This is the third installment of my review of Fretheim's Creation Untamed. In previous posts we saw how God created the world good, but not perfect. We also saw that God created a world which included natural disasters that were made worse by human sin.
In chapter three Fretheim examines the book of Job. This is not a place where one would usually turn to to think about natural disasters, but as Fretheim points out, much of what causes Job's suffering is the result of natural disasters: windstorms, lightening, fires, disease (p. 65).
Probably the main stumbling block for many readers of Job is the opening scene in which God and the satan agree to a wager concerning Job's faithfulness. Fretheim spends a good bit of time here unpacking the scene, but probably his most important point is this. Job never takes a direct hit from God. The primary source of Job's suffering is elements in God's creation mediated by the satan. Much of Job's suffering is from natural disaster and some is from moral evil (the various bands of raiders that attack his land). But God is not directly involved here (p. 72).
Job's response to all that has befallen him is reveled in the various speeches attributed to him in chapters 3-37 . Again and again Job returns to the problem of the way creation works. Job understands that his suffering is a results of the way creation works. Fretheim says:
"Job faults God for not creating an order that functions in direct correspondence to human behaviors. The most fundamental issue for Job is theological, more specifically, a certain theology of creation. For Job, God's creation is out of whack; it is a disorderly place that cannot be truly counted on and that God does not carefully control in a way that God should" (pp. 74-75).
In the speeches attributed to God in chapters 38-41, Job is shown that creation is diverse and complex. God's governance of the world is not all controlling. Human beings are not protected from the wildness and randomness of creation. God allows creatures to be what they were created to be which includes the potential for danger (p. 78, 82). The world God created is good, but not perfect. It is not a risk-free place for human or animals. God did not provide danger-free zones even for righteous people like Job (p. 83). God challenges Job to trust God's design of creation and to have confidence that, no matter how dangerous a place, God does have concern for the well-being of creation (p. 85).
So why does Job suffer? Fretheim suggests that God's commitment to human freedom means that God cannot act with complete freedom in the world. God is committed to the structures of creation which means that disasters will strike both the righteous and the unrighteous Matt 5:45 (p. 87). He puts it this way.
The is a price, sometimes a horrendous price, that people may pay for living is such a world. But this is a price that God also pays, for God too will experience the suffering that the creatures undergo. God does not remain aloof, ensconced in some distant abode. God is not like a mechanic fixing a car. God enters deeply into our suffering; rather than control things from without, God works from within. Rather than remain in heaven, above the storms of life, God has chosen to join Job in his suffering and seeks to bring healing from within. And notably, God recognizes that healing may well take significant and sustained levels of conversation and intellectual engagement with the whys and wherefores of life (p. 89).
Fretheim's closing thoughts in this chapter is that God is more honored by the impatient questions of Job than by the friends who place certain questions off-limits (p. 91). In other words, it is in asking the really hard questions that we finally begin to engage God. Disaster, pain and even disease is not a part of "the fall," but God's design. And suffering sometimes has nothing to do with sin but the world we live in.