The Unsatisfying Finale

Job 42:1-17, Lectionary

Rev. Christopher Harbin, McGill Baptist Church—Concord, NC

25 October 2015

While living in Mexico, we had many conversations with our neighbor. He was a waiter at a local restaurant we frequented. We ate his specialty spaghetti there on a regular basis. He was also a graphic artist at the local university and our go-to expert for learning what kinds of paper and craft supplies were available in the local market. We were witnesses and photographers at his wedding. We also had deeper conversations with him, some of which left me puzzled as his perspectives were at times to distinct to my own. One such conversation had to do with his distaste for Hollywood movies. Every movie made in Hollywood had a happy ending, and that is just not true to life. When is an ending just too good to be true?

His comments took me aback. On the one hand, I wanted to say, “Of course, they have a happy ending! What would you expect?” I wanted to answer, “Why pay good money for a movie that leaves you depressed?” I wanted to say that every story has to end somewhere, and hope is a good place to wrap one up. I am not sure exactly how I responded. I do know that I did not have much to say on the topic, as I had never really thought about it before. I liked happy endings, and I could not quite understand why they made him uncomfortable.

When it comes to the book of Job, however, I can somewhat understand how a happy ending can be less than satisfying. The ending of Job does not ring true to life. More than that, however, it is unsatisfying, because it does not resolve the issues raised in the other forty-one chapters before the end. It leaves us hanging with all of the questions that arose from the beginning and throughout the rest of the poetic narrative. Why did Job have to suffer? What was the point of it all? What good does restoring Job's wealth and the number of living children do in light of all the losses he suffered?

Job begins along the very same classic lines of the European fairy tales we know so well. “Once upon a time in a land far, far away, there lived a man named Job. He was the model of righteousness and wealthy beyond the dreams of most....” The narrative ends in a similar fashion, “And God restored Job's wealth two times over and granted him seven sons and three daughters who were the fairest in the land, and they all lived happily ever after, with Job reaching a very ripe old age.”

The book is not a fairy tale in the genre of the Brothers Grimm collection. There is much more to it than that. At the same time, this introduction and finale set the content apart for us in a way that only a tale of fantasy can do. It asks us to suspend the normal rules of life and join the narrator in a flight of fancy. After all, the narrator presents Job as being so righteous that God was impressed by him! He is presented as sinless, blameless, yet even so offering sacrifices just in case his children might have committed some sin unknowingly.

According to the popular theology the book addresses, God was supposed to bless the righteous with material wealth as payment for their righteousness. If one sinned, God was supposed to punish them for it in judgment. As the beginning of the text calls us to a suspension of disbelief, however, the narrator posits for our consideration that yes, that is the correct theological position to take. Then, however, we are introduced to one of God's ministers who comes acting as a prosecutor or district attorney. He comes to bring accusations before God along with his regular reporting, and God points Job out to him.

I don't know anyone who is blameless, do you? Oh, I know some people I look up to, but they all have their flaws. We all do. None of us are perfect, yet perfection is exactly what the narrator wants us to assume of Job. Let's say he is completely innocent, blameless, and pure. For the sake of our argument, that is where the tale begins. It is a fiction far beyond any reality we have known or would accept as true. It is also necessary for the narrative to follow....

...for the full text of this sermon, see The Unsatisfying Finale, at

—©2015 Chrístopher B. Harbin

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