The Contrast between Job and Abraham—From Vigorous Protest to Unquestioning Silence

This is the third in a series of blog posts where I’ll outline the argument of my new book, Abraham’s Silence: The Binding of Isaac, the Suffering of Job, and How to Talk Back to God, which is scheduled to be published by Baker Academic this fall (October or November 2021).

This is a follow-up to my second post called, The Importance of Lament for Understanding Genesis 22.

Making Sense of the Book of Job

Some years after discovering the lament psalms, with their validation of vigorous prayer to God, I began teaching a unit on the book of Job as part of a course on the Old Testament.

William Blake – Job rebuked by his friends

Job is usually understood as raising (but never quite answering) the problem of suffering. Since it is not clear that the book was intended to answer this problem, many different, even contradictory, interpretations have been proposed.

However, one thing most interpreters (whether in the church or in academia) agree on is that God’s answer to Job from the whirlwind was a slap in his face for daring to question divine providence.

But the more I studied Job, the more I began to realize that this interpretation is fundamentally wrongheaded.

God did, indeed, criticize Job’s faulty theology (his assumptions that God micromanaged the cosmos) in the first speech from the whirlwind.

After this speech, Job was reduced to silence. So if God wanted to shut Job up, why is there a second speech?

I suggest that the point of God’s second speech was actually to encourage Job, by affirming the validity of his lament. This is why Job is praised for having “spoken rightly” of God (Job 42:7). In fact, one of the details of Job 42:7 that is usually lost in translation is that the Hebrew says that Job has spoken rightly to God. His direct complaints to the Creator are here validated.

I first presented an academic paper on this topic in 2004, with various iterations over the years. I finally wrote it up into a journal article, “Does God Come to Bury Job or to Praise Him? The Significance of YHWH’s Second Speech from the Whirlwind” (2017).

This article is the basis for an expanded chapter in Abraham’s Silence on God’s two speeches from the whirlwind, where I clarify the difference between the two speeches (something not usually explained in commentaries).

Abraham’s Silence has two chapters on Job, which together take the reader through the entire drama of the book—both the narrative frame and the poetic dialogues—with a focus on the sort of vigorous speech that God desires.

Abraham in Genesis 22

Then we come to Abraham.

Ever since I came to value the honesty of the lament psalms and discerned that God was validating Job’s bold complaints, Abraham has been a puzzle to me.

In fact, Abraham himself vigorously challenged God in Genesis 18 (and God accepted his challenge). So why did Abraham draw back from doing this in Genesis 22?

In my next blog post, I’ll examine this shift between Genesis 18 and Genesis 22.

Biblical Interpretation for Caribbean Renewal—Call for Papers Closes in Two Weeks

This is a reminder of the upcoming theology conference that I am helping to organize in Kingston, Jamaica, on Friday–Saturday, September 8–9, 2017.

The conference is sponsored by the Jamaica Theological Seminary (and will take place on their campus).

The conference is co-sponsored by the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology and the United Theological College of the West Indies.

This interdisciplinary theology conference celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Jamaica Association of Evangelicals and the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Keynote Speaker—Dr. Steed Davidson

The keynote speaker will be Dr. Steed Davidson, Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible / Old Testament at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.

Dr. Davidson, who is a Trinidadian (technically, from Tobago), will kick off the conference with a programmatic lecture on Friday evening entitled “The Hazards and Opportunities of Sola Scriptura for Caribbean Biblical Interpretation”; then on Saturday there will be papers on a variety of topics related to the conference theme: “Biblical Interpretation for Caribbean Renewal.”

Paper Proposals Welcome—For Two More Weeks

With two weeks till the deadline, there is still time to propose a paper.

Proposals are invited from established scholars and practitioners in all theological disciplines, as well as from graduate students, post-docs, and non-tenured faculty.

Both Caribbean residents and others with an interest in the Caribbean are invited to propose papers.

The Conference Theme—From Many Angles

We encourage high quality papers on any topic relevant to the theme of “Biblical Interpretation for Caribbean Renewal.”

We welcome papers from all theological disciplines, including biblical, historical, systematic, philosophical, moral, pastoral theology, and theology that engages culture, the church, or other academic fields.

We especially encourage papers that:

  • propose priorities for biblical interpretation in the Caribbean
  • address current practices of biblical interpretation in the Caribbean
  • engage particular biblical texts in light of Caribbean realities

The due date for receiving proposals is July 15, 2017.

You may access the Call for Papers, which contains further information on submitting proposals.

As we get closer to the conference date, the conference page on the website of the Jamaica Theological Seminary will be updated with information about registration and the conference schedule.

My Recent Participation in the Science-Faith Dialogue

I recently participated in two separate events of science-faith dialogue. Both were sponsored by evangelical organizations with Trinity in the name. And both had a significant BioLogos presence.

EVENT #1: The Dabar Conference on “Affirming the Doctrine of Creation in an Age of Science” (June 14–17, 2017)

Two weeks ago I participated in the Dabar conference of the Henry Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, near Chicago (Dabar is Hebrew for “word”).

