Tom McLeish on Science and the Book of Job

Tom McLeish’s blog, Faith and Wisdom In Science, offers a scientist’s perspective on the Book of Job. As a believer and scientist, McLeish argues that there is no necessary conflict between religion and science, which is a welcome message in these times. He has a lot of material on the Book of Job. He writes that he and other scientists, including the nonreligious, have been attracted to the Book of Job, not least for the questions that God poses to Job about the natural world.

As McLeish notes, a common interpretation of God’s answer from the whirlwind is that it is a power-boast, irrelevant to Job’s suffering and his questions. In my recent blog posts about Job, I’ve noted how God’s speeches can be seen as an intimate and close answer to Job if, as shown by Robert Alter, we pay close attention to the words as poetry. Similarly, McLeish sees God’s speeches as a real answer to Job, because Job has spoken of suffering not just as a consequence of human immorality but also of natural catastrophes.

McLeish highlights Job 12:5 —

He holds back the waters, there is drought; he lets them loose, they overwhelm the earth.

McLeish goes into more detail about what is expressed to Job in God’s speech. For now I’d only like to add my wholehearted agreement that Job regarded his suffering as having one cause. He regarded all of it as ultimately caused, or allowed to happen, by God.

This makes especially good sense given what happens to him the prologue. Two catastrophes are caused by hostile raiders, who take Job’s flocks and kill some of his servants (1:13-15, 1:17). But the other catastrophes are lightning (1:16) and a windstorm (1:18-19) that kills his children.

This evil that befalls Job is all one event, as the narrative breathlessly makes clear. And that’s how Job sees it, not divided into some events caused by morality (the traditional ground of religion) and others caused by natural forces (the traditional purview of science). It’s all one, and throughout the book Job sees God as responsible equally for all of it.

Highly recommended blog.

(Note: I tried using the “reblog” function earlier but I’m not sure it worked properly. Apologies for the multiple posting attempts.)

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