Monday, October 21, 2013

Job 38:1-39:30


A few years ago, in a song called Miracles, the Insane Clown Posse famously asked "F***in' magnets, how do they work?" Musical merit aside, the ICP were quickly and roundly criticized by scientifically savvy individuals who pointed out that there is nothing miraculous about magnets. The principals of magnetism are well understood.

While I am no fan of the Insane Clown Posse I will say this in their defense: I don't think that's what they meant.

However, the concept of God has often been used to explain things that are not otherwise understood. This is sometimes called the "God of the Gaps." God fills the gaps in human knowledge. Don't know how magnets work? It's a miracle. It's God.

The problem with the God of the Gaps is that the gaps are getting smaller all the time. And as the gaps narrow, the God of the Gaps shrinks with them. The concept of God loses its explanatory power. Eventually the God of the Gaps must diminish into insignificance and, perhaps, vanish altogether.

I don't believe in the God of the Gaps. God is not a necessary construct. But I recognize that I, as a human creature, am limited. I am bounded by time and space. I am weak in the face of disease, powerless in the face of death. Some measure of suffering is my lot.

At the same time I am moved by a sense of mystery, of wonder, and of awe when I observe the workings of the world: the spinning planets, the blade of grass pressing up through a crack in the sidewalk, the grandeur of a mountain, the beauty of a wildflower.

 I recently held a living hummingbird in my hand. I can only describe the moment as holy.

I am overwhelmed sometimes by a sense of alienation and at other times by gratitude. These are universal human experiences and, not surprisingly, they are themes in the Hebrew Bible: exodus and homecoming, blessing and suffering, praise and lament. I think that this is why those ancient and alien texts still have the power to speak to the human heart. It's not because they have explanatory power. Human beings have split atoms, traveled to the moon, and decoded DNA. We don't need a God to fill the gaps. The Scriptures resonate with our souls because they describe our experience of creaturely life in this world.

In chapter 38, YHWH finally comes to speak with Job from a whirlwind. He never addresses the question of Job's suffering. Instead YHWH confronts Job--sometimes aggressively, sometimes sarcastically--with Job's human limitations.

The rhetorical questions YHWH poses to Job are supposed to be unanswerable. They are much more easily answered in this age of science than in Old Testament times.

YHWH describes his power in creation. YHWH laid the earth's foundation and set the sea's limits. YHWH made the morning light, has plumbed the ocean's depths, knows from whence light originates, and where the storms are stored.YHWH set the constellations in the sky.

Is Job's YHWH a God of the Gaps? Or is this an expression of the awe and wonder that the observation of nature inspires?

The observation of nature is a characteristic of ancient Israel's wisdom literature. In chapter 39 YHWH describes animals, wild and strong: the mountain goat, deer, bear, wild donkey, wild ox, the ostrich, horse, and predator birds. These cannot be tamed (Okay, the horse can be tamed, but it is still powerful). YHWH provides for them.

The verses about the ostrich (39:13-18) are odd on several counts. They make up the only passage in this section that does not begin with a rhetorical question. They speak of God in the third person, even though God is the one speaking. Perhaps this passage was an independent unit dropped into the text by a late-stage redactor. These verses also include a false, folkloric description of ostriches abandoning their young.

That's not my hummingbird and not my hand in the photograph. I found the picture here.

Next: Job 40-42

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