Reimagining Job

Orion Nebula, NASA, ESA, M. Robberto & Hubble Orion Treasury Project Team
Orion Nebula, NASA, ESA, M. Robberto & Hubble Orion Treasury Project Team

I recently got together with some scientists and theologians to study part of Job. The final few chapters (38-42) of this book are a description of God’s role in creating and sustaining the universe and everything in it: the Sun and stars, Earth and sea, weather and wild animals. Stars move in their courses, weather changes and animals behave in their different ways. We didn’t make any of these things ourselves [1] and we have very little control over them, even with today’s scientific knowledge.

But are we any less awe-struck because we now understand how some of these processes work? If so, how can we identify with the impact this passage must have had on people in the ancient Near East? What things on our planet or further out in the universe seem vast, powerful, fearful and awe-inspiring to us today? If Job was written today should it use different examples: natural processes we still don’t understand?

The overwhelming answer I received from the scientists around me was ‘No’. Thunder and lightening does not stop being impressive when you have studied physics. Being caught in a storm in the middle of the Atlantic is equally awe-inspiring, and can be even scarier if you understand the forces behind it and the consequences for your boat. There are still places where we feel small and vulnerable in a world of hugely powerful forces.

In a more positive vein, certain things may be understood by scientists but finding them out for yourself can be also an awe-inspiring experience. The geological time scale, the size of the universe, the beautiful photographs from the Hubble telescope and the incredible detail of the cell were all named as good places to start.

When it comes to thinking about the size of our solar system, scale models can help visualise the vast distances involved. If the sun is the size of a small melon, Earth is a peppercorn sitting 26 paces away. Mars is a pinhead another 14 paces away, and Jupiter a chestnut 95 paces from Mars. Pluto is a grain of sand almost a kilometre from the sun, and the cloud of space-dust that marks limit of our solar system is 3,200 miles away. The nearest star, Proxima Centauri, is another 3,200 miles beyond that. So if your sun-melon is in London, the next closest star is in Chicago. To find the actual scale of the universe, just multiply your pace by 3,600.

On a cellular scale, what about the energy-generators of the cell – the mitochondria? These tiny membranous bags contain molecules that can harness the chemical power of oxygen and use it to make a chemical called ATP that powers every process in your body. Though they live inside your cells, mitochondria contain their own DNA and replicate by growing and dividing in two – like a bacterium. Some cells contain just one mitochondrion, while other have thousands. On average, your body uses its own weight in ATP every single day! If I were an animal behaviourist or climate scientist I’m sure could tell similar amazing stories about the phenomena mentioned in the Bible.

So why does the Bible refer to such natural wonders? The closing chapters of Job help me to take a mental leap away from my own problems and put them in perspective. They are a reminder of who God is. There is order in the natural world and Christians believe that God is in control of it, despite the seemingly chaotic processes going on around us. Modern physics may have raised some uncertainties, but many processes are still predictable in principle. Through science we now have an even stronger idea of order and law in nature than the biblical authors did. So rather than diluting the message of Job, the discoveries of science simply strengthen it.

 

[1] Although we can alter them: taming animals and causing climate change, for example.

5 thoughts on “Reimagining Job

  1. Carol July 3, 2014 / 3:53 pm

    Hello,

    I’m a relatively recent “convert” to mainstream science after decades of fearing it as a bunch of speculative tales made up to exclude God. Since the job of science is to explain things without reference to God, and the job of faith mentors is to refer everything to God, the whole question seemed hopelessly unsolvable for a non-scientist like me.

    Once my questions were answered, however, I felt as though I’d found 4-D glasses that helped me see the glories of the universe and human beings and blades of grass for the first time. I found myself weeping just walking down the street. The knowledge gained through science increases exponentially my awe at the creation and the Creator, and it even helps me love unlovable neighbors, when I think of what fantastic biological marvels they are (nothing but hydrogen atoms at the start, and now look!!).

    Recently I heard a friend say she wonders if God really can pay attention to everyone in the world at the same time. For me, understanding the vast scale of the known world, from the inner workings of the cell to the outer edge of the universe that we can detect, helped me feel that, if God is bigger than our universe, with billions of galaxies the size of our own, then for God to keep track of 7 billion human beings on Earth should be a piece of cake. This unfathomably vast God bothers to care for each of us.

    Thanks for your blog.

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  2. raulconde001 July 4, 2014 / 3:12 am

    I didn’t know that Mitochondria can replicate DNA and divide into 2 just like the bacterium. You learn something new everyday. Thanks.

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  3. ScatteringStone July 4, 2014 / 5:41 pm

    I really have to question the “causing climate change” in your footnote. If we go back to the Bible, we can see that it is the sinful nature of people who have turned away from God that has caused the “Earth’s groaning”. God has allowed it to happen. “We” did not alter the climate.

    Only our turning back to Him, with thanksgiving and prayer, will be the only solution to the climate change problem being “solved”. We have no control over something that huge. The “taming of animals” is part of the stewardship/dominion over created things on earth God gifted us.
    (Please read Hosea 4:1-3 and 2 Chronicles 7:14-15)

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    • Ruth Bancewicz July 9, 2014 / 1:32 pm

      Thank you for your comment, scatteringstone. I have read those Bible passages, and I agree that Earth is ‘groaning’, but I think we cause that directly by our own selfishness and greed. I also have to question your statement that ‘We have no control over something that huge’. The eminent meteorologist Sir John Houghton is a very devout Christian, and he is convinced that human activities worldwide are having an impact on the climate. You can find a paper summarising his views here http://www.jri.org.uk/brief/BriefingNo14_4thEdition_July.pdf – and plenty more on the websites of two Christian organisations, the John Ray initiative (http://www.jri.org.uk) and A Rocha (http://arocha.org.uk)

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