Sunday, October 25, 2015

“We All Love Happy Endings, But . . .” (Job 42:1-6, 10-17)

In the end . . . everything turned out for the best for Job.  In the end . . . Job had the proverbial “happy ending” to his situation and to his story.  Despite being on the short end of a challenge between Satan and God . . . a challenge in which he lost his family, his wealth, and his health . . . Job receives a “happy ending”.  In the end, despite his suffering . . . despite is complaining and questioning . . . despite his adamant demand for an audience with God . . . and, despite the fact that he admits that he could never fathom the depths or the breath of God and God’s presence in the world—even to the point of repenting . . . Job still gets a “happy ending”.

Some biblical scholars have jokingly said that Walt Disney must have written the end of the Book of Job . . . the ending is just that much like the ending in a Disney movie.  In the end, Job is abundantly restored: new house, new riches, new family . . . he got it all back and then some.  Everything turned out for the best in the end . . .

. . . and, in the end, we all walked away from the story of Job—happy.  Happy that for all of his suffering he was rewarded . . . that he was blessed.  As the writer tells us: “The Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. . . the Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part.  He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys.  And he also had seven sons and three daughters . . . after this he lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation.”  That, my friends, is a “happy ending”.

Everyone loves a happy ending . . . but . . .

Let’s get real.  Life is not that “black and white” . . . not that clear cut . . . not that simple.  Everything in life does not end with a “happy ending” . . . no, far from it.  We all know better.  Anyone who has ever gone through anything that even comes close to what Job experienced would vouch that it is just not that simple.

I am not a gambler, but I would be willing to bet that any one of us here this morning can share a story that . . . at least to us . . . is comparable to the mess that Job experienced.  I imagine that we all have a story from our own lives or the lives of others that seem just as painful and messy as anything that Job went through.  And, I also imagine that few—if any of us—can claim that in the end we got the same results that Job got . . . that we got the happy ending when the princess rides off into the sunset and everyone lived happily ever after.

Reality is just not that way . . . life is just not that way.

No, life is messy.  People suffer.  People die.  People lose everything.  Disasters happen.  Wars break out.  Accidents happen.  As most twelve-step groups say, “Poop happens!”  Writer and psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, in his book The Road Less Traveled writes that “life is difficult and the sooner we can learn to accept it, the easier it gets.”  Knowing this are we supposed to just accept the ending of the Book of Job and go skipping off into life thinking that that is it?

Well, no, we’re not.

When we began the story of Job the first question we dealt with was the integrity of Job.  Integrity, in the first definition that most people assume, has to deal with one’s morals and beliefs.  That was what Satan was betting on . . . betting that Job would throw away his integrity due to his suffering, curse God, and be done with it all.  But, Job did not . . . never once did he waver in his faith.  Oh sure, he complained, he questioned, and he got under the skin of God . . . but he never renounced his faith.  He remained a person of integrity . . . he remained true to who he was created to be.  Which is the second definition of integrity . . . being whole, which includes the good and the bad of which a person is created to be.  In the end Job remained a person of integrity.

Throughout the story that is what Satan is betting one . . . that is what his wife tells him . . . that is what his friend insinuate.  But Job proves them all wrong in the end.  In the end, despite everything that Job has taken away . . . it is replaced.  New family, new house, new wealth.  Everything is restored . . . well, not everything.  The one thing in the end that was taken away from Job and not restored was his simple faith . . . his rock-solid confidence that he knew what he knew . . . and what he knew was what.  In the end, Job admits that he really does not know as much as he thought he knew . . . he discovers that easy and pat answers and understandings of how things work in God’s creation are not always the whole story . . . that there is a lot about God and God’s relationship with creation and humanity that he does not know or understand.  That faith is not simply “black and white”, nor is it cut and dried.  Faith is a great mystery.

As one Bible commentator stated, “. . . Job has less to go on at the end of the book than at the beginning.”  But, you know what . . . he still believes in God . . . he still embraces God . . . he still prays to God.  He still has his faith, but it is no longer the faith that was built on an earlier theology or understanding of God . . . it is less certain . . . less black and white . . . less set in stone.  There is a greater sense of mystery . . . a greater sense of wonder and awe.  He even admits it when he proclaims to God: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”  In the end Job discovers that faith . . . when lived openly and honestly . . . doesn’t answer all the questions, but creates more questions.  He has a new outlook on life and God. 

Through his ordeal, Job actually grows in his faith . . . his faith matures.  Through the whole ordeal . . . through the whole Book of Job . . . he never gets an answer to his question of “why?”  All he really gets is a more intimate relationship with God . . . a greater sense of the mystery that is God . . . and, a whole lot more questions.  He also gets an understanding, even though he does not understand it and cannot explain it, that God will never, ever abandon him.

And so it is for us.

Life is not easy . . . and, yes, bad things do happen to us; but if we can accept the knowledge that God stands beside us through thick and thin, then we, too, can receive the blessing that Job received.  That blessing is not so much him having his family, home, wealth, and health restored as it was being able to embrace the fact that we do not have to have our beliefs etched in stone to have faith . . . that it is okay to have questions . . . that it is okay to have doubts . . . and to freely admit it to ourselves and to God.  God will understand . . . God will not abandon us.  It accepting that we cannot always understand . . . that God is a great mystery . . . and, that we can still believe . . . still have faith.  We don’t get it, but we still have it. 

That is faith.

That is integrity.

Accepting and being who God created us to be . . . we don’t understand why—and that is okay; but we still believe.  That is integrity . . . Job still had his integrity.  Amen.

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