Then Job answered: ‘Indeed I know that this is so; but how can a mortal be just before God? If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand. He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength —who has resisted him, and succeeded?— he who removes mountains, and they do not know it, when he overturns them in his anger; who shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble; who commands the sun, and it does not rise; who seals up the stars; who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the Sea; who made the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the chambers of the south; who does great things beyond understanding, and marvellous things without number. Look, he passes by me, and I do not see him; he moves on, but I do not perceive him. He snatches away; who can stop him? Who will say to him, “What are you doing?”
Your hands fashioned and made me; and now you turn and destroy me. Remember that you fashioned me like clay; and will you turn me to dust again? Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese? You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit. Yet these things you hid in your heart; I know that this was your purpose.
In chapter 9 Job responds by questioning how any mortal can be just before God because God is the creator and a human is insignificant in comparison. He wants a day in court to determine the issue; but also suggests that the idea of a legal contest between God and him is impossible, because God makes the rules and God refuses to reveal the basis on which divine judgment is made. Nonetheless Job protests his innocence: he has not sinned against God. In chapter 10, in strong language, he presents the case he would make against God for condemning him unjustly. He doesn’t expect an answer; and indeed he isn’t sure that God is even listening to anything he says.
These chapters include important passages about God as creator that reflect both ancient cosmology and understandings of human growth in the womb. They indicate something of the development of these theological concepts; and how this writer challenges simplistic ideas. It was believed that the earth was flat and that it rested on pillars set firmly at the base of the watery ‘deep’ where chaos monsters dwelt. The bottoms of mountains acted as foundations that provided stability and in the Psalms (46:2-3; 75:3; 93:1) this is all part of God’s creative work that can resist hostile forces. Job argues that God also has the power to ‘undo’ creation as an expression of divine anger, which for all its negativity is a salutary reminder that we should never take the continuing existence of anything, even the cosmos, for granted. Even the promises of God in Genesis that there will never be another ‘Flood’ recognise that the earth might be finite (Gen.8:22).
The description of God’s involvement in the development of a human baby resonates with ideas about the creation of humanity found elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible (formed from dust – Gen.2:7; moulded like clay – Isa.45:9; and knit together – Ps.139:13) but this is much more detailed, almost ‘scientific’, with its reference to skin, flesh, bones and sinews. It reveals a God intimately involved in bringing to birth an individual new life with great care, as an act of love; and then preserving that person in being. We are indeed wonderfully made, each one of us a unique child of God, and we can be confident that God, as our mother, will never forget us (Isa.49:15). I may not understand the ways of God; but I will trust in God’s unfailing love.
Creator God, you brought the cosmos into being and you hold all that it contains in being. Time and space belong to you; and yet you know and care for me, small as I am. I praise you for my life and the grandeur of the universe. Help me to fulfil my potential as your child and to live in ways that reflect the wonder of your creative love. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Emmanuel URC in Cambridge.