This is the third in a series of Scholars Week preview articles by Caleb Barfield, a student worker in the Office of the Vice Provost for Research. Caleb is a freshman from Denton majoring in journalism, new media and public relations.
Click here to check out more previews of the great research Baylor students will present at URSA Scholars Week 2014, March 31-April 4.
Questions surrounding the existence of suffering and pain in the world have plagued philosophers and scholars for generations. Although many of these questions will never have definitive answers, many philosophers and scholars look to religious texts for guidance.
Katherine Ellis, a junior religion major, has followed their example in her investigation into the Divine Speeches found in the Book of Job.
“I have always been fascinated with the Book of Job,” Ellis said. “The questions it raises and topics it brings up intrigue me, such as theodicy, suffering and how humanity and God meet in those moments. After studying the Book of Job in Dr. Bellinger’s class, I wanted to understand the book at a deeper level, and I became interested specifically in the Divine Speeches (Yahweh Speeches), which record God’s response to Job and come near the close of the book in chapters 38-41.”
The project started as a class assignment for Ellis and turned into something far greater once Dr. Bill Bellinger, professor and chair of the religion department, took notice of the insightfulness of her research paper.
“We spent two to three weeks of class working through the Book of Job,” Bellinger said. “This research project was an opportunity for students to pursue something on their own and in more detail. My graduate assistant and I chose five students who showed promise in their papers and asked them if they wanted to pursue it further. Katherine wanted to continue her research and I’ve been here to help her refine and improve her work.”
Ellis sought to find her own interpretation of the texts in the midst of the debate that surrounds this topic in the scholarly world.
“Many scholars have disagreed on how to interpret the Divine Speeches and their meaning and how it fits into the overall structure of the Book of Job,” Ellis said. “I wanted to delve more in-depth to see what those speeches said and implied about our understanding of the nature of God and how he responded to Job; showing God’s character and how He responds to human suffering.”
Bellinger further explained, “Although there are many opposing viewpoints, generally, scholars interpret the Divine Speeches in two ways. They either see the Speeches as a sarcasm in which God is mocking Job for questioning the divine or they see God honors Job for asking questions by granting him an audience.”
After researching different scholars’ interpretations of the divine speeches and finding her own, Ellis believes she has discovered God’s purpose for the Divine Speeches.
“As Job suffers further, he becomes more adamant and arrogant in his questioning of God and in the Divine Speeches God does not give Job a clear answer as to why he is suffering,” Ellis said. “In that moment God tries to show Job that He is divine and He is in control. In that manner Job is asking questions and searching for answers that he is too finite to comprehend and Yahweh the Infinite has a purpose and plan for Job in his suffering that Job could never understand fully.”
According to Bellinger, “The book of Job is a puzzling balance; it seems to suggest that it is good and right to ask questions of God in suffering, but at the same time while we are encouraged to press these questions, we will not always be given answers that will satisfy us; mostly because they are outside of our understanding.”
As a Christian and a scholar, Ellis was able to find truth for herself in the text and although there may never be a definite solution to suffering, Ellis was able to find solace in what the Divine Speeches could speak to in her life.
“For me, the Divine Speeches are comforting in that Job demands an audience with God and God shows up,” Ellis said. “He doesn’t send an angel or one of Job’s friends to be the mouthpiece of the Divine. God has a conversation with Job to help Job realize that he is not God. Personally, it is comforting to know that God is present in my pain.”
Ellis will be presenting her research paper at URSA Scholars Week and will be equipped to answer any questions on the subject of Job. She plans to expand her research in the future.
“As a junior, I am trying to determine the direction I am headed post-graduation,” Ellis said. “I’m strongly considering pursuing a field of academics in religion and with that I certainly hope to write and research more as well as to continue my academic improvement.”
For Ellis, being able to step out of the classroom and research something she was passionate about made the work she did all that more rewarding.
“As a student, my goal in entering a classroom is to approach learning in an open and excited manner so that each piece of information I gather, such as my understanding of the world, faith, scripture and academics all make me a better person, student, learner and academic,” Ellis said. “So stepping out of the classroom and studying further into Job has benefited me in all of those ways.”
Bellinger found Ellis’ work to be rewarding as well.
“I am always delighted to see my teaching inspire a student to be passionate about the subject matter of class,” Bellinger said. “Now, Katherine can go out and speak in a scholarly way about this topic and share what she knows and has learned with others; this is why as teachers we do what we do.”
In the future, when Ellis reflects on her research of Job she feels that there will be one phrase that will resonate with her and remind her of all that she has learned.
According to Ellis, “A phrase that comes up a lot in the discussion about the book of Job is the divine speaking out of the whirlwind (Job 40:6), I love that phrase because to me it shows how often in our lives, God appears out of the whirlwind to respond; in our pain and confusion, He is present, He is there.”