At the beginning of the story of Job, at the beginning of the book, Job had it all—wealth, possessions, family, perfect health. Then that life is taken 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, trying to figure out the reason for his sufferings.
Now we arrive at the conclusion of the story, chapter 42. Job admits that he still does not know how to answer the questions of his life. He does not know the reasons for his experiences of loss. “I have uttered what I did not understand,” he confesses to God (Job 42:3). But God doesn’t blame him for his lack of understanding. There’s nothing wrong with being human, with not knowing, with a life-long struggle to comprehend, to get our bearings on life. And there’s nothing wrong with Job’s consistent demand for answers from God. There’s everything right with his return, chapter after chapter, to a conversation with God and his friends.
God has no problems with Job’s blunt honesty, Job’s outspoken complaints. But Job’s friends are a different story. They are the ones God rebukes for their presumptuousness. God chastises them for their answers to Job’s questions, for their confident explanations about God’s involvement in Job’s sufferings. The friends refuse to know their ignorance. God judges them for their theologies, for their theological explanations—even though they are full good intentions, full of sympathy. Job’s friends get their well-meaning theologies wrong, and God condemns them. In the verses from chapter 42 that we didn’t read today, in verses 7 through 9, God tells the friends to ask Job to pray on their behalf—for Job to pray for their forgiveness for their ill spoken theologies. God trusts Job’s words, not Job’s friends.
One lesson I think we can take from this story is that our words matter—our words to each other and our words about God. Our theologies matter—the ones we speak, and the ones that guide our thinking even if we don’t talk about them. We can hurt each other with our theologies, and we can care for each other with our theologies. I take the history of the church as a storehouse for wisdom, guidance over generations, on how to talk about God to each other and how not to talk about God—to learn the pitfalls of some of our speaking and thinking as we risk our own words about God. Because that’s what we do, here, as a church, when we sing and pray and preach and share—we risk words about God, and we risk words about ourselves. We risk our exposure to the truth of God—for God to transform our lives and our thoughts as we look and listen for wisdom. Worship is our posture of openness before God together, our waiting for God to speak from the whirlwind of our words, from the whirlwinds of our communal life.
That’s the central lesson, I think, from the book of Job—that our theologies matter, our words about God matter in how we care for ourselves and each other, and that we’re always tempted to speak from our ignorance, like Job’s friends. That we’re satisfied with our answers, with our easy answers, the clarity of our explanations about God and the world. I think of a line from one of Augustine’s sermons, that fourth century bishop of North Africa. He said, “If you understand it, it is not God.” If you think you understand God, then you can be sure that you are not thinking about God. Or, in the words of Job from our passage, “I have uttered what I did not understand” (Job 42:3). That’s our faith—to engage with one another in the truth, the truth about God, and to learn how that truth has everything to do with the truth of our lives.
I’m less clear about any lesson about our faith from the final scene of the book, those last verses of the chapter where everything is restored to Job, where everything comes back to him—his health, his fortunes, new daughters and sons. “And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job,” we read in verse 10, “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: “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). In the end of the story, he has more than he had at the beginning, as if that justifies his losses, as if life is a balance sheet of possessions. If that’s the takeaway of the book of Job, then I’m troubled.
There’s at least one subversive part of this ending that I’ll mention. Surprisingly, here at the end, Job’s daughters receive an inheritance, along with the brothers. That would have been unusual. Daughters weren’t usually considered heirs. It’s also significant that we’re told the names of the daughters—only the daughters, not the sons. I can’t think of another story from the Bible where we’re told the names of women, and the men are left nameless, anonymous. It’s usually the other way around. Here, the daughters are worth remembering, not the sons. There almost a glimmer of a kind of feminism.
As we turn to the final verses, the last scene of the story, here’s what I can’t help but wonder about, with the conclusion, where it says that Job’s fortunes are restored. Is this a good ending? Is this how we want the story to end? It 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—is the daughters and sons. Job had three daughters and seven sons at the beginning of the story. And they all died. Now, at the end, he is given three daughters and seven sons—new children to replace the others. Such lovely children, beautiful ones, to make up for Job’s loss. As if any of this 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 scene 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, 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 is speechless. He has no response. “And Job died,” it says, “old and full of days” (42:17). That’s the last verse of the book. Everything else is left unsaid. He was full of days, but were they good days or tormented days?
When we think about memory, I think 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 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.
What does the heart remember? What does love remember? We can’t help but remember what we love, who we love—just like Job can’t forget the people he loved, now lost to him. He remembers them in the silence at the end of the story, with his memories of the heart.
Is this good news? That’s the question before us every week, as we turn to the Bible and listen for a word about God for our lives. I don’t want to say too much and end up acting just like Job’s friends—this temptation to speak over the silence of someone else’s story.
The only word I’d risk here, at the end of the book, is to say that Job reveals something about God, that his life reminds of something about God’s life—which is that God doesn’t forget, that God remembers, because God is love, God’s life is love, God’s nature is a love that always remembers us, a love that always remembers all of God’s people, even in the silence. Even in the silence, even in God’s speechlessness, we know that God only ever has one motivation, a singular desire at the heart of all of God’s action, all of God’s works, all of God’s life, and that is love. Nothing is hidden, all is revealed in that one truth: that God is love—without hidden motives, without an ulterior agenda, God loves without reasons.
At the beginning of the book, the question about Job was, “Does Job serve God for nothing?” (1:9)—that was the question in the very first chapter of the story. Does Job love God for a reason, to get something from God? The answer, we discover, is no—Job does not love God in order to get something in return. Job does in fact serve God for nothing. That’s what we hear in the silence at the end of the book. Job loves God for no reason. Job serves God for nothing—which is the same truth about God, that God loves us without a reason, God loves us without a hidden agenda, without demanding anything in return. God loves because God is love.
 Rowan Williams, The Tragic Imagination (Oxford University Press, 2016), 119.
 Karen Kilby, God, Evil, and the Limits of Theology (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2020), 1.
 Rafael F. Narvaez, “Embodiment, Collective Memory, and Time,” Body & Society, vol. 12, no. 3 (2006): 51-73.
 This, I believe, is a possibility Karl Barth invites in his identification of Job as a “True Witness” in paragraph 70 of his Church Dogmatics. (See the beginning of CD IV.3.2)