This was the second Dabar conference that I attended. These conferences are part of a three-year research project on creation that I’ve been involved in. The Creation Project aims to help the evangelical church develop a robust creation theology that can interact fruitfully with contemporary scientific understandings of the world.

Last year (2016) the topic was interpreting Genesis; this year (2017) the focus has been on the doctrine of creation; and next year (2018) it will be on what it means to be human.

The Dabar conference is held each June as the highlight of the year’s theme, and is attended by about 80100 theologians, biblical scholars, philosophers, scientists, and pastors.

The keynote papers weren’t read at this year’s conference, but were circulated to the participants in advance and we were expected to have read them all and to come with our questions.

The author of each keynote paper gave a five minute summary of their paper, which was followed by two short response papers, then by the author’s reply. After that it was open to the audience for Q&A. To see the list of speakers and topics, click here.

Each afternoon, we met in small groups to discuss the ideas raised in the papers and to see what the range of our opinion was on matters of creation theology and the science of origins.

There was a lot of very engaging discussion.

This year two of the main speakers (Deb Haarsma and Jeff Schloss) and two the respondents (Jim Stump and myself) were associated with BioLogos. Deb Haarsma is president of BioLogos, and Jim Stump is senior editor at BioLogos. Jeff Schloss and I are part of BioLogos Voices (the BioLogos speakers bureau).

There were lots of other BioLogos folks at the conference, who often raised excellent questions in the discussions.

This is the second year that I presented a response to one of the keynote papers.

My response this year was to philosopher William (Billy) Abraham‘s paper on “God as an Agent.” I was able to draw on my background in philosophy and my expertise in Old Testament to address the topic of how the Bible speaks of God.

For those interested, you can read my response to Billy Abraham here.

EVENT #2: An Evening Conversation on “Genes, Self, and Soul” (June 26, 2017)

Just a few days ago I was one of two speakers at an evening event in Washington, DC on science and faith, sponsored by the Trinity Forum.

The Trinity Forum was founded by Os Guinness (who had been an associate of Francis Schaeffer), along with others interested in fostering significant dialogue between Christianity and major intellectual issues of our time.

By a strange coincidence, I actually quoted Os Guinness (from his first book, The Dust of Death) in my response paper at the Dabar conference.

The June 26 event, on the topic of “Genes, Self, and Soul,” was the second in a series of four Evening Conversations on “Discovery and Doxology” that the Trinity Forum is currently co-sponsoring with BioLogos.

According to the Trinity Forum website, this series “features renowned scientists, philosophers, and theologians in conversation on the ways that scientific discovery and spiritual knowledge are complementary and together contribute to a greater sense of wonder and worship.”

Both speakers on June 26 (geneticist Praveen Sethupathy and myself) were members of BioLogos Voices.

Praveen, who is is also on the Board of Directors for BioLogos, is associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Cornell University. For his presentation he drew on his perspective as a Christian who does genome research, to suggest what science can and can’t tell us about what makes us human.

Then it was my turn, as a biblical scholar, to explore how the Bible might contribute to an understanding of our biological nature, which we share with other animals, and to our distinctive human calling or vocation to image God .

Given the topic for the evening (“Genes, Self, and Soul”), both Praveen and I made the same distinction between 1) our biological composition (which includes our genetic makeup) and 2) our human calling as the image of God (which distinguishes us from other creatures). This distinction between biology and the image of God was an attempt to address the words  “genes” and “self” in the title of the event.

But what about “soul”?

While “soul” is often a synonym for “self” in modern discussions, I suggested that what the Bible means by “soul” (Hebrew nephesh; Greek psyche) has to do with what we have in common with other animals, rather than anything distinctive to human beings. Here I drew on the use of “soul” in the early chapters of Genesis and how the apostle Paul uses the term.

I told the audience that if they expected the Bible to mean by what we mean by “soul” they should “get used to disappointment.”

For those in the know, I was quoting the Man in Black (Westley a.k.a the dread pirate Roberts) in The Princess Bride.

As is often the case, here the Bible challenges our received wisdom.

The entire Evening Conversation can be viewed by clicking on this link.  The video includes a brief introduction by Deb Haarsma (the president of BioLogos) and then by Cherie Harder (the president of The Trinity Forum), followed by the presentations by Praveen and myself, and the discussion afterwards.

Event #3: Possible Joint-Lecture at Brown University by Sethupathy and Middleton (Fall 2017)

Praveen and I may be speaking together again in the Fall on the topic of evolution and Christian faith at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Our joint- talk, sponsored by a campus ministry organization called Christian Union, would explore evolution from the points of view of a scientist and a theologian; it would be geared to interested students and faculty, both Christian and secular.

Although the details still have to be worked out (including the date), I am looking forward to this possibility since I have a lot of respect both for Praveen and for the Christian Union; I got to know this campus ministry organization when I gave a talk five years ago for them at Columbia University (in NYC) on what it means to be made in the image of God.