A great song!
Book of Job (Chapter 38 verses 1-7 & 34-41)
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurement - surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? ‘Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you?
Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go and say to you, “Here we are”? Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind? Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cling together? ‘Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, when they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in their covert? Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?
I love this passage from the book of Job.
The book of Job is a made up story to answer the question: Why do bad things happen to good people? This passage comes near the end of the narrative. It is meant to be God’s response to this question. But it’s not so much an answer but rather a shift in focus; away from the microscope of Job’s life to the wide angle of creation.
Are you familiar with Job’s story? Job is a fictional character. He is a good person. He has never sinned. One day the Satan (it is not clear who this character is but it is a heavenly being) goes to God and says, “Look that guy Job is a great servant of yours, but how great is he really? I mean he only loves you 'coz he is well off and comfortable. But if he loses all that nice stuff then let’s see what he thinks of you then!” Or words to that effect! So God gives the Satan permission to afflict Job. Job gets terrible sores, he loses his home, his farm, even his children. It is a terrible affliction. Job cries out to God, “Why me? This isn’t fair! I don’t deserve this! I’m a good man!” Then along come Job’s 'Comforters', three men who try to give answers to Job’s cry. And their answer is simple – you are afflicted because you are sinful. That is why you are in this mess – and you must have been a really bad sinner to be in such a great mess!
But Job is not happy with this answer. He knows it is not the right answer to his afflicted condition. At this moment God steps in. God’s response is the passage above. I love the poetry of the passage.
‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go and say to you, “Here we are”? Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind? Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cling together?’
William Blake: The morning stars sing together!
It is not our understanding of geology or the cosmos. We don’t think of the earth quite in this way. It is an earth built on foundation stones – flat like a big building! Above it is a big sieve that lets light in from heaven and also rain – when the waterskins of the heavens are tilted! I love that image of heavenly beings tilting huge containers of water towards the earth to make it rain.
Does it matter that the geology and cosmology of the bible is so at variance to our own? I don’t think so! Personally I see no contradiction between science and religion. I think of them like two parts of a great song! A great song needs good music and lyrics. I love the scientific narrative about the origins of the earth and life here. It is amazing and filled with wonder. To contemplate that everything on earth is the result of the death of a star billions of years ago, just makes me speechless. We are all star stuff! Likewise when I try to get my head around the vastness of the known universe I get tingles down my spine! And when I reflect on the sheer extreme odds of any us being born again it makes me lost for words in wonder and appreciation for the preciousness of all life.
I love the religious narrative too. With tremendous power and poetry it has also conveyed the wonder of life. But it addresses different questions to science which compliment the scientific narrative. It says that we are all connected to one another. It says that there is a purpose and meaning to our lives. It tells us that key to that purpose is a deep respect for one another and creation and a will to cooperate for everyone’s benefit. It tells us that there is always hope because love is at the core of our being and love can overcome even the hardest of hearts and the deepest of hurts. It tells us that with the right intervention we can transform both our external world and the interior life.
Science and religion converge in conveying a sense of wonder. Together they are the words and the lyrics of a great song; a beautiful and majestic song about the wonder of the world, the cosmos and life.
Mark Rogers, 24/10/2012