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We all know that Job was ravaged by the Adversary in the first two chapters of Job, but in the end, he died content:

Thus the Lord blessed the latter years of Job’s life more than the former. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand she-asses. He also had seven sons and three daughters. The first he named Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. Nowhere in the land were women as beautiful as Job’s daughters to be found. Their father gave them estates together with their brothers. Afterward, Job lived one hundred and forty years to see four generations of sons and grandsons. So Job died old and contented.—Job 42:12-17 (NJPS)

In terms of his possessions, that makes a lot of sense: everything is doubled. But he still lost his first set of children:

This one was still speaking when another came and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the house of their eldest brother when suddenly a mighty wind came from the wilderness. It struck the four corners of the house so that it collapsed upon the young people and they died; I alone have escaped to tell you.”—Job 1:18-19 (NJPS)

What beliefs might Job have held that allowed him to be content after having his children needlessly taken away from him that are consistent with the knowledge he might have had about God keeping in mind the time he lived in? Can we learn anything from Job's story or response that form the basis for any Christian doctrines that would be relevant for somebody today dealing with similar issues of bereavement?

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migrated from hermeneutics.stackexchange.com Nov 19 '11 at 12:14

This question came from our site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts.

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For the next two weeks I'm challenging us to think about why we can be thankful. –  Jon Ericson Nov 18 '11 at 21:10
    
(This is a purposely loaded question. I don't think it's as serious a problem as the way I worded it. But there are lots of people who feel just this way about how the book of Job is resolved. I'd like to collect answers that could help people who don't trust that God is good all the time.) –  Jon Ericson Nov 18 '11 at 21:11
    
@Caleb: would it help if I refocused the question to whether or not this passage in Job implies some sort of afterlife? –  Jon Ericson Nov 18 '11 at 22:48
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People recover from grief even in cultures without afterlife beliefs... and he lived for 140 years afterwards, which is quite a lot of time to recover from grief and return to contentment with one's life, even without a philosophy that allows one to bear it easily. –  Muke Tever Nov 19 '11 at 14:40
    
@JonEricson: I think a question about whether there is any textual evidence for Job believing in an afterlife would be a great related question to ask back over on BH.SE! –  Caleb Nov 19 '11 at 16:52

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

In chapter 19 we see a clear view of Job's beliefs on the subject, which explains (at least partially) where he would have found the strength to recover from his grief at the loss of his children:

Job 19:23-26

23 Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book!

24 That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever!

25 For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:

26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.

He gives as his solemn testimony, (one that he wishes to be written in a book and recorded forever, at a time when, for all he knows, he might not have much longer to live,) a confession of his faith in the Gospel. He knows that his Redeemer (Christ) lives, and that (related to this) he will find resurrection after death and be able to see God in his flesh even after his body has rotted away.

I've mentioned in a few different places how Genesis gives us hints that full knowledge of the Gospel was available from the beginning. (1) (2) (Many Bible scholars consider Job to have been a contemporary of Abraham's, so he's certainly in the right time period to have had the same knowledge available to him that Abraham and Melchizedek had.)

Since Job understood the Gospel and had faith in the Resurrection, the loss of his children was not a tragedy to him in the same way as it would have been to others without that knowledge. Once he had passed through his ordeal and come out of it with his faith intact and a knowledge of his status in good standing before God, he could look forward to being able to see his children again. He would not consider them "lost," merely separated from him for a time, and he could find comfort in that.

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I think this may be a misreading of the passage in the larger context of Job and the even larger context of pre-Second Temple, Judaism. I've asked a question on the Biblical Hermeneutics site if you'd like to read my response or weigh in on the topic. (In the post-Easter context, however, I absolutely agree with your answer.) –  Jon Ericson Nov 21 '11 at 18:01
    
On further reflection, I sort of agree with your answer. ;-) I've filled in my thoughts in my own answer to this question. What do you think? –  Jon Ericson Nov 21 '11 at 18:40

I see three possibilities for understanding Job's situation:

  1. We are meant to read the entire book of Job as allegory rather than as history.

  2. Children were valued in a different way in Job's culture than they are in ours.

  3. Job, whether he knew it or not, had a hope of resurrection.

These are not mutually exclusive options so let's see how they answer the question one-by-one.

Allegory

There's a strong sense in most of Job that the framing story is merely the circumstances of the book and not the subject. Job seems to be a representative of a particular type of person: godly, but suffering. The bulk of the book is about how to resolve these seemingly contradictory traits. Symbolically, the losses of the first chapter are exactly doubled in the second chapter to show that God does bless the righteous in the end, even if there are times of suffering.

The number of children is not doubled, but the Job's family composition is restored in the end. It doesn't directly say new children were born to replace the ones who died, so there's an outside chance that the text implies a resurrection. More likely, the point of the allegory isn't that everything is completely restored as before to Job, but that having children is an undeserved blessing and that found contentment despite his loss.

View of Children

That brings me to the second possibility: children are valued more for continuing the family line than for their individuality in many cultures. Many of us have a problem with the loss of Job's children because we don't highly value group identity. It's entirely possible that this is the result of a cultural shift that occurred around the time that Christianity began. In any case, Job's society probably was more used to children dying and did not see them as irreplaceable the way you and I do.

Interestingly, the children of chapter 1 are not very well fleshed out as characters. They don't have names or identities the way the daughters in chapter 42 do. From a thematic viewpoint, the death of the children in the beginning is needed to bring Job down to the very depths of despair. Equally, the good end of the children of Job's later life can be seen as a blessing that would far outweigh the loss of any number of children from the proper cultural lens.

Resurrection

While neither Job nor the author of his book held an belief in an afterlife that comes anywhere close to Resurrection, there have been regular attempts to see that hope in the book since at least 132 BCE. According to N. T. Wright's comprehensive survey of the topic, the Jewish tradition shifted from the idea of Sheol (a dry, dusty, Hades-like existence for all the dead) to the idea of a resurrection of the righteous around the time of the Exile. He cites Daniel 12 as the pivotal text. In this light, Job may find hope in a future life with God both for himself and (presumably) for his children.

I think we should be careful about going too far down this road—especially when it comes to offering comfort to people who have lost children. I am reminded of the poignant scene in The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis in which a ghost named Pam only wants to get to heaven in order to see her son:

"If [God] loved me He'd let me see my boy. If he loved me why did He take Michael away from me? I wasn't going to say anything about that. But it's pretty hard to forgive, you know."

Summary

We struggle as humans to understand the causes and purposes of suffering and Job is one of our primary texts to aid in that meditation. There aren't any easy answers about how Job could be content, but we do know the One who was able to offer him hope.

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