Much of the ink spilled over questions of science and creation concentrates on the interpretation of Genesis 1-3 with a nod to Romans 5 (and perhaps to Romans 8). Creation in scripture isn’t limited to these passages though. A couple of years ago I posted on a book by William P. Brown, The Seven Pillars of Creation. You can find these posts through the index of posts above if interested. I had always intended to come back and look at a little more of this book, but hadn’t really expected it to take 2 years. Better late than never, perhaps.
The title of Brown’s book comes from his contention that there are really seven creation passages in the Old Testament: Genesis 1, Genesis 2, Job 38-41, Psalm 104, Proverbs 8:22-31, Ecclesiastes 1:2-11, 12:1-7, and excerpts from Isaiah 40-55. Each of these passages gives a different perspective on the nature of God’s creation and should be considered as we contemplate the nature of creation and God’s creative plan. Brown discusses each passage and then “applies” it to our modern understanding of science and God’s creation. His isn’t a concordist approach, finding modern science in the text – but it is, perhaps, something of a post-modern approach. The point in the application isn’t to give an accurate historical exegesis of the passage but to reflect on what the passage teaches about creation and how it applies in the context of today’s view of the science.
Over the years I have reflected on Job 38-41 as a creation passage, having been introduced to the idea by Brown. A common topic arising in any discussion of science and faith is theodicy. Evolution seems to run on death, red in tooth and claw, but death is an alien in God’s good creation – or so many will claim. How then can we reconcile a good God with the natural and human evil in creation? Here it would seem Job is an excellent place to turn. Job 38 begins (Translation from The Seven Pillars of Creation):
Then YHWH addressed Job out of the whirlwind saying:
Who is this that darkens (my) design
with words lacking knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man!
I will question you, and you shall inform me.
Where were you when I founded the earth?
Say so, if you have understanding!
Who determined its measurements? Surely you know!
Or who extended a measuring line upon it?
On what were its footings sunk?
Or who laid its cornerstone?
When the morning stars rejoiced together,
and all the divinities shouted for joy?
What does Job teach us about creation?
Does the book of Job play any part in your thinking about creation?
Brown suggests that the book of Job is something of a thought experiment, along the lines of Schrodinger’s cat or Maxwell’s demon. A date for the book as we have it in the sixth century BCE seems likely. As with many OT books it may have antecedents dating a good bit earlier. Its purpose is to explore and illustrate important aspects of the nature of God, considered in context of the exile of Israel as well as circumstances in the life of individual God fearers.
As a non-Israelite character, an outsider no less, Job is given the freedom to challenge traditional notions about God and the world. At the same time, Job’s God is Israel’s God, YHWH (1:20-21; 12:9), and Job himself is the paradigm of piety. Taking place in the land of Uz, a place nearly as elusive as Eden, Job’s story stretches the theological envelope in ways that no orthodox Israelite could imagine, for it reaches behind and beyond Israel’s story. The narrative returns to the world of primordial beginnings even as it ventures far beyond human culture and control. …
As a thought experiment, the book of Job is essentially a “What if?” story aimed at dismantling conventional views about human identity, God’s character, and the moral construction of creation. (p. 115-116)
As a story – an inspired and canonical text – the view that the book of Job provides concerning the moral character of creation is, or should be, an important piece involved in the formation of our views of creation and of the presence of good and evil within God’s creation. Whether the book of Job relates a historical event, or is a thought experiment, something akin to a parable, makes no difference to the message of the book or the inspiration of the book.
In Job 41 God reflects on the Leviathan … a rather terrifying creature by any measure.
Can you pull Leviathan out with a fishhook
or tie down its tongue with a rope?
Who can strip off its outer garment?
Who can penetrate the double coat of mail.
Who can pry open the doors of its face?
All around its teeth is terror.
Its sneezes flash forth light,
and its eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn.
Out of its mouth shoot forth flaming torches;
fiery sparks escape.
Out of its nostrils pour forth smoke,
as from a boiling, seething pot.
Its breath kindles coals,
and a flame issues from its mouth.
On the earth there is nothing like it,
a creature made without fear.
It surveys all who are lofty;
it is king over all the sons of pride.
There is no indication in the book of Job that any of the wondrous, awe-inspiring, or terrifying features of creation, including the Leviathan, arise from the sinfulness of mankind. In fact the entire book of Job and the tour God gives of creation appears to belie such a claim. Brown notes that Job 38-41 depicts creation as a mighty wilderness, Job is given glimpses of the world at its wildest and there is nothing wilder than the Leviathan.
The world is neither a cosmic temple nor a lush garden nor a playhouse for child Wisdom. No, the world is a wilderness, uncultivated, and untrammeled, and it is valued as such. (p. 137)
Job is given a view of God’s creation and God’s power that puts him in his place – not as a sinful wretch but as a mere man, part of God’s creation and not one to challenge God. At the beginning of Job 42 we find Job’s reply:
Then Job addressed YHWH saying:
I know that you can do everything.
and that no plan of yours can be thwarted.
Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?
Yes, I did declare what I did not understand,
things too marvelous for me, which I did not know.
Whatever view we have of the nature of God’s creation – both before and after the fall – the book of Job should provide part of the data. The tendency of the evangelical church to jump from Genesis 3 to the New Testament and the coming of Jesus, with only a brief consideration of key characters in the story of Israel misses the point (primarily as moral lessons for us today) – misses the story of the Old Testament and the way it frames the New Testament and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What lessons should we take from the dialog between God and Job?
Is the book of Job consistent with the idea that God’s creation was a deathless, clawless, rainless, paradise corrupted by the sin of a man?
If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.