Chaos and Equality: Part 2

Two weeks ago I wrote on my engagement with Job via Brown’s The Ethos of the Cosmos (read Part 1 here). I left off with Job envisioning an undoing of creation in an imaginative peeling back the layers of reality to reveal the chaos into which God spoke and brought forth life and order (see Job 3). On the other side of Job’s reality he sees equality. Gone are the social stratifications, inequalities, and powerful systems that separate people into spheres of worth by gender, class and race. Job sees glimpses of a new reality, new social and familial structures–he sees something radically different than the patriarchy he is exclusively familiar with.

When Job finally has his chance to duke it out with Yahweh, something completely unexpected happens. Yahweh invites Job into the wild. Job is assaulted with a whirlwind of questions about an assortment of undomesticated animals, through which Yahweh ultimately points to the fact that every last one of them is dependent upon the Divine. Contrasted to Adam, Job is brought before the wild animals rather than the other way around. Job is, figuratively, in their territory. Job has left the safety of civilization and community and comfort and is introduced to a vast array of nonhuman life.

Job learns that beyond the scope of civilization and order and human life is a world that God cares for deeply. The distinctions between civilized and uncivilized melt before Job, as Yahweh is revealed to have created all and therefore value all. Brown notes that “Job comes to see that he is a child of God as much as all these creatures are shown to be nurtured and set free by Yahweh” (Brown, 376). These creatures exist and thrive entirely outside of and independent from humanity. “The outer limits of creation,” Brown says, “serve double duty for Job by deconstructing and restoring his character” (Brown, 377). Brown makes the observation that not once during Job’s introduction to the wild do any of the creatures “bless or praise their Maker”; there lacks any mention of “wild animals rendering due honor to God as a consequence of divinely rendered care, in contrast to the exilic prophet’s vision of the transformed desert (Isa 43:20). Nature does not praise God, in contrast to its role in the psalms of praise” (Brown, 377) . The wild and uncivilized realm of oxen and onagers and lions and ravens is the landscape of Job’s discipleship journey. “Rather than praising God, Job comes to a clearer perception of God and, consequently, of himself” (Brown, 377).  After Job’s pride has been thoroughly dismantled, he has new eyes to see the world as Yahweh sees it. The value, worth, autonomy and independence of the natural and uncivilized world under the creative hand of Yahweh levels prior hierarchical distinctions between created beings. Bringing Job to the furthest outposts of creation where Behemoth and Leviathan play around chaos’ border, Yahweh teaches Job that all life, all people, all things are good, and very good. “These denizens of the margins are ultimately for Job symbols laden with the power to reorient his praxis within the community to which he must return” (Brown, 379).

My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:5-6)

Job returns home a different man. He no longer sees himself at the top of a chain of power, but as an integral link in a community of partner relationships rather than subject-object relationships.  Job begins this new example within his own family by extending an inheritance to his three daughters “along with their brothers” (42:15). The sapiential tradition that once dominated Job’s ethic fades upon discovering that “the ethic of merit and retribution has no home in the wild . . .Now it has lost its pride of place in Job’s own home, so his new conduct indicates. Servility too is banished from the hearth: distinctly lacking in the epilogue is any mention of the numerous slaves in Job’s household” (Brown, 379).

Yahweh answers Job’s undoing of creation by thrusting Job into an alternately uncivilized world, certainly a chaotic realm for a person of means such as Job. As a result, Job sees that the structured inequality and stratification and distinctions of patriarchal culture are socially constructed. Job realizes that he is as much created and cared for and dependent upon the functioning of the biosphere as the ostrich, the donkey, and the lion. This realization leads to a new relationship with both the earth and its inhabitants.  The question of who is Job’s neighbor sits at the center of his experience.

A part of our calling to realize the kingdom of God here on earth, proclaiming good news to the poor, restoring freedom, and lifting oppression, lies within our ability to sense our place within creation and seek equality and peace within our reality. Domination and anthropocentrism do not fit into this equation. We must find new ways to relate to one another and to the earth.

Brown, William P.  The Ethos of the Cosmos: The Genesis of Moral Imagination in the Bible. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998.

