Friday, September 21, 2012

Job's Growth

I finished Kathryn Schifferdecker's Out of the Whirlwind: Creation Theology in the Book of Job.  In this post, I'll use as my starting-point something that Schifferdecker says on page 125:

"...according to the divine speeches, the order God establishes in creation is neither what the friends believed it was, nor what Job in his despair feared it was.  The world is not a safe place, but it is indeed an ordered one.  Forces of chaos and wildness are given a place in the world, but they are also given boundaries so that they cannot overwhelm it.  There is a tension inherent in such a vision of the cosmos, a tension familiar from the psalms of lament.  Job must acknowledge God's sovereignty; but he also must live with the knowledge that God's sovereignty does not exclude forces indifferent toward, and even dangerous to, humanity.  Job must submit to God and learn to live in the untamed, dangerous, but stunningly beautiful world that is God's creation."

Eliphaz envisioned a world in which human beings were at peace with the natural order, as those who are obedient towards God are blessed.  Job, by contrast, believed that God allowed evil-doers to roam freely while afflicting him for his few sins.  According to the divine speeches, neither one was right.  Contra Eliphaz, humans are not exactly at peace with the natural world, for the natural world is a scary, unsafe place, with wild animals.  Contra Job, God is not asleep when it comes to chaos or evildoers, for God limits chaos as well as the opportunities of evildoers to commit sin (i.e., according to the divine speeches, God sends the dawn to stop the evildoers, perhaps because people commit evil at night).  Moreover, according to the divine speeches, God is not preoccupied with human beings but loves all of God's creation, as untamed as it is.

Perhaps the most profound feature of Schifferdecker's book is her description of how Job grows through his encounter with the divine.  At the beginning of the book, Job offered sacrifices on behalf of his children in case they cursed God in their hearts.  Job was trying to control his circumstances----to make sure that God would not strike his kids dead.  At the end of the book, by contrast, the focus is on the beauty of Job's daughters and how Job provided them with an inheritance.  Job is no longer trying to control reality by preventing doom from falling on his children, but he's appreciating the beauty of his daughters and providing them with freedom (presumably through the inheritance).  According to Schifferdecker, Job has learned from the divine speeches the value of appreciating God's creation and of freedom, which God allows to those God has made.  Job is not seeking to control things but is letting God be God, as Job enjoys life.

Another point that Schifferdecker makes is that Job's friends talked about God, whereas Job talked to God.  There was a Touched by an Angel episode with a similar theme.  See here.  A released convict likes to talk about God and religion, but he's baffled when he experiences problems.  His parole officer Andrew asks him, "When was the last time you stopped talking about God, and started talking to God."  There's a difference between the two.  Talking about God can entail being a know-it-all trying to instruct other people.  Talking to God involves more of a relationship with God and also reflects humility, as one comes to God with his or her needs, or to hear what God has to say.

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