Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Creation and Evolution 4: Job 38-41

The climax of Job is also a “creation text,” though a highly unusual one. YHWH answers Job’s many complaints from “out of the whirlwind,” perhaps an actual physical phenomenom, but certainly a “theophany,” a revelation of God’s presence.  In these chapters, God challenges Job’s limited wisdom by reference–in highly metaphoric language–both to God’s initial creating acts and ongoing creating and care for the entire Creation.  (I will not address how well or not God’s “answer” to Job does or does not solve the “why do bad things happen to good people” question which the Book seems to pose. )

Much of this Creation text is similar to what we have seen elsewhere:  38:4-6 compares the earth to a building which God created by laying foundations, a cornerstone, dimensions, a plumbline, etc.  38:7 says that at this time “the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God (identical to the stars? angels?) shouted for joy.” Does anyone, even the most committed Young Earth Creationist (YEC), claim that the earth is building shaped, with an actual foundation, instead of looking like a blue marble suspended in space? Does anyone suggest that stars literally sing with voices, pitch, etc.?

The sea is described with a series of mixed metaphors in 38:8-11: It’s creation is a birth (Whose is the womb?) and clouds and darkness are its nappy. But the sea is also “imprisoned” by the “bars and doors” of the land. The kind of literalism which YECs insist on for Gen. 1 and 2 would force us to see beach erosion as escape attempts and tsunami waves as the seas’ rebellion against God’s command, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed.”  Hmm. Would that mean that all those (all of us) who contribute to rising sea levels by our greenhouse gasses are undermining God’s command?

Elsewhere in this long passage we see similar perspectives to Ps. 104–with God speaking of God’s intimate care for wild animals–apart from any value they have for humanity. 

But in 40:15-24 and 41:1-34, we have the closest approximation in our Bibles to the “combat creation myths” of other peoples.  The chaos monsters Behemoth and Leviathan are conquered by God in Creating order.  (I normally like the New English and Revised English Bible translations, but I object strenuously here to their demythologized renderings of “hippopotomus” and “crocodile.”) But notice that, unlike in pagan myths, God does not slay these primordial chaos monsters in order to Create order. God simply tames them (as Job cannot). Here, too, the biblical writers see Creation out of chaos in other than violent, bloody terms.

Once more we see a perspective on Creation which is neither opposed to a scientific account, such as evolution, but is itself concerned with other questions.  The Job account is true–but not scientifically factual.

November 14, 2007 - Posted by | science & faith


  1. I’m sorry, Michael, but I think this is a bit of an unfair representation of YECs. They’re not generally retards. None of them would say that Job 38:4-6 means the earth is shaped like a building, or that the stars literally sing. Your basic point is granted, that here is a “creation account” that is poetic not scientific/historical in nature. YECs can shout that with you, and do. The question is whether Genesis 1 & 2 are poetic in the same way that Job 38 is, and YECs have their reasons for believing that it is not the same. It’s unfair, and I think a bit sloppy, to require of them a position inconsistent with their own logic in order to build a cumulative case against them. I agree with you that Genesis 1 & 2 is predominantly symbolic/mythic language, but the poetic nature of Job 38 does not prove that. It may be you’re not trying to prove anything; you’re just narrating your point of view; even in that case, this is at least a misrepresentation of biblical literalism. Even biblical literalists can still identify a metaphor in 95% of cases, and this is one of those cases, as are the copious creation accounts in the Psalms.

    Of course, I’m in full agreement with your assessment of the Job account itself. And I still look forward to any future installments in this series with great anticipation.

    Comment by Thom Stark | November 16, 2007

  2. Thom, we know different YECs. The ones I’ve met include some who insist that the Prodigal Son was a real individual and that Jesus’ parables were all about actual individuals because “Jesus would not tell lies.” Many have insisted that everything in Scripture is historical in every detail. The conservative Baptist pastor and author, Calvin Miller, who is also a novelist of sorts, is constantly being asked by well-meaning churchgoers “why he writes lies.” Fiction of any sort is “lying.” The mentality that controls most YEC writing (e.g., in Henry Morris, J. Whitcomb, etc.) is one that does not recognize various forms of “truth.” “Truth” must equal “fact.’

    But suppose I grant your point. Suppose there are some YECs, or even a majority (though one would never guess the latter from reading the literature of their main spokespeople like Henry M. Morris) who can “identify metaphor in 95%” of the cases. When they talk about Creation, they ONLY refer to Gen 1 & 2 which they insist are (a) one account and (b) to be taken in a historical/scientific fashion. They offer no evidence for this.

    I am trying to do 2 things by looking at OTHER creation texts in Scripture: 1) Show the variety of accounts and the focus of these accounts (briefly). 2)Show how, if taken literally as YECs usually insist, they contradict one another–and since YECs are inerrantists that ought to be a red flag.

    I also hope briefly exploring these other biblical creation texts redirects the theological focus of creation away from arguments with evolution and toward seeing what the biblical writers DID want to stress about creation. I think there’s a real need for that, Thom. When Bill Moyers was creating his incredible PBS series, Genesis: A Living Conversation (see https://levellers.wordpress.com/2007/09/08/genesis-a-living-conversation/ ), he invited Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scholars, as well as artists, writers, etc. His Christian scholars included Catholics, liberal Protestants, and evangelicals. Moyers wanted to include self-declared fundamentalists in the program, too, but every one he talked to ONLY wanted to debate evolution–and that wasn’t the focus of the show. The YEC focus, even more than for “Intelligent Design” folk, is so on refuting evolution that they tend to miss everything the Bible really wants us to know about Creation.

    I don’t think ANY of the creation texts shows a scientific interest. But in expositing other biblical creation texts besides Gen. 1 & 2, I am not directly refuting their claim that Gen. 1& 2 should be taken literally: I did that by expositing those texts at the beginning. IF there were YECs who presented strong literary or other reasons for taking Gen. 1 & 2 in a historical fashion, then I would be forced to rebut that. Since I have never seen such an argument, I don’t.

    I have one more biblical exposition post (John 1, I John 1 and Colossians) and then I have to go through the rest of this series as outlined in my first post: https://levellers.wordpress.com/2007/11/01/creation-and-evolution/ .

    So, except for the 2 on Gen., my biblical expositions aren’t direct arguments for theistic evolution or against creationism and I.D. They are more like a theological framework for that argument to come.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | November 16, 2007

  3. “Thom, we know different YECs. The ones I’ve met include some who insist that the Prodigal Son was a real individual and that Jesus’ parables were all about actual individuals because “Jesus would not tell lies.” Many have insisted that everything in Scripture is historical in every detail.”

    I have met these people as well. I have, in fact, grown up with and attended church with them. Some of them are members of my family.

    Comment by eyemkmootoo | November 16, 2007

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