Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Scripture for the Day: Job 39:13-25

Since May 31, Dr. Brennan Breed (Columbia Theological Seminary) and I have been leading a study on Job. We’ve invited scholars from around the country to join us in conversation about the text of Job and what it tells us about God and humanity. It has been and promises to be a rich and timely study, given the turmoil we are all witnessing and experiencing. I saw Job in the list, and I thought, “I have to write about that passage.” 

And then I read the passage. And I began to second guess myself. I looked to the reading from Psalms and the New Testament text from 1 Corinthians. These would surely be easier to write about. But I chose to stick with the Job text, and I hope to make some sense out of this passage. 

The daily reading from Job picks up in the middle of a speech. The speech begins in Job 38:1, and it doesn’t end until Job 40:2. As such, our passage offers neither context nor closure. If that’s not enough, the speech we overhear is divine speech. After chapters (upon chapters) of dialogue between Job and his friends, God finally speaks. In the speech, God calls Job’s attention to one aspect of the created world or another. God asks Job to consider the foundations of the earth, the limits of the sea, the “storehouses” of snow and hail, and even constellations in chapter 38. Then, in 38:39, God turns Job’s attention to the animal kingdom, making mention of lions, mountain goats, and wild oxen among others. In our passage for today, God describes the wild might of the ostrich and the horse. 

In places, the tone of God’s speech seems taunting, even aggressive. It seems that God is bent on putting Job in his place. In my study Bible, the section title for chapter 42 is “Job is humbled.” God can appear in these speeches as a cosmic bully, flexing colossal power and showing off divine wisdom. Job’s complaints are not answered, it seems, so much as they are silenced. As Old Testament scholar Kathleen O’Connor notes, there is a tendency to reduce the dialogue between Job and God to a matter of power in which “God shows the Divine Self to be the more Macho One who out-talks Job the talker” (171–72). 

But O’Connor suggests another way of reading God’s speech. God’s response is not only a matter of divine power squelching human pride. She sees in God’s speech an invitation to consider the “mind-boggling creativity” of God, the “overflowing beauty of the cosmos and its inhabitants” (174). 

O’Connor’s reading of the text has helped me immensely, not only as I have tried to make sense of the text itself but also as I have done so in the midst of the turmoil and chaos surrounding me as I write these words. In the last months and weeks, many of us have wanted to interrogate God, to ask about God’s goodness and justice when the world seems to be spinning out of control. And instead of reading God’s response to Job’s questions and ours as one of intimidation or dismissal, O’Connor sees God challenging Job (and us) to “recognize his participation in the beauty and wild freedom of creation and its Creator” (177). She continues: 

The divine speeches invite us to open ourselves to the amazing beauty divinely loosed in the cosmos, to look for it, to let it whoosh through us, to heed it, and to obey. The speeches invite us to participate in God’s wild, raging creativity, to replicate beauty, to create new beauty, to generate harmony and wild freedom in our work and relationships, to extend our realm of care from our families to the whole cosmos and its denizens, to make a world where creative flourishing is available to all beings. The speeches urge us to be like the animals and like the monsters, Behemoth and Leviathan—wild, fearlessly ourselves, exuberantly alive. They call us to pulse with life, to be strong, to yell and shout like Job, to find our place in the world and to take no one else’s. (179). 

I end my reflection this morning with an invitation based on O’Connor’s insights: find a way to get caught up in beauty. Take a walk today and pay attention to the wild creativity around you. Read a poet like Mary Oliver whose doting attention to world around beckons us to savor its beauty and creativity. Or take some time to make something beautiful, a poem or a work of art. Find some way to let God’s wild creativity whoosh through you today. 

Note: The quotations above are from Kathleen M. O’Connor, “Wild, Raging Creativity: The Scene in the Whirlwind (Job 38–41),” in A God So Near: Essays on Old Testament Theology in Honor of Patrick D. Miller, ed. Brent A. Strawn and Nancy R. Bown (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2003), 171–79. This essay, along with other resources, are made available to participants who register for the Office Hours class. For more information, visit https://firstpresatl.org/office-hours.