Creation and Doxology (pt. 2)

(Read Pt. 1 First!)

CREATION, COMPLEXITY, AND CHAOS

Much of the chaos in the universe can be ascribed to the infiltration of Sin and Death as described in Genesis 3. However, an oft-overlooked facet of biblical creation theology is the appropriate place of complexity and chaos within God’s creation. Even when the effects of the Fall are ignored, God’s temple is by no means a tame environment, nor is humanity the sole venue through which Yahweh receives glory. This facet is a crucial one, for it reorients a proper view of worship in an untamed temple, necessitating humility in the worship of the Creator.

Yahweh’s “whirlwind speeches” in Job 38-41 are the longest sustained reflection on creation outside of Gen 1-3, and they depict a radically non-anthropocentric cosmos where the ferocity and freedom of non-human creatures is celebrated.[1] Whereas other passages seem to portray humanity as the center of God’s attention, [2] in Job 38-41 Yahweh only mentions humans in passing, choosing instead to focus on the wildest aspects of his creation, such as the Behemoth (40:15-24), the Leviathan (41:1-34), and the Sea (38:8-11).

The Sea, in fact, bears special mention, for it was a symbol of chaos in the ANE, and in several ANE cosmogonies it had to be slain by the gods in the process of creation.[3] Most notably, in the Babylonian Enuma Elish, the creator-goddess Tiamat (Sumerian for “salt water, deep, chaos”) is violently defeated by the warrior-god Marduk, who constructs the universe from her bloody corpse.[4] In the Genesis account, we see the cognate Hebrew term: תְּהוֹם (tehom), the “watery depths” of Gen 1:2. Although there are echoes of the Marduk-Tiamat battle elsewhere in Scripture,[5] the struggle is not mentioned here.[6] Furthermore, in Job 38, the Sea is not a chaotic force of evil defeated by God, but a powerful force which is born as God acts as midwife.[7] Yahweh sets a boundary for the Sea, but he also gives its chaotic waters a place in the created order, revealing that his creation, though orderly, is not a perfectly safe or tame place for humans in its beauty and freedom.[8]

The creation theology of the whirlwind speeches shows that “humanity has a place in God’s creation…not of dominion but of humility and of wonder.”[9]The inherent chaos and complexity of creation necessitate a humble reorientation in the priest-kings’ worship of their Creator. Nevertheless, although God’s temple is wild by design, Sin and Death continue to cut against the grain of Yahweh’s creative purposes, distorting even the intrinsic beauty of creation’s chaotic aspects. All is not as it should be in Elohim’s holy temple. Creation cries out for a Redeemer.

CONTINUE TO PART 3 –>


[1] Kathry M. Schifferdecker, “Of Stars and Sea Monsters: Creation Theology in the Whirlwind Speeches,” Word & World 31, no. 4 (09/01, 2011): 359, 361.

[2] Cf. Gen 1-2; Pss 8; 104.

[3] Schifferdecker 2011, 361-2.

[4] Catherine Keller, “”Be this Fish”: A Theology of Creation Out of Chaos.” Word & World 32, no. 1 (12/01, 2012): 17.

[5] Cf. Ps 29; 74; 89; 114; Isa 51:9-10; Job 9:8; 26:12-13. Cited by Schifferdecker 2011, 362.

[6] David A. S. Fergusson, The Cosmos and the Creator: An Introduction to the Theology of Creation. (London: SPCK, 1998), 7. Keller regards this absence of violence and matricide as extremely significant, see Keller 2012. However, this is contra Hermann Gunkel’s 1895 essay on “The Influence of Babylonian Mythology Upon the Biblical Creation Story,” where he overlooks this difference as a “fading” of the Genesis 1 account, choosing instead to focus on the many similarities between the Babylonian and Hebrew cosmogonies. See Bernhard W. Anderson, ed. Creation in the Old Testament. Issues in Religion and Theology, edited by Douglas Knight and Robert Morgan. Vol. 6. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), 25-52.

[7] Schifferdecker 2011, 362. Cf. Job 38:8-11.

[8] Ibid., 363-4.

[9] Ibid., 365.

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