The Daily Office readings for today finish finally the saga of Job, with Job 42:1-17
It is supposed by some to be a happy ending. God, after reminding Job of that he is no match for God nor the chaos that has befallen him, restores his fortunes, providing him with twice the money in his treasury, twice the flocks of sheep, camels, oxen, even twice the donkeys.
But there is no replacing what has been lost. Job’s skin will remain scarred; his hair will not grow back; his trust in his family and friends, who now gather around to congratulate him on his recovery of status and stature, will always bear the cracks that were formed around the fire as he sat in the ashes of his old life.
The number of daughters and sons that Job has at the end of his story is the same as at the beginning. It is a sign, perhaps, of that tender place that his daughters now, instead of being summoned to their brothers’ houses for hospitality, share an inheritance of their own; as though Job would not have them dependent on his fortunes or those of his sons any longer; as though he no longer trusted in posterity. They are the same in number; although their names are new, no doubling, no multiplication can erase the memory of those who went before them.
Is this a happy ending?
Is it an ending?
Fire and flood, storm and pestilence, murder, strife, and rumours of strife surround us. We wonder, often and aloud, what will come of it, what will be our “new normal,” when this is “all over;” we look forward to the restoration of our fortunes, to our recovery. But we know, from our place in the cold ashes next to Job and his old friends, that whatever comes next, there is much that will not be undone.
There are rifts and there is destruction; there are scars and there is loss; there are disappointments against God and humanity and the church that will not easily be forgotten, regretted, or reconciled.
Yet through the chaos, God speaks faithfulness: the truth that Jesus learned through Incarnation, that the Spirit renders in sighs and screams and silence; that God knows some hurts will not be healed, only mitigated, only placated, only consoled by the demands of love.
It is the promise of God’s sorrow that Job is given another mouth to feed, another name to choose, another life to love. It is the sign of God’s understanding, God’s steadfastness to God’s little ones, God’s compassionate grief and glory, that God does not attempt to redouble the number of Job’s children, that God’s hand is stayed, resisting the temptation to overwhelm grief with generosity, to undermine reality with fairy tale endings, to pretend that life does not go on, with its trials and its wounds and its scars.
It is God’s stern and irrefutable mercy that orders delight, that seeds joy, but that does not command any more than a broken heart can bear.
The Revd Rosalind C Hughes is the Rector of the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, Ohio, and the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing. Her blog is over the water @rosalindhughes.com
Image: Detail from Loutherbourg’s Vignettes for Macklin’s Bible (1795) Philip Medhurst, Public Domain, via wikimedia commons