I am interested in how the findings of science, particularly in regard to evolution, can bring fresh insights into Biblical interpretation and into the issues that affect our lives. Here I will share about a passage at the end of an article by John Schneider in the September issue of ASA’s journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. Drawing on commentary by Carol Newsom, he notes that the perspective in the God speeches at the end of Job are not as simple as sometimes assumed.
Throughout most of the book of Job, he complains that things aren’t working out for him as expected and calls out for a fair trial. Job had a tidy view of reality, in which good is or should be rewarded and evil punished, in this life. The prevailing ancient Hebrew view (shared by other peoples) was that order is good and chaos is bad; therefore God fights against chaos, symbolized by the watery deep and monsters like Leviathan, and subdues them. Thus, what happened to Job seemed at odds with the workings of God.
But when God shows up, the revelation Job gets is different than expected. Most commentators seem to think that what happens in these speeches is that God simply asserts that He is powerful over everything, so Job shrivels and doesn’t dare continue to press his case. But Schneider says that the mere assertion of God’s power is not why Job put his hand on his mouth. Job never questioned God’s power; it was God’s justice that was the issue. For God to say “ I am really, reeeeeaaallly powerful” doesn’t add much.
The disturbing revelation is that God works in and through violent, apparently chaotic events and processes. God spoke out of a raging tornado, not a gentle breeze. God does not refer to Leviathan as a monster to be tamed; instead He seems rather proud of His handiwork in making such a beast. This revelation is disturbing, yet oddly comfortingly: the God who makes and reigns over all the aspects of the natural world, the peaceful and the violent, the beautiful and the terrifying, is the God who is good and yet allowed disaster to break in on Job’s life.
This sort of God offends religious folk who envisage a nice, clean, vegan initial creation that saw suffering only after it was ruined by Adam’s sin. But this God is consistent with the creation of advanced life-forms via the violent and (to human eyes) chaotic process of evolution. Billions of years of mutations, life-cycles, and extinctions were involved in producing today’s humans who now bear the image of God, and who matter so much that He Himself joined us in the realm of blood, sweat and tears.
This sort of God is also consistent with the experience of other Biblical characters. Joseph fully acknowledged the evil in the actions of his brothers which landed him in slavery and in jail. However, looking at the ultimate outcome, he maintained that “God meant it for good.” In Romans 8, Paul catalogs a series of dire and unjust sufferings that might come our way (famine, peril, sword…), but claims that we are more than conquerors through the One who loves us and who works for the good in all things. Does this help you come to peace with dismaying things that have happened in your life ?
I’ll append an excerpt from Schneider’s article below:
The temptation is to read the chapters as God reading Job “the riot act,” by reminding him none too gently of the old “victory tradition,” in which God has wrecked the monster, killed it, cut it into pieces, and locked it up in the sea. This reading would support a common interpretation of Job: God asserts his power over everything and Job is put in his place. But “things are not so simple.”
In context, it is shocking that God speaks of these creatures not so much as enemies, but “with evident admiration.” God even identifies with them in their wild, undomesticated (except by God) qualities and powers. What theology is this, then, that even the winds and seas obey him, we might ask?……..
The essence of the theology in Job on God and theodicy is this: a great many things that people previously believed came about through human sin, did not come about that way. They came about by the creative-destructive will of God. The disorder of the world—even grotesque injustice—exists because, in a sense that only poets dare describe, while God does not approve the injustice that exists, God strangely does approve the world in which, as a matter of fact, the injustice exists, and in the way of liberating that world, God sometimes mysteriously does cause injustices to occur. In other words, Job has been right all along: it is God who slays him, and ultimately none other.
It is deliberate and important that the Job poet brings God into the scene in the vortex of a violent wind storm—it is not a harmless “whirlwind,” as the old translations say. It is a tornado—the most powerful and intensely unpredictable, violent, terrifying, and destructive force of weather on Earth. God speaks from within (and not against) that chaotic force. God is completely calm in the storm. God is master of Leviathan and the storm.
In my view, this is what Job “sees,” and this is what causes him to withdraw his question and to repent in “dust and ashes.” Job does not get (nor do we get) an explanation for why God has done these unfair things to him. He also gets no explanation as to how God might put these evils right, “defeat” them, as it were, by integrating them in all their disorder and ugliness into a perfectly ordered and beautiful plan (although this eventual victory of God is still embedded in the tradition the poet shapes).
What Job does “see” is that God is in complete command and mastery—he sees in a “second-person” sense what cannot be explained to him in “third-person” terms, apparently. He is able to see now with his own eyes (as it were) that God has “rightfully,” or “justly,” and not immorally or amorally, decided to make and to shape the world (and in microcosm, his own life) in this unexpected, undeserved, and painful way, including inexplicably great violence, disorder, suffering, and injustice.
He sees in this non-didactic way that God is the sort of Being who knows exactly what he is doing and why, and that despite appearances, God is completely in control of the otherwise uncontrollable, chaotic situation. Seeing things thus, Job requires no further explanation, he “repents,” and withdraws his bitter accusations, satisfied that they have been resolved.