Thursday, September 20, 2012

There's More Out There Than Human Beings!

I started Kathryn Schifferdecker's Out of the Whirlwind: Creation Theology in the Book of Job.

Schifferdecker is addressing the question of how the divine speeches in the Book of Job relate to other elements of the book, such as the Satan's affliction of Job and the speeches of Job and his friends.  As Schifferdecker notes, interpreters have offered different solutions: that the divine speeches are about how God will defeat Satan (Leviathan), which concerns Job's situation because of the affliction that Job had experienced at the hands of Satan; that God is rebuking Job's criticism of God by affirming that God knows more than Job does; etc.

Schifferdecker looks to creation theology in the Book of Job in her own attempt to show how the divine speeches relate to the rest of the book.  According to Schifferdecker, Job's three friends, Job, and even Elihu (whom many scholars think was added later) hold that God is primarily concerned about human beings.  But God in the divine speeches talks about a variety of other animals and says that God even sends rain where there is no human habitation.  For Schifferdecker, the reason is that God is showing Job, who is quite self-involved as he reflects on his own sufferings, that there is a wider world out there, which is of concern to God.  Schifferdecker states that Eliphaz in the Book of Job, like Psalm 104 and Second Isaiah, envisioned a harmony between human beings and the rest of the world.  But the divine speeches in the Book of Job have another perspective, Schifferdecker contends, for they do not present human beings as necessarily safe in God's creation.

For Schifferdecker, the divine speeches are responding to elements of the other speeches in the book.  Eliphaz and Bildad maintained that God was too good for God's creation and that aspects of God's creation were impure in God's sight, but God in the divine speeches affirms God's love for creation.  Job thought that God singled human beings out by nitpicking them for their sins and punishing them, but God in the divine speeches shows that God is not preoccupied with human beings.  Job wonders why God took his (Job's) children even as God allows the wicked to procreate, but God responds to this by presenting procreation as a wonderful feature of the natural world. Moreover, while Job presented a reversal of creation as he cursed the day of his own birth (and interacted with P in doing so), God counteracts Job's curse.

I think that Schifferdecker is on to something.  I also believe, though, that part of what's going on in the divine speeches is that God is telling Job that God knows more than he does.  (UPDATE: Schifferdecker says this later in the book.) As Schifferdecker notes, there are interpreters who find God's response to Job to be rather cold.  I'm not sure yet if Schifferdecker's scenario presents God as less cold.  Here Job is suffering, and God, rather than comforting Job, gives Job a nature lesson and says that God cares for much more than human beings.  If I were to pick an interpretation of the divine speeches that would view them as an attempt to comfort Job, it would be the classical view that God is telling Job that God will defeat Satan.  But that may not be what the divine speeches are actually saying.

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