At the beginning of the story, the story of Job, at the beginning of the book, Job has it all—wealth, possessions, family, perfect health. Then it’s all take from him. All of it. Oxen and donkeys, sheep and camels, sons and daughters, and he’s afflicted with sores, sores all over his body, and he sits in ashes.
Now, here at the end of the book, everything is restored, everything comes back to him—his health, his fortunes, new daughters and sons. “And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job,” it says, “and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:10). Then we read how much Job gets. We read a list of all the stuff: “The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning,” it says, “and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters” (42:12-13).
There’s one subversive part of this ending, a subversion of their sexist world. Surprisingly, Job’s daughters receive an inheritance, along with the brothers. That was not the normal way things went back then. Daughters aren’t usually considered heirs. It’s also signifcant that we’re told the names of the daughters, only the daughters, not the sons. The daughters are worth remembering, not the sons. There’s a glimmer of feminism in this passage.
But here’s what I can’t help but wonder about, with this conclusion to the story of Job, this ending, where it says that his fortunes are restored. Is this a good ending? Is this how we want the story to end? It’s sounds like one of those stories where the last line of the book should be, “and they lived happily ever after.”
Job lost of all that he had. He endured so much. And, in the end, he gets back everything he lost. “The Lord restored the fortunes of Job,” it says, “and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.”—oxen and donkeys, sheep and camels, sons and daughters.
His life is restored to him. Everything is replaced. But the part that gets me—the part that makes the ending fall apart—are the daughters and sons. Job had three daughters and seven sons at the beginning of the story. And they all die. Now, at the end, he is given three daughters and seven sons—new children to replace the dead ones. Children as the replaceable parts of a life. Substitutable human beings. Such lovely children to make up for the dead ones.
“In all the land,” it says, “there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters” (42:15). How is the beauty of new daughters any consolation for the death of the other daughters?—and how does their beauty offer any solace from the memory of the horrific scene at the house that collapsed on Job’s other daughters and sons, children with their own beauty, I’m sure?
How can one life replace another, without remainder, without feeling the pain of what has been lost? How can Job look at the faces of his children and not think of the faces of his other children, faces that he tries to remember even as time fades them away?
“The Lord restored the fortunes of Job,” it says, “and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before”—oxen and donkeys, sheep and camels, sons and daughters. As if any of that makes up for what was lost. As if anything could ever make up for who was taken from him.
I think Job’s silence says a lot, here in this final passage of his story. Job doesn’t say a word as the book comes to a close. Job has nothing to say at the end. He gets so much—more good stuff than he’s ever had before. His fortunes are restored, it says, and Job doesn’t say a word. No gratitude. No expression of contentment. Not a word. Only silence.
This is strange, considering that the book of Job is made up of dialogue after dialogue, conversations between Job and his friends, between Job and God, between Job and Job. The book of Job is a book of speeches. And now, at the end of the story, Job has nothing to say. He’s speechless. Maybe because there’s nothing to say, given the weight of his life, given the loss he’s endured. What are you supposed to say?
All he knows is that he can go on with his life, remembering what he remembers and forgetting what he can manage to forget, so that he can find a way to be ok with the life he has—not the life he wanted, not the life he had, but the life he now has, the life he’s committed to living out.
The ending of Job reminds me of a line from Friedrich Nietzsche: “There can be no happiness,” he said, “No cheerfulness, no hope, no present, without forgetfulness.”[i] The ending of Job sounds like an attempt at forgetfulness, forgetfulness by overwhelming him with the fullness of life, overwhelming him with life now as a way making him forget the past, as a way of distracting Job from what happened so long ago, the disaster, the whirlwind, the darkness. Never mind all that, Job. Look at your beautiful children, Job. “In all the land there [are] no women so beautiful as [your] daughters.”
And Job says nothing. He has no response. “And Job died,” it says, “old and full of days” (42:17). That’s the last verse of the book. There’s so much unsaid. He was full of days, it says, but were they good days or tormented days—tormented days and unbearable nights?
The historian Saidiya Hartman says that life “requires a certain amount of forgetting, repressing, and moving on.”[ii] Is that what we learn from Job?—this ability to go on, despite it all; that life requires some forgetting and repressing and moving on?
I have a childhood memory that I try to forget, a traumatic memory from when I was around ten years old, I think. And I’m pretty good at forgetting it, forgetting what happened, but the memory comes back to me every Christmas season—it comes to me out of the blue, almost, with a smell or a song or a sparking light or the taste of a Christmas dish. In an instant, I’m taken back to my parent’s house, Christmas morning, sitting in the living room playing a board game with my sister—Risk, one of those military strategy games about world conquest, my favorite kind of game, definitely not my sister’s favorite. In an instant I’m taken back, and I remember the phone ringing and my mom answering it and my sister and I trying to understand what our mom and dad’s words meant, the words we could piece together from their whispering and crying, the devastating news—news about unspeakable violence to someone we loved.
I can’t forget. I’m sure I would be happier without such memories sneaking up on me, hurting me all over again, but I’m unable to forget such things, and I doubt that Job can forget either. I’m sure he forgets some of the details of the day when his children were taken from him, perhaps he even begins to forget their faces, but I bet he remembers them every time he sees his living children, those seven sons and three daughters. Nothing will wipe those memories from his mind.
When we think about memory, Spanish is better than English. In English we talk about remembering. We use the word “remember”—a word that has everything to do with the mind, the memor, in Latin. To remember has everything to do with how an event passes through the mind, through our heads. In Spanish the word is “recordar”—a word that has everything to do with the heart, not the mind. Recordar has to do with the cordis, the corazon, the heart.[iii]
What does the heart remember? All of this has to do with love. What does love remember?
This week I realized that, somehow, I’ve preached a three-part sermon series, three weeks in a row on the book of Job. I’m not really a sermon series kind of preacher, so this is strange to me. As I thought about these three sermons, I realized that all of them have to do with each other. Each one relates to the other, not only because they are about Job, but because somehow each sermon has focused on one of the Christian virtues—faith, hope, and love.
The first sermon was all about faith—about how faith involves whispering into the silence, and trusting that God is there. The second sermon was about hope—about how hope is all about waiting, waiting for God to speak from the whirlwind.
So, now, I guess, this third sermon had to be about love. And if it is about love, then it’s about what love remembers. We can’t help but remember what we love, who we love—just like Job can’t help but remember the loss of his children, people he loved. He remembers them in the silence, as memories pulse through his heart: “recordar,” scenes from the past beating in his Corazon—how his chest, his gut shoots memories through his body, not just his mind.
The good news is that God is this love, this love that doesn’t forget, that can’t forget us, because our lives pulse through God’s life, one life always reaching through the other, one life always living through the other. Our love flows from God’s and our love returns back to God, because we are part of God’s body.
“Can a mother forget the child in her womb,” God says in Isaiah, “So I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you in the palms of my hand” (Isaiah 49:15-16).
What does love remember? Love remembers everything, because God is love.
[i] Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, quoted in Judith Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure (Duke University Press, 2011), 53.
[ii] Halberstam, Queer Art of Failure, 86.
[iii] Rafael F. Narvaez, “Embodiment, Collective Memory, and Time,” Body & Society, vol. 12, no. 3: 51-73.