Now My Eyes Have Seen | Proper 25

Job 42:1-6, 10-17

1 Job answered the LORD: 2 I know you can do anything; no plan of yours can be opposed successfully. 3 You said, “Who is this darkening counsel without knowledge?” I have indeed spoken about things I didn’t understand, wonders beyond my comprehension. 4 You said, “Listen and I will speak; I will question you and you will inform me.” 5 My ears had heard about you, but now my eyes have seen you. 6 Therefore, I relent and find comfort on dust and ashes.

10 Then the LORD changed Job’s fortune when he prayed for his friends, and the LORD doubled all Job’s earlier possessions. 11 All his brothers, sisters, and acquaintances came to him and ate food with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him concerning all the disaster the LORD had brought on him, and each one gave him a qesitah and a gold ring. 12 Then the LORD blessed Job’s latter days more than his former ones. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand female donkeys. 13 He also had seven sons and three daughters. 14 He named one Jemimah, a second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. 15 No women in all the land were as beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave an inheritance to them along with their brothers. 16 After this, Job lived 140 years and saw four generations of his children. 17 Then Job died, old and satisfied.

Now My Eyes Have Seen

What are the things we most deeply fear? Since Halloween is right around the corner, maybe it’s an appropriate question to ask. I’m afraid of flying, but that probably stems from my absolute lack of control by putting my life in the hands of a complete stranger. If something goes wrong in-flight, there’s not much I can do except put my oxygen mask on and curl up in my seat like a dead opossum.

For Job, what he dreaded most was that chaos might come upon him in the very calamity that happened to his family. At the end of chapter 3, Job said, “I was afraid of something awful, and it arrived; what I dreaded came to me” (Job 3:25 CEB). Job’s fear was that chaos is real, that it exists in God’s creation.

In some recesses of our hearts and minds, don’t we all share Job’s fear? Aren’t we all afraid that some tragedy like these might befall us? If I’m honest, fear for my family’s safety constantly lingers at the distant edges of my mind because chaos exists, and I doubt I’m the only one whom that fear touches. Any one of the tragedies Job experienced can happen to us. Such catastrophes come suddenly, unexpectedly, and randomly.

It’s the randomness of such events, the unpredictability of chaos, the possibility that calamity could happen to us at any time, that’s terrifying, isn’t it? When those tragedies strike us or other people, we all have our moral paradigms and explanatory frameworks ready, and we use them to try to understand tragedy. We try to find meaning and purpose in it.

Sometimes, as spectators to sufferers, we try to shove meaning or purpose down the throat of those who are suffering. I’ve considered coming up with a list of things NOT to say at a funeral, because there’s a lot of stupid stuff that comes out of people’s mouths at funerals. Well-meant, but absolutely heartless, unempathetic, and stupid. It seems like, the greater the tragedy, the stupider the theological commentary. I believe mathematicians call that an inverse proportion.

I cringe every time I hear a person tell a grieving parent that God must have called their baby home because God needed another angel in heaven, or something good will come from this. Such words of “comfort” are bad theology. They’re horrible things to say. And they’re really an attempt to silence the grief of the griever by someone who isn’t grieving so they can distance themselves from the grief. If we can silence their grief, then it can’t touch us. Which, if you think about it, is just plain mean. Even if well-meant, those words put the mean in well-meaning.

Yet, we all hold on to interpretive frameworks like these so we can veil reality and organize our own—and other people’s—pain to make it appear as something else. Our interpretive frameworks take the reality of chaos, when it crashes into us, and forces it into something that looks orderly and definable, and, as a result, a little less terrifying. So, tragic death becomes “God’s plan” or God “trying to teach us something.”

It’s too terrifying for us to live in a universe where there isn’t always a perfect plan, so we invent a plan at all costs and we claim that it’s God’s as if we know God’s plan. That’s what Job’s friends did. They said, everyone knows that God always has a plan, everyone knows God is just, everyone knows these things don’t happen for no reason, among other things. When we attempt to explain or justify suffering by defending God—or what we need to assume about God for our own piece of mind—we can easily dismiss the pain of those who are often suffering in ways that are unmerited.

Job’s friends each had their frameworks for interpreting Job’s miserable situation. They tried to frame Job’s suffering in the context of divine punishment for the wicked (15:20-35), into a warning for those with loose ethics (33:14-30), into disciplinary education for the morally weak (5:17-19), and for those who are righteous, they suggested that suffering is just something to bear until God restores things so that we’re okay again (4:4-6; 8:20-21). But each of those frameworks dismissed the suffering and pain of a father who had lost ten children.

Job had his own framework for understanding the relationship between God and humans, too. The initial framework to which he clung was that his fear of losing the very things he lost could be kept at bay by being righteous. When that framework fell apart through the profound loss that Job experienced, he switched to another framework. Rather than accept the traditional common knowledge that his friends were spouting—which was the very framework Job once held and taught others about—Job grasped to a legal framework that allowed him to declare the disasters that had befallen him, and his family, were morally wrong. And God was morally wrong for allowing these things to happen. That framework gave Job someone to blame, and that someone was God.

But Job’s new moral paradigm, his interpretive framework for his suffering, still allowed him to not see truth about such suffering. It’s not that Job couldn’t see this truth, it’s that he was afraid to see it. It was a means of denial. The legal framework was first introduced as parody in chapter 9 but it becomes something Job starts thinking about seriously in chapters 23 through 31.

