On Sunday, Aug. 28, we finish our reading of Job with this passage: Job 42:7-17. In this passage we seem to see Job enjoying a classic happy ending: new wife, new children, fortunes restored. How do we interpret this ending?
One standard--but troubling!--way to interpret this ending is to see it as Job's reward for being faithful. One way this approach troubles modern theologians is the interpretation of faithfulness: is he faithful because he talks to God and listens when God responds? Is he faithful because he stays true to God, even in the midst of suffering? How much are we expected to endure?
As a 21st century reader, I'm troubled because I know that Christianity has a history of holding up examples like the one we see in Job as a way to encourage people to put up with difficult situations without trying to change the structures that make the difficulty possible. I'm thinking of generations of women encouraged to stay with their abusive husbands. I'm thinking of Civil Rights workers being told to suffer and wait for society to catch up with them.
I'm also troubled because Job seems to leave his old family behind and move on to the replacement family, but that probably says more about me. I'm trying to see this ending as a presentation of Job embracing life and learning to live and love again.
Here's a more radical interpretation: theologian Kathryn M. Schifferdecker says, "Job's fortunes are restored. He (and presumably Mrs. Job) have more children, and he gives his daughters names befitting their great beauty and an inheritance along with their brothers (an unheard-of act in that patriarchal culture). In other words, Job learns to govern his world the way God governs God's world: with great delight in his children's beauty and freedom. Like God, Job gives his children the freedom to be who they were created to be."
I wonder how my relationships would change if I, too, could be more like Job at the end and God--if I could give those around me the freedom to be who they were created to be.