Science in the Book of Job
By: Jim Virkler
The Book of Job is a masterpiece of literary excellence. Coming from a Israelite author, it expresses a monotheistic worldview. The epic story of righteous Job seemingly unjustly permitted by God to suffer material, family, and personal loss is the core of the book’s narrative. It is introduced by a dialogue between Satan and God in which Satan was permitted to deprive Job of his wealth of livestock, the life of his servants, and even his children. Finally, his own health failed but his life was spared. He “cursed the day of his birth” but “did not sin in what he said.” Later, Job wondered if God was oppressing him due to some fault or sin.
Job’s three friends proposed that Job was suffering retribution for sin. Late in the book, Elihu enters the story with disdain for the error of Zophar, Bildad, and Eliphaz. Wikipedia’s article on Elihu states, “He draws instances of benignity from, for example, the constant wonders of creation and of the seasons.” A reading of the statements of Job, Elihu, and God Himself are filled with scientific description. We reiterate as stated in past posts—Scripture is not a scientific textbook. However, when writers describe mighty weather events on the spectrum of gentle to powerful, they identify with current observational sciences of meteorology and climatology. Elihu, for example, gives an accurate account of the water cycle in Job 36:27-28: “He draws up the drops of water, which distill as rain to the streams; the clouds pour down their moisture and abundant showers fall on mankind.” While Elihu did not possess terms for evaporation and condensation in his ancient language, it is clear that he understood water traveled in vapor form from earth’s surface to the clouds, later to “distill” to liquid rain water and become “abundant showers” falling on mankind.
Snow, waters hard as stone on the frozen surface, intense heat, hail, lightning, rumbling thunder, mighty downpours, tempests, sweltering heat, torrents of rain, frost, floods…..Elihu had exceptional observational skills. He acknowledges these events as manifestations of a mighty and awesome God, powerful and firm in His purpose. On a higher level, they were manifestations of complex weather systems. Elihu may not have understood how weather systems operate but his observations inspired a strong sense of devotion to God, “exalted in His power” (Job 36:22). The operations of weather systems have been explained in our modern day. The consistent physical laws under which weather systems operate are indicators of coherent orderliness in the natural world.
In Job 38 the Lord speaks. Many of the verses refer to creation events long past. Elihu would be unable to offer commentary on the event described in Job 38:8-9. God is speaking of His works…“Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt.’” Scientists have determined that initial planetary conditions included pervasive darkness on a surface covered by water and swathed in dark clouds. Later conditions on Earth provided plentiful water existing in three phases—gas, solid, and liquid. Our planet was, and continues to be, a water world.
Other scripture passages describe conditions on the primeval Planet Earth. “You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.” (Psalm 104:6.) Earth’s surface was completely water covered and enshrouded by thick clouds. Genesis 1:2 tells us that “…darkness was over the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. It is known that the first earth life was bacterial—morphologically simple but bio-chemically complex bacteria. Perhaps this was the result of God’s Spirit “hovering” over the early water world.
The three scripture passages cited above were written in pre-scientific days. No author of scripture had modern discovery methods for describing early planetary conditions. Contemporary scientists do not rely on divine revelation as did the writers of Scripture. Rather, they utilize reliable modern methods of scientific discovery. Nonetheless, ancient authors of scripture and modern scientists are in agreement on these significant areas of science. Christians hold the Canon of Scripture to be the authoritative word of God. It expresses the essence of our Christian faith. We note that writers of Scripture were skilled analytical observers of their environment as well as beneficiaries of supernatural divine revelation.
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Jim Virkler, a retired New Jersey public school science educator, now devotes his time investigating the harmony of scientific discoveries and Christian faith. He and his wife, Eleanor, now reside in the mid-west near their children and grandchildren.