Creation Theology in the Book of Job
The affinity of creation theology to the wisdom tradition of Israel has long been recognized. However, in such study creation regularly has been considered one theme among many, and usually one of secondary importance rather than the basis of all theology as is proposed here. Furthermore, when not dismissed as a mythological account of primeval origins, creation is typically considered a feature of literary expression (e.g., nature poetry or imagery that characterizes something other than nature itself). This is not the point of view of the present reflection. Here, the lens through which material from the Book of Job will be examined and the standard against which it will be evaluated will a perspective sensitive to the integrity of creation, not one flowing from the bias and tyranny of unyielding anthropocentrism, which has held sway for so long. Who does not know the story found in the Book of Job? After long and apparently pointless argument with his unsympathetic visitors, Job turns to God and demands some kind of explanation of the suffering that has unexplainably overwhelmed him. God does respond, but with questions rather than answers, and the questions address the design and operation of the natural world and not the specifics of Job’s afflictions: "Where were you when I founded the earth? . . . Have you ever in your lifetime commanded the morning and shown the dawn its place? . . . Do you know about the birth of the mountain goats? . . . Do you give the horse his strength, and endow his neck with splendor? (Job 38:4,12; 39:1,19). These are rhetorical questions meant to lead Job to a depth of understanding far greater than any level of knowledge mere answers would provide. The marvel of this questioning technique is seen in its ability to bring Job to real wisdom despite, or perhaps because of, the indirectness of the approach. God asks questions about cosmic nature and Job gains insight into human nature. The wonders of creation that are paraded before Job were not unknown to him before this extraordinary revelation. By and large, they constituted the everyday world that he knew, but which he did not understand; the ordinary world within which he lived, but which he seems to have taken for granted. This breathtaking, even mystical, experience of creation has catapulted him out of his narrow confines of anthropocentrism into the vast expanses of mystery. It has brought him to realize that human history unfolds within the broader context of the natural world, and not vice versa. Job comes to see that the natural world does not merely serve the ends of human history. His encounter with the ineffable Creator-God has led him to this new insight. It is an insight that transforms him from a self-pitying victim of circumstances to a human being who has endured the struggles of human finitude and emerged chastened, yet nonetheless a mystic. In his last response to God, Job admits that he has been converted to God’s point of view, even without comprehending it. God has taken human suffering, the most pressing concern of human life, and has situated it within a broader context. That context is material creation in its entirety. God’s speeches have shown Job that, in the midst of measureless natural grandeur, the ambiguity of human life can be confronted with the honesty and humility that it requires, an honesty and humility that can admit to and accept the limited capacity of human comprehension. Creation itself has expanded Job’s vision and called him to a deepening of faith that goes beyond understanding. In the end, cosmology does not defeat anthropology; rather it opens its arms to welcome back its prodigal son. The implications of such a transformed attitude are profound as well as wide-reaching. The shift from an anthropocentric to a cosmocentric worldview requires not only a new way of understanding the universe itself, but also a reexamination of many, if not most, of the tenets of the faith. Notions such as frugality and sufficiency in our use of natural resources, the viability of human life and the earth’s ability to sustain it will all play an indispensable role in theological thinking. The irresponsibility and impertinence of human self-centeredness will be replaced by a sense of respect and responsible stewardship, and the bottom line of monetary calculation of resources will give way to aesthetic contemplation of natural beauty, a contemplation not unlike that of Job. "I had heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you" (42:5). Dianne Bergant, CSA
Justin McLellan – Catholic News Service
Brian P. Flanagan
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