Wrestling with Science and the Bible

Today we are pleased to share the latest post in our weekly series, Beyond the Book. This month Matthew Schlimm will be discussing how we can approach the Old Testament as a friend in faith, in spite of its strangeness.

*Also, as part of this series we are giving away three copies of This Strange and Sacred Scripture. The winners will be announced at the end of the month, and you can enter here.*

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“My nanny recently asked me how studying science changed my faith.” My friend told me this late one evening. He works for a university medical center. Although his faith was very robust several years ago, he has recently faced difficulty.

“What’d you tell her?” I asked.

“I had heard growing up that God had overwhelming love for me as an individual. I learned that people had utmost importance to God. But medical school taught me how insignificant humanity is. We’re animals, and we’re mere specks in a universe bigger than we can imagine. How can humanity have a special place in God’s heart if we don’t have a special place in the universe? The earth is a single grain of sand on the bottom of a never-ending ocean.”

Cover Art“I can totally see why those things would shake your faith,” I replied. After pausing, I added, “But I’m not sure that your convictions are that opposed to what the Bible says.”

In the time that followed, I tried to show him ways that the Bible actually supports the point he was making.

The Bible says loud and clear that we’re fairly insignificant. There are few things God hates more than people who think too highly of themselves. God promises to humble the proud (see 1 Sam. 2:1-10). So, the prophet Isaiah talks of God grinding the arrogant into the dust of the ground (see Isa. 2:10-11).

My friend and I also talked about the book of Job. At the end of the book, after Job’s friends try to explain why bad things happen to good people, God shows up. God’s point is simple: humans are puny peons. They shouldn’t expect to figure everything out. They simply aren’t that important. God’s asks, “Where were you when I laid bare the foundations of the earth!?” God gives example after example of things that God can do but humans cannot. “Can you chain up the constellation Orion? …. Can you make it rain?” God goes on, interrogating Job, who eventually manages to reply by simply saying, “I’m tiny. I need to shut my mouth.” (See Job 38:4; 31; 34; 40:4.)

I told my friend that the book of Job makes the exact same point he’s realized from science. The universe isn’t all about us. The solar system doesn’t revolve around us. Humans join animals as creatures. We’re not the Creator. We shouldn’t pretend to be. Science may suggest that humans aren’t that important, but the Bible says the same thing.

I hope that my comments help my friend find the freedom to move forward with his faith. They were inspired, in part, by something I read while writing my book This Strange and Sacred Scripture. In an essay for the book Reading Genesis after Darwin, Jeff Astley writes, “At the very least, evolution teaches us humility. The evolutionary perspective is a reminder that, although we are fearfully and wonderfully made, it is out of the dust of the earth. Both biology and theology insist on a dark side to human nature.” Science may challenge our high view of ourselves, but it doesn’t need to challenge our high view of God.

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Matthew Richard Schlimm

Matthew Richard Schlimm (PhD, Duke University) is assistant professor of Old Testament at University of Dubuque Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. He previously taught at Duke Divinity School and has held various ministry positions in United Methodist churches. He is the author of From Fratricide to Forgiveness: The Language and Ethics of Anger in Genesis and coeditor of the CEB Study Bible.

Comments

  1. You make it sound like Job is historical. Even C. S. Lewis didn’t think so. Here’s a paper about an ancient Akkadian writing called Ludlul Bel Nemeqi which resembles the book of Job, In the Ludlul tale the Babylonian, Marduk, a henotheistic (high moral) god, subjects a man to tremendous suffering for no apparent reason. In spite of the social alienation and physical afflication that he endures, the man praises Marduk throughout his ordeal. Eventually Marduk relents and restores the man’s physical well being and his social repute. In the text two themes of divine sovereignty and human acceptance of divine sanctioned suffering combine to serve a rhetorical purpose. The work accounts for the occasional failures of ritual divination, providing hope for disappointed ritual participants and damage control regarding professional consequences for official ritual experts. The parallels between this ancient work and Job are also discussed in the paper : https://www.academia.edu/1109223/The_Curious_Case_of_Failed_Revelation_in_Ludlul_Bel_Nemeqi_A_New_Suggestion_for_the_Poem_s_Scholarly_Purpose

    • My intention was _not_ to comment on the historicity of the book of Job. I worry that modern biblical scholarship has focused too much on issues of historicity. Mark S. Smith, in his postscript to _Memoirs of God_, talks about “the idolatry of history,” that is, the conviction that “the truth of the Bible stands or falls on whether the Bible is always historically true.” As Smith observes (and I would wholeheartedly agree), “historical veracity is hardly the single biblical standard for truth.”