Chaos and Equality: Part 1

The Book of Job has been a text that I’ve never really known how to approach, and have always been confused and troubled by.  William P. Brown offers a phenomenal commentary on the poetic tale of Job in The Ethos of the Cosmos: The Genesis of Moral Imagination in the Bible.  Brown shows how the relationship between Job and Yahweh radically confronts the wisdom tradition and critiques the privileged patriarchy that Job so piously identifies himself with.  The supposedly righteous Job losing everything flies in the face of ancient wisdom teachings.  This is a good thing!  Admittedly, I’m not a fan of Proverbs.  While there is genuinely good advice and truth to be found in its wisdom, it presupposes a cosmic/divine submission to the implementation of moral and ethical aphorisms; it is wisdom in a vacuum.  The issue of injustice is greater than my personal adherence to the maxims of Proverbs.  My facing adversity, failure, and hardships are not results of my failure to live up to a particular standard of moral or spiritual conduct.  Likewise, the oppression endured by millions around the world is not a result of their failure to live up to a moral or spiritual standard.  And conversely, the success, health, good fortune, and abundance that we enjoy in the West and Global North is also not the result of our righteousness, spiritual fervor, and ability to carve out a moral society that reflects biblical values.  The connections between wealth, success, and divine blessing are deeply woven into the cosmology ancient Judaism and other Near East religions as well.

Enter Job.  Here is a person of incredible means who is in want of nothing, and believes he doing everything right.  Brown writes,

Befitting his eminence, Job is a man of unprecedented blessing, hard evidence for the satan to challenge Yahweh (1:10).  In the satan’s own words, Job’s possessions have ‘broken out over’ or ‘overrun’ the land.  As Job’s wealth has transgressed the land, as it were, so Yahweh has violated all sense of equity in favoring Job (Brown, 321).[1]

Job’s identity lies within his righteousness, wealth, status, and piety.  The wisdom tradition says that Job has done everything correctly, yet Job does not reap the benefits of blessing and wealth.  Job becomes the archetype of privilege, blessing, and wealth lost.  Job is now caught in poverty, desperation, and confusion, and has come to become who he detests.  Rather than losing his status, Job curses his existence and would rather see a massive reversal and undoing of creation than to be on the bottom of society, sitting on an “ash heap, bereft of the trappings of patriarchy: ownership, honor, and stature” (321).[2] Job’s new situation is a destructive threat to his worldview, as he now believes himself to be a “victim of God’s abusive whim (7:12-15; 9:17-19, 30-32; 10:16-17)” (322).[3] Carrying on the imagery of his own undoing, Job “envisions existence in Sheol as one that encompasses all walks of life, both great and small . . .Social divisions are erased, and the inhabitants of Sheol enjoy the eternal blessings of freedom . . .Job, one the wielder of wealth, can now identify with those who forever have lacked material means” (323).[4]

It is only in this realm of Sheol that Job sees a veritable equity.  Princes and slaves are side by side; the “small and the great” together (3:19).  Job’s worldview, preoccupied with wealth, status, blessing, and stratification, cannot imagine this equality in reality.  Job finds liberation within his call for cosmic undoing.  His imagined chaos frees him from the shackles of his unjust reality.  However, it is not simply a selfish freedom.  The liberating chaos of his imagination levels all.  Brown notes,

Chaos serves to erase all form and structure associated with life and community on this side of existence.  For Job, this is indeed salutary, even liberating.  Chaos has paved the way to freedom; it packs a revolutionary wallop.  As the subversive instrument that disrupts and breaks down the cosmos, chaos ushers in new possibilities of social existence.  The ancient sages long equated social upheaval with cosmic upheaval (324). [5]

Job is exploring the other side of structure and the other side of patriarchy and sees an equality.  The opposite of structure and order is chaos.  Because patriarchy and governance is associated with structure and order, envisioning egalitarianism and radical equality is equated with chaos and anarchy.  Equality becomes an enemy of structure and order.  The sacrifice of power is too great and too threatening to yield to any new social, familial, ecclesial, or political order on this side of life.  Appealing to the equality in which we stand before God but not seeking to implement and live out that equality “on earth as it is in heaven” is a result of the love of power that thrives on comfortable structure and order.

Only in death can Job reside in such a community of equals, one so radical in its orientation that only predatory chaos can clear away the cosmic clutter and set the stage for a new morphology of community.  Only in the land of the dead, stripped of all stratification, can freedom and equality reign, so Job imagines. The dissolution of the cosmic community is ultimately its rehabilitation (324).[6]

Rehabilitation, discipleship, and restoration next week.


Brown, William P.  The Ethos of the Cosmos: The Genesis of Moral Imagination in the Bible. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998.