J.B. and Job

The ending of the Book of Job, 42:7-17, contrasts sharply to the ending of the play J.B. written by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Archibald MacLeish. While the play claims that the end of the story will occur, it does not present a completely tidy ending. The end of the Book of Job provides a very happy ending in which Job is restored to an even better place. The theology of Job stresses the importance of maintaining a personal relationship with God. This relationship endures suffering and pain. Throughout the tragedies of life, Job remains faithful.

In MacLeish’s play, it is Nickles (who is Satan) that returns to the story. His ending dialogue with J.B. suggests that humanity can be pushed to the brink of despair. He is proved wrong as we learn that Sarah, J.B.’s wife, came back. Nickles is forced to surrender his lowered expectations of humanity. Perhaps the premise of the return of Satan was to continue to speak hopelessness in the midst of hope. In the Book of Job, Satan’s voice is muffled quickly and is not present in the speeches of the other characters including the wisdom literature of God and Job’s own proclamation of remaining true to God’s path.

MacLeish unleashes Satan’s voice from the very beginning to the very end of the play. Perhaps this voice might emphasize Job’s struggles in a more human light. Our minds are constantly bombarded with messages of conflict and frustration. Nickles’ voice reminds us that there is still struggle in our enlightenment. There is confusion in our hope.

Another key issue regarding the ending of both the play J.B. and Job is the role of the wife in J.B. All that is told in the Book of Job is that Job’s wealth and health were restored. Scripture treated the wife as property. The most important role that she plays in the Book of Job is to tell Job to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9 NRSV). In MacLeish’s play she is J.B.’s partner. Her return at the end of play is so powerful that Nickles (Satan) himself must accept defeat. When Sarah is at the door, Nickles leaves. The power of human love overcomes any plague or mind game that Satan can deliver. J.B. concludes that “God does not love. He Is.” Sarah responds “But we do. That’s the wonder” (MacLeish 152). Theologically I do not agree with the concept that God does not love. The whole premise of the Christian faith is built upon the concept that God loved us so much that he sent His son (Jesus).

Sarah’s power is also found in the commitment to her husband. Amid the rubble of life they stand together as a unified force. Together they will sift through the ashes of the city as well as their marriage to discover beauty (as the petals that are present). J.B.’s fortunes were restored to him through the relationship with his wife. There is an analogy at the end of the play that Sarah and J.B. refer to as “the coal of the heart” (153). Coal is energy and when heated produces energy as a source of warmth. Perhaps the struggle to find the heat by which to warm the heart is a challenge for all of us as we find those things that hold us together as a couple, community, and world. It is with a more realistic ending that J.B. offers a message of redemption in a refreshingly new light.

About joekmac

I am a pastor in the United Methodist Tradition. I am the Pastor of Rio Rancho United Methodist Church in the New Mexico Annual Conference. I am married to Cazandra and have two sons with hemophilia.
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