The book of Job received some attention last month in the Revised Common Lectionary. Last week I preached from Job 38 (which was one of the lections for the previous Sunday). Why preach from Job? Two chief reasons. One was simply that Job does not receive much attention. The other is that Job 38 is a magnificent text. It is the first of the four divine speeches (two groups of two speeches) addressed to Job toward the end of the book. Up until that point God has been present by virtue of his apparent absence. He has given Job room in which to accuse and complain. Job want to confront God face to face. And God finally gives Job what he wants. Sort of. Job has accused God especially in terms that draw upon wisdom tradition. The עֵצָ֥ה etsah “counsel (or plan or purpose)” of God is darkness. Job has called into question the etsah, the wisdom and understanding of God. So God responds to Job on Job’s own terms.
God challanges Job in the form of three main questions:
- Who are you?
- Where were you?
- Are you able? Can you?
Who is Job? He is a creature who like all human beings bears the “royal image” of God. When God created everything where was Job? He was not there. Is Job able to answer these questions? Or perhaps we can ask does Job have the wisdom, the understanding, the counsel to create all things? No. As my friend and colleague summarized aptly what God says to Job is “you are not God”.
God does not truly answer the questions raised by Job. Rather(?) God presents Job with a magnificent vision of creation – interspersed with those three questions – that strangely enough does not mention human beings. Or rather it does because God is speaking to a human being. The universe – or at least the foundation of the earth. Followed by the natural order – focusing entirely on “wild” and undomesticated nature and animals (with the possible exception of Job 38:36 and the שֶּׂ֣כְוִי sekwi(y) which might mean “rooster”). Job wants to question how God runs the universe? God invites Job to consider a vast and mysterious universe full of creatures (and here I include galaxies, stars, and planets which are indeed creatures) so many of whom are outside everyday human experience. God hunts with lions and gives wisdom to birds. In a way God says “Job you and all human beings are part of something infinitely larger and more complex than what you can understand. There is logic and order to the universe and how I govern it. However it is beyond your limited wisdom. Trust me and be at peace” (paraphrasing Ronald Clements, New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, volume 3).
So far so good we sort of understand what God is saying. And that brings us to Job 40-41. “Look at Behemoth. Can you draw out Leviathan?” Behemoth and Leviathan represent chaos or the forces of chaos. Chaos is part of creation. God invites Job to a transformed understanding of his vocation as creature, as a human being who bears the royal image of God the Creator (Gerald Janzen, Interpretation), and as such represents God within creation, working for and with God to manage, care for, and continue creation. God invites Job to live as a creature on creation’s terms. And the terms of creation include chaos. Chaos is a necessary(?) part of creation.
I have an idea for another post about this topic. How do we have a relatively stable solar system and a relatively stable hospitable world on which we live? Largely because of (1) Jupiter and (2) millions of years of intense chaos – generated by Jupiter with help from Saturn.
This raises a theological question. What I would venture to call a theological problem. Normally we Christian (and Jewish) believers would say chaos – moral evil and arguably natural evil along with suffering – is a contagion introduced because the first human beings rebelled against God. What we call the Fall – although one of my teachers in seminary preferred to call it the Falling Apart.
And to the man he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
and have eaten of the tree
about which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. (Genesis 3:17; NRSV)
Why is the world broken and messed up? Because of us.
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now. (Romans 8:19; NRSV)
This does raise a few questions. Why should the world be cursed because of us? That seems unfair. And yes there are some good answers. I will not get into that here but simply postulate the common understanding that we human beings messed up and the world is broken because of us.