The Book of Job and Environmental Ethics – Review
The Book of Job and Environmental Ethics, by John J Bimson, 2020. Grove Books (E196), ISBN: 978-1788271080, 28 pages. RRP: £3.95
“The Book of Job and Environmental Ethics” is a little booklet, but a goldmine for ecology. The author, John Bimson, does not deal in any depth with the central theme of Job – the problem of suffering – but concentrates on the many references to the natural world, particularly in the final five chapters. The booklet is ideal material to enable Bible study on Old Testament “Creation theology”, deserving several sessions in the process.
Even in the early chapters of Job however, Bimson notes that Job wants to challenge God about the innocent suffering of creatures – “ask the animals and they will teach you…” We are reminded that nature is “red in tooth and claw”, and alongside mankind the innocent creatures suffer also. It is in the final chapters that Job is confronted “out of the whirlwind” by God and compelled to think thoughts he has never thought before about the majesty and complexity of the natural order, first about cosmology and then about meteorology. Bimson points to delightful details about the creatures in Job 39: the wild ox (the auroch, extinct since the 17th century), the wild ass (the onager, extinct in 1927), the ostrich’s little knowledge of how to protect its young, the hawk in its migration. These descriptions of the animals are important for Bimson’s conclusions because they show both the wastefulness and the wildness of God’s creation. They also bring about Job’s acknowledgement of his own inability to respond. Bimson sees the inclusion of Behemoth and Leviathan in Job 40 as indicating that wild and unruly forces are a “necessary ingredient in Creation”.
From these descriptions Bimson draws his overall conclusion that Creation as understood by Christians should not be anthropocentric, in spite of Augustine and Aquinas making it so. Quoting Kathryn Schifferdecker, he uses the word “nonanthropocentricity”. This eight-syllable word should be recited – and its meaning understood – by Bible study groups who use the booklet!
Throughout Bimson relies heavily on other scholars and his references for further reading are useful; he shows himself not to be a groundbreaker, but a very valuable and accessible gatherer of the insights we should build upon. Bimson makes Job the David Attenborough of the fourth century BC, and sees his message to be of the utmost importance to the 21st century. This book is both immensely challenging and fun.
Previous: Like There’s No Tomorrow – Review