The problem with Job and the prosperity gospel

I will admit it, until I was in seminary, I never made it through the book of Job in the Bible.  It seemed like a repetitive marital argument and I didn’t want to hear either side complain.  It still seems like that in some places, but my appreciation has grown.  There is stunningly beautiful imagery in Job, the poetry will make your heart ache if you can take it out and attend to the bits and pieces.

But there are problems with the book.  It makes us ask very deep, dark, scary questions and more so, it offers answers that disorient us and shatter our understanding of the universe, God, and ourselves.  It also borders on prosperity gospel and that is what I want to throw onto the dance floor for us today.

In the beginning, Job loses his 10 adult children, no less, on the birthday of the eldest son.  He loses all he has and is found sitting in an ash heap, covered in sores and boils and grieving.  The bulk of the book happens in this setting, where Job ends up ignoring the pleas and judgements of his friends and wife, and instead turning only to God, who DOES finally show up to respond to Job, some argue, unsatisfactorily.  What happens next is the problem.  Commentary after commentary use the word “restore” when they speak of the turning of Job’s fortunes, to include twice the material wealth and 10 more children, as well as honor from Job’s own siblings (where were they during the rest of this, btw???)

Motherhood cannot be restored by having another child when one has died (during pregnancy or after)?  A beloved and loyal pet cannot be replaced by a new puppy or kitten.  A new elder friend is not replacement for a lost grandparent.   Replacement is NOT restoration.  Job’s children cannot be restored.  Forever he remains the father of ten dead children.  That pain never goes away.  Some grief seeps out over time so that we can breathe again, but it never goes away.

What then do we do with this idea that God is so generous that Job’s fortunes are restored?  The fact is, the most precious of Job’s “possessions” cannot be replaced, nor restored.  So then where is God in this?  Where is God’s promise and action?  What kind of prosperity gospel is this anyway?  It is one that reminds us that even as life trudges onward and things “appear” right again, we still carry our loss, and honestly, Job’s memory of his trials have not gone either.  They are not wiped away- and thank goodness.  Why?  Because those memories are what remind Job forever that no matter how dark, no matter how light, no matter the circumstance and whether we come out smelling like roses on the other side or not, God remains with us.  God is in the midst of it- in joy and in pain, in loss and in life.  When no one else sees or recalls our pain, God is there and remembers.  We never grieve alone.

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