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Season of Pentecost week 13, Common Lectionary year A

Creation and/or God (Job 38 – 42, Mathew 6: 25-33)

By Rev. Elisabeth R Jones

As Pat said in the introductions to the readings, today we’re joining in with a relatively venture in the three year Lectionary.  For the next few weeks we will  be following a “Season of Creation.”  The initiative is the response of a number of more progressive mainline denominations to the increasingly urgent call for providing new faith-filled responses to the growing awareness of planetary ecological crisis,  by looking at Scripture in ways that explore  God’s  and human relationship with Creation in terms that have less to do with power, exploitation and domination than with healing, renewal, and  relationship.

The first week of the Season begins, appropriately with a look at God as Creator. 
The two passages present very different views of the Creator God;
in the Gospel passage, we see God  in terms fundamentally different to the initiator of the Big Bang;
here God is involved in the lifecycle of a lily, and in the protection of a sparrow,
and by extension in the intimate care of ‘each one of the least of us’.
It’s this Creator/ Parent God that we introduce our children to as soon as we begin to tell them about God:  God loves you, cares for you, never wants you to be hurt, and if you are, is right there with you.
At many moments throughout our lives, particularly in times of illness or struggle, we return to this image of God, hoping and praying that it is so.

The older Testament reading plunges us into quite a different world.
We heard mere snippets of a long, Shakespearean or Churchillian soliloquy,
delivered by God from out of a whirlwind.
God conjures up image upon image of the mightiness and mystery of creation.
The impact of reading or hearing the entire passage in a single sitting is profound.
You are transported into this poetic language world
where  its worldview is complete,
enveloping, convincing.
God is the one who casts the stars across the sky
like a painter splattering her brush on a vast canvas,
no matter how much Bill Harvey might tell you it’s otherwise.
 And that is the intent of such a passage,
to tell a truth the soul, our inner spiritual self, can hear.

But that world is not our world.
Unlike those of the (x) century BCE, we know the lights in the night sky
are newborn or even long-dead gaseous suns, or hurtling lumps of stardust,
all the children perhaps of a big bang that happened 16 billion years ago.
Unlike the poet of Job, we can call on ‘scientific explanations’ for the flight of eagles, the flightlessness of the ostrich,  the seismic  movement of tectonic plates,
 the predictable if awful effects of barometric pressure systems,
mammalian evolution, and the migratory patterns of the monarch butterfly.

But no matter how steeped in the scientific worldview we may be,
we need to know that these words  are not so much pseudo-scientific
misinformation based on ancient ignorance,
but the language of the poet.

That’s what happens when the limits of human knowledge
converge with the limits of human language;
the poet is born,
trying with skewed syntax and jumbled adjectives
to give utterance to the unspeakable,
to mystery.
The awesome mightiness of land and sea
becomes in the poet of Job, the footprint of a behemoth crashing mountains into rubble,
or Leviathan swallowing up the land with a tidal wave of rage
– and perhaps that language is more appropriate to convey the emotional and spiritual impact of the path of Irene across land and life.
And the cause of all this mightiness and mystery in the land, sea and heavens, is
Creator God;
bigger, stronger, greater,
more awesome, more awe-full than the human imagination
can comprehend in any other way than in the language of the bard, the singer and the poet.

Trouble is, we who sit here today are
children of a great divorce, and our loyalties are divided between our parents.
Ever since Copernicus mused about the movement of the planets around the sun,
Church and Science have for the most part, gone their separate ways,
limiting visiting rights, demanding restraining orders against one another,
and pulling their children to and fro.

Choose, children, the ancient non-scientific world of the Bible,
or the light of scientific truth you can see through a
telescope or a microscope, or radioisotope carbon 14 dating.

Do we have to choose?
According to the US National Academy of Science, we do:
“Religion and science are separate and mutually exclusive realms of human thought
whose presentation in the same context leads to misunderstanding of both scientific theory and religious belief”1

Even more fundamentalist are the exhortations of men like Dawkins
to have done with “the repulsive myths of religious belief”
in favour of the clear double-blind tested truths of biological science.
And we know well enough that the resurgence of advocates for “Creationism”
among the Christian right is evidence that the choice for Biblical truth
which allows no room for modern scientific knowledge is a choice still being made,
with alarming consequences for the human family, and our fellow creatures.
 
But this is a false dichotomy, a false choice;
we are pitting the words of a scientist against those of a poet.
Thankfully the same point has been made by none other than
Nobel prize winning Quantum Physicist Niels Bohr,
who has famously said that no language exists to ‘explain’
the realm of the sub-atom or the quark,  except the language of the poet.

There are signs too, that this 500 year old divorce between science and faith
while it still affects many, has produced a smaller clan of kissing cousins;
scientists like Hawking or Wilson who hear in their scientific work
the resonant frequency of the heartbeat and  “the mind of God.” 2

I’ll be frank, I can no more render into poetry
Hawking’s “Brief History of Time”
than I can explain in scientific terms the poetry of the book of Job,
but in both there is the heartbeat  “and the mind  of God,”
if we have an open enough mind and heart to perceive it.

Language has its limits, whether that be the language of science or of faith.
It can only take us so far in explaining the inexplicable.
Once its limit is reached, the choice is either silence,
or poetry.

Job, having heard the poetry of God,
 says pretty much the same thing.
After saying to God , “my eye has seen.” He says not a word more,
leaving the poetry of the Creating God
hanging in the air like the Northern Lights,
ephemeral, and resonant,
the whisper of eternity before our eyes.

This last is the language of faith, of the poet.
I can’t explain it.
But I can wonder.
And I can praise.

 

[1] NAS 1981, in response to moves by two States to include “Creation Science” in the public school curriculum.  Quoted in Barbara Brown Taylor,  The Luminous Web: Essays on Science and Religion (Cowley, 2000), p.11.

[2] Last phrase is Hawking’s  A Brief History of Time, 175.

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