What smashes the paradigms to bits is when God speaks from the whirlwind, answers Job directly, and presents Job with the reality that chaos exists in creation. Job’s quarrel with God is a long, desperate attempt to keep the reality of what Job dreaded away: that chaos can overcome anyone, even the most righteous of people who do everything right, plus a little extra just in case. God’s speech to Job reveals that there is no moral paradigm or interpretive framework for suffering. God didn’t offer Job a plan or a reason for what happened. God offered the truth that sometimes, bad things just happen. Sometimes chaos turns our world up side down. But that doesn’t mean God has abandoned us.

Job found it impossible to experience the presence of God in desolation. But God reveals that, even when we feel abandoned: when we feel like we’re the brother or sister of jackals and creatures of the most barren places—as Job did—God is there in that desolation sustaining life, sending rain and making grass sprout where no humans have ever lived (c.f. Job 38:25-27). God’s view of jackals and their world is quite different from Job’s.

From the whirlwind speech, God doesn’t give Job the answer he sought. Instead, God gifts Job with sight. God dismantles Job’s framework for trying to understand his suffering, and only then can Job face his fear by encountering the very image of his dread in the chaotic Behemoth and Leviathan. They’re symbols of chaos—the very chaos that overcame Job’s household—but even chaos is limited and restrained by God. Only when Job sees his fear can he see himself through God’s eyes. And only then can Job let go of his obsessive demand for a trial with God and begin the painful process of living beyond tragedy.

Job confessed, “My ears had heard about you, but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5 CEB). That gift of sight—which may or may not be physical sight—is when Job is able to repent of his interpretive frameworks and accept that God is with him even in the depths of his pain and suffering.

Still, Job isn’t an easy book. We want Scripture to give us answer, but Job doesn’t give us answers or solutions. In fact, verses 10-17 seem to contradict the apparent solution in verse 6. Verse 6 actually highlights the necessity to wrestle with the material because there are at least five ways to translate and interpret the Hebrew in that one verse, all with different meanings (c.f. Carol A. Newsome, The Book of Job, NIB Vol. IV, p.629). The CEB translation emphasizes that Job relents of his former mindset and now finds comfort in the human condition.

If the book simply stopped there, we’d be good. But, it goes on. God declared Job correct, and Job’s friends wrong in their speech about God. Job sacrificed and prayed for his friends, and that is when God restored Job’s fortunes. The Lord doubled all Job’s earlier possessions. He had seven more sons and three daughters. However, the Hebrew word for seven is an odd form that might mean twice seven, so Job might have had fourteen sons and three daughters. And, Job lived 140 more years and saw four generations of his children, which was twice the normal life expectancy (c.f. Psalm 90:10) when an ordinarily blessed lifespan was to see two generations of your children (c.f. Psalm 128:6).

This doubling of Job’s former possessions and family might seem innocuous, but if you know about Israelite case law, it raises serious questions. The restitution owed by thieves was double the injured person’s loss (c.f. Exodus 22:1-15). So, God gives to Job the restitution owed by a criminal. Did Job win his case even as he repented of it? Also, paradoxically, the restitution God provides actually proves what Job’s three friends had been saying all along as correct.

It leaves us a little baffled, but by not giving the book a firm solution, our craving for a solution is exposed as an attempt to evade the same truth Job tried to evade: that chaos is a part of life, and divergent views can be valid. Remember, Job rejected his previous words and changed his understanding of God, which is not insignificant for a man who was so righteous as Job! It suggests that, sometimes, what we know with absolute certainty might not be the full truth after all. We still have more to learn.

The seeming abruptness of Job’s restoration can feel cold and uncomfortable, too. Surely the birth of more sons and daughters can’t replace the tragic loss of the ten who died. I don’t think that’s what the book suggests. The key to understanding this, I believe, is verse 11: “All his brothers, sisters, and acquaintances came to him and ate food with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him concerning all the disaster the LORD had brought on him, and each one gave him a qesitah and a gold ring” (CEB). This gathering of Job’s community who surrounded him and cared for him is when the seed of Job’s restoration was planted and began to grow.

His community came to him. They shared his distress, shared his pain, shared his grief, and made sure he ate. They gave him a qesitah, which is an unknown weight of goods, and gold rings. It’s the generosity and love of Job’s community that grew into the restored fortunes.

Something else to which we should pay attention is the fullness of this restoration. I noted in Bible study that the author of Job must have been a feminist because, at the conclusion, the daughters are named. Because of its roots in a patriarchal culture, Scripture has a bad habit of leaving women unnamed and uncounted. That truth is obvious even in the New Testament. Matthew 14 tells us about Jesus feeding the five-thousand. But what it actually says is this: “About five thousand men plus women and children had eaten” (Matthew 14:21 CEB). Then, in the next chapter, Jesus fed the four-thousand. But what it actually says is this: “Four thousand men ate, plus women and children” (Matthew 15:38 CEB). The women in these accounts—and so many others within Scripture—were not even worthy of being counted! They were a footnote.

It’s extraordinary, then, that Job not only counts Job’s daughters, but names them and declares that they inherited as equals with their brothers. There is one example of daughters inheriting their father’s property in Numbers 27, but it has nothing to do with equality between women and men. Daughters could only inherit when their father had no sons. Job had either seven or fourteen sons, yet his three daughters were given an inheritance along with their brothers.

It’s in this kind of world, in this kind of restoration, in this kind of equality that Job was able to find satisfaction and die with the fullness of that satisfaction as the last word over his life. As a Christian, I think we have a lot of work to do to change the mindset of our culture about matters of equality and justice before I can say the same. But Job gives me hope that even the most righteous can change their minds.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Rev. Christopher Millay

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s