A biblical novelist looks at Genesis - part 2
The ancient patriarch Job has an entire book of Scripture devoted to his story. Many scholars agree that his is the oldest book of the Bible based on the age of the Hebrew text, though Genesis covers older material. Job is said to have lived during the time of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Job’s story is a fascinating read, and his life is not one I would want to have lived. Few people have suffered to that extent, and most of us would never want to. But the book is worth the read, especially when you get to chapters 38-40. There we find Job finally getting what he has been asking for throughout the book. A chance to hear from God, whom he believes has unjustly afflicted him.
God begins by asking a series of questions, and some of the very first have to do with origins. I wonder why God chose to start at the foundation of the world to answer Job’s questions about pain and suffering in that moment of his life? Why not just tell Job that this is a test (see Job 1) and that God had his reasons for allowing what He did.
But God does not go there. The reader knows the whole story is a cosmic test, but Job (the main character) does not. Now from a writer’s point of view, I would probably have set the whole thing up in a different way. I would show the scene with the devil and the challenge he posed to God, but in the end, I would give Job some closure by cluing him in on the whole deal. Allow the man some insight and understanding into the way God works.
But God, as portrayed here, does not do that. Instead, He asks, “Who is this that darkens my counsel by words without knowledge?”
And then He speaks in a series of questions that force Job to see beyond himself:
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
God goes on to talk about the sea and darkness and the morning and the depths of the deep and the gates of death and the dwelling of light and the places where He stores snow and water and lightning and dew. He speaks of the constellations (by name) and the number of clouds and how he feeds the wild animals in their need. The next two chapters He speaks of all types of wild animals, where they live, how they give birth, their enormous power, and things beyond Job’s understanding.
Despite the display of God’s power over the world He created, His discourse starts with the earth’s very beginnings—the substance of creation. Who but the Creator would know details about the foundations of the earth and its measurements and speak in such a way to cause Job to “repent in dust and ashes.”
Job did not question that God created these things. In fact, he not only knew God as Creator, he worshipped him as Redeemer and Lord. In his utter misery he declared,
"For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God.”
If Genesis is just a myth and there is no Creator, then Job’s story is not real, and the pain of his words, the endless dialogue of his anguish are just the fabulous imagination of a brilliant writer.
But when you compare Job 38-40 with Genesis 1-3, you see a lot of similarity. In fact, you see a more detailed account of what God created than we see in Adam’s story.
And the overarching theme of Scripture fits with the rest of the biblical books. For instance, centuries later, Isaiah (chapter 40) is given these words as a prophet of God.
Vs. 12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, measured heaven with a span and calculated the dust of the earth in a measure? Weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?
Vs. 21-22 Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
Vs. 25 Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these things…
Vs. 28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, The Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable.
The theme of God as Creator stretches from Genesis to Revelation. Interestingly, in Revelation in the letters to the seven churches, Jesus mentions the creation to the one church that disgusts him with their lukewarm attitudes. He says, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God:’ (emphasis mine)
The apostle John states that the Word (Jesus) was there at creation and in him all things were created. Nothing was made without Him. He was in the beginning with the Father and the Spirit laying the foundations of the earth, creating the galaxies and putting the constellations in their place. He mapped out the universe and holds it all together, and promises to one day fix all the things about it that were broken in the fall.
The fall—which happened in the next story of Genesis with a man—Adam—whom some believe didn’t really exist. A man who had children and grandchildren and a whole genealogy of people, many who remain fixtures in the history of nations to this day.
The Bible claims God created the earth and all that is in it and Genesis is not the only version of that claim. In its 66 books, written over centuries by different authors, the creation accounts fit together in a cohesive way that makes sense in both a literary and spiritual way. The theme of creation matters to the literary story of the Bible. For without a Creator the rest of the book has no reason for being.
But even if I believe that, why should it matter whether the stories of the people are true or just metaphors? Does it matter that Adam and Eve and Cain and Able are real people?