September 29, 2013
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
A HAPPY ENDING
The fourth in a series of four sermons
OK, you’re probably wondering about the names of Job’s daughters. Dove, Cinnamon, and Darkeyes. You don’t remember reading that in the Bible before. You may have thought Clarke was pulling your leg. It wouldn’t be the first time. So even though this detail is incidental to what I really want to say this morning, I know I need to address it. Otherwise you’ll all be asking me about it as soon as you leave.
Every other translation I’ve ever seen has these names listed as Jemimah, Keziah, and Keren-happuch. So where do we get Dove, Cinnamon, and Darkeyes? It’s actually very simple. Jemimah means Dove. Keziah means Cinnamon. And Keren-happuch means Darkeyes. So there you have it!
And while we’re on this detour, it’s interesting to note that the author of Job sure sounds here like the world’s first feminist. About 2,500 years before Betty Friedan. Because, he gives names to Job’s three daughters. He doesn’t bother to give names to Job’s seven sons. And he makes a point of telling us how beautiful these daughters were. He says nothing about how handsome the sons were. And, to top it all, he tells us that the girls were promised the same inheritance as their brothers. That was unheard in those days. Even in many parts of the world today, women are not treated equally with men when it comes to inheritance rights.
Now to the subject at hand. The happy ending to the Book of Job. This last chapter is either the best or the worst part of the book. It’s the best part because it is such a wonderfully happy ending. The tension which has been building through the entire book is suddenly resolved. Everyone lives happily ever after. We love it when that happens! Job tells God he’s sorry for not always being the patient Job that people who haven’t read the whole book still think he is. He apologizes for demanding of God an explanation for all the horrible things that have happened to him. He says, “I’ll never do that again. I promise.” And then God makes things right. He starts off by jumping all over Job’s comforters. He tells them they were talking nonsense about him and he didn’t appreciate that. And then Job gets everything back that he had lost. He even gets his children back. Not the same children who had lost their lives when the roof fell down on them. The narrative does not even pause to acknowledge how offensive this suggestion is that children are replaceable and interchangeable. Job lives to a ripe old age. He lives to see grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The violin music plays, the credits roll, and we all feel wonderful. It’s the best part of the book.
For these same reasons, it’s the worst part of the book. It is too good to be true. The rest of the book is true to life. The rest of the book has undeserved pain, unending dialogue, and unanswered questions. It sounds real. It doesn’t sound like a fairy tale. The writer of Job ranks with some of the great literary giants in capturing the tragedy and the pathos of life. Until chapter 42, that is. And then the whole masterpiece falls apart with the kind of ending you might expect to find in a cheap novel. The tired, old cliché that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked which the entire book has thoroughly dismantled is back again and is offered as the book’s conclusion.
The last chapter of Job either ruins the whole book or it redeems the whole book. How you feel about it might hinge on how you feel about life. Is life more like a fairy tale with a happy ending or is life more like a “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”? (Churchill)
Two weeks ago we talked about C.S. Lewis and his journey away from faith and then back to faith. His mother died when he was nine and his childlike faith in a loving God who takes care of us was shattered. It wasn’t until age 31 that he had recovered from this enough to once again place his faith in God. For him, it was a process of thinking his way through all the reasons that he used to think were good reasons for not believing in God.
He wrote The Problem of Pain. He says in that book that pain is part of God’s good plan for us. Here’s a passage from that book:
We are like blocks of stone out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows of his chisel which hurt so much are what makes us perfect . . . I’m not sure that God particularly wants for us to be happy. I think God wants us to be able to love and be loved . . . God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
It’s a strong and a Biblically-based argument. “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us . . . all things work together for good with those who love God” (Romans 5:34, 8:28). That’s what I believe. C.S. Lewis helps me believe it more. But, you know, there’s a big difference between believing something in your head and believing something in your heart. There’s a difference between writing a book about what you believe and experiencing what you’re writing about. Someone interviewed C.S. Lewis after The Problem of Pain was published. He said, “You would like to know how I behave when I am experiencing pain, not writing books about it? I am a great coward” (White, The Image of Man in C.S. Lewis, page 180.)
