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Job ends (as it began) in prose. The middle of the story (the dialogue between Job and his friends and the voice of God spoken from the whirlwind) occurs in poetry. It’s as if the text itself points to the mystery of life that in its fullness has to be expressed in prose and poetry, recounted and dreamed. At first glance it seems unfair. Everything is returned to Job, as if everything was now “alright” after so much suffering. But upon a closer look much more is occurring.
Job is commended by God for having spoken of God rightly. His friends explained that God punishes those who sin, how else can you explain suffering and the presence of systemic evil? God also refutes their notion that you shouldn’t question, or wrestle with, God, as Job has done in his zeal to live faith-full-y. Job is commended (not rewarded) for having sought a relationship with God, not a bargaining quid-pro-quo give and take negotiation. While they spoke about God, Job spoke of God. It’s through that relational connection that Job then prays to God to preserve the life of his friends who have been so unfaithful.
Job’s fortunes are restored. He (and presumably Mrs. Job) have more children, and he gives his daughters names befitting their great beauty. The first os named “dove” the bird of peace and a new beginning, the second is named “cassia” or “Sweet-sented spice,” connecting with the idea of the end of what was before. The third literally means the horn of adornment and is a reference, therefore, to the outward beauty that comes from an inward character. Curiously the text insists upon that Job gives them 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.
We might the epilogue of Job unsatisfactory, but then you have to wonder what would it cost, what would Job fear in contemplating becoming a father again? God hasn’t guaranteed that he’ll be free of suffering and loss in the future. He could lose everything, including his children, again. What pushes him to dare to live again, to embrace life even in the shadow of the evil-engendering chaos that is still in the world? After all his suffering, Job chooses to live again, a choice that grows from his fierce faith in the God of life.
In John’s gospel account, Jesus is talking to non-Jews come seeking spiritual insight and enlightenment. He gives, what we might today call a Buddhist-y response. You must die to live. The more you hold tightly on to life, the less you have it. To be fully alive is different than living. Life abundant is inseparable from a life of service, a life that is known only through going first through death. In Hebrew the word for “service, or to serve” also means “to worship.” The two are indissociable and interdependent. Did Job have to learn that to be fully alive? Do we?