if there’s anything we need to sow in tears this morning, as Grant Park Church. I can’t help but notice some similarities between the story of Job and our story as a community. Just as Job lost so many of his loved ones, we too have lost many members over the years. We’ve lost tenants in our building, pastors, beloved people. And now we have new tenants, new members, a new pastor.
Like Job, we’ve gotten all these new things. But despite the good things we have, I wonder if it’s time to mourn the things we’ve lost. Perhaps it’s time to cry out in sorrow. And the hope, this psalm says, is that “Those who go out weeping…shall come home with shouts of joy.” I’ll admit it, there’s a mystery in how that all works out. How is it that our cries of sorrow can turn into shouts of joy? How is it that our feelings of grief can be transformed into feelings of peace? We may never know. But I want to say to you this morning that god invites us all, each one of us, to come with our questions. To come with our doubts, our fears, our triumphs and our joys. God does promise a brighter day. There’s no doubt about that. But until that day, my prayer is that we can scream and cry out and dream together. And maybe, just maybe, our screams of pain will turn into shouts of joy. Maybe we will experience, even just for a moment, the garden of delight. Amen.