It was later in life that C.S. Lewis faced the most painful experience of his life. I don’t think it proved him a coward, but it did bring him to his knees. It forced him to reevaluate everything he had ever thought or taught about Christianity. He had married for the first time at age 57. In the first year of his marriage, his wife, Joy, was diagnosed with cancer. There were ups and downs. Remissions and relapses. But after just more than three years of marriage, Joy Lewis died.
Remember, it was cancer that had taken his mother’s life. Now cancer had returned and had taken his wife’s life. Pain had returned to his life. And despair. And doubts about this God he had written about in all his wonderful books.
So he wrote another book. Many say it was the best book he ever wrote. He called it A Grief Observed. It is essentially just pages out of the journal he kept while he was grieving. It is not at all like The Problem of Pain. It is not about understanding pain and explaining why God allows people to suffer. It’s about what pain feels like. What it feels like to grieve the death of the most important person in your world. Here’s his first sentence: “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” And on he goes describing with complete honesty and transparency, holding nothing back, his personal story of what it was like for him. What it felt like for him. It’s a book that’s helped many, many people walk that lonely path of grief.
C.S. Lewis wrote a lot of great books. I’ve read them all. But if we were allowed to save only one of his books and all the others would have to be destroyed, A Grief Observed is the one this world could not afford to lose.
Why? What makes this book so special? It is so unlike Job, chapter 42. It doesn’t wave a magic wand and make everything all better again. It points the way back to life through our sufferings.
But it’s not entirely unlike Job, chapter 42. We’ve been a little too hard on this “happy ending chapter” up to now. Because if we dig a little deeper, if we read a little more carefully, we will discover that there’s more here than a magical, fairy godmother ending.
In fact the most profound verse in the whole book is right here. Job 42:5. Job says to God, “I admit I once lived by rumors of you; now I have it all firsthand — from my own eyes and ears.” Or the more familiar translation: “I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee.” In other words, Job knew all about God. Job had it all figured out intellectually. Job had read The Problem of Pain and it was his favorite book. Then Job experienced pain, and suddenly things looked very different. At first things looked hopeless. But through it all finally, eventually, ultimately, Job came to know God as he had never known God before. He had known about God. Now he knew God. And though it’s not here in the Bible, I think Job might have said what I’ve heard many who have been through awful times say. “Awful as it was, there were blessings in this experience that I could not have received in any other way. I don’t want to go through that again, but at the same time, I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.”
Madeleine L’Engle is another of my favorite authors. She died in 2007. She was preceded in death by her husband, Hugh. You might recognize the name, Hugh Franklin. He was an actor. He had a leading role in “All My Children” for a number of years. I didn’t see him there, but I did see him in “Dark Shadows”. When Hugh died, Madeleine L’Engle wrote about her grief much as C.S, Lewis wrote about his. She said something very profound. She said, “I have been all the way to the bottom. And it is solid.” She learned that even in this world where bad things happen to good people, we live on a solid foundation. She said she discovered that the love she shared for 40 years with Hugh “has not and does not end.” She also said she learned that while love make us vulnerable to great pain, love is what makes life as wonderful as it is. God made us to feel both the ecstasy and the agony. We were born for this. We can try to protect ourselves by refusing to love, but why would she have done that? “No”, she says, “I wouldn’t have missed a minute of it, not any of it.”
Job was rewarded for all he went through. “The Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.” But what God gave Job most of all were new eyes to see God, to see life, in a new way. “I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee.” And with these new eyes Job was ready to face the future, thankful for the good old days before all those terrible things happened, thankful for God’s grace even as he suffered, thankful for the good new days that were waiting for him to live.
I’m still not sure what to make of the happy ending. That’s not the way life usually works. But I think I can say with confidence that even without twice the things he had before, Job was twice the person he was before.
Dear God, every one of us here today has suffered or is suffering or will suffer. Every one of us here has asked, or is asking, or will ask Job’s question: Why, O God, Why? It’s a question that may have no answer except the answer we offer with our lives. May we, like Job, though we sink in despair, though we cry out in pain, may we, like Job get back on our feet and enter once again into the life which is your gift to us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.