“The natural world is a gift from God, but we are also called to join with God in sustaining and caring for it.” John Sentamu, The Archbishop of York.

Today is Earth Day so I thought I’d post this video to mark the occasion.  It’s a Veritas lecture given by Ecology Professor Kyle Van Houtan entitled: Is God Green? – Jesus, the Church, and Caring for the Earth.

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As I’ve been reading through the book of Job I have been noting how the book is ladened with a deep appreciation of nature (see part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4).  At the climax of the poem/debate – God’s speech from the whirlwind, we encounter a full tour-de-force of creation.  In fact chapters 38-41 have been referred to as ‘the first great piece of modern nature writing’ (Bill McKibben).  God’s speech – really a series of rhetorical questions for Job, presumably designed to put Job (and us) in his (our) place!?, progresses from Cosmogony (38:4-11):

”     …                                                                                                                   Who hedged the sea with double doors,                                                                                        when it gushed forth from the womb.                            when I made cloud its clothing,                                                                                                     and thick mist its swaddling bands?                                      …     “

to Meteorology (38:22-38):

”       …                                                                                                                  Does the rain have a father,                                                                                                      or who begot the drops of dew?                                             From whose belly did the ice come forth,                                                                                  to the frost of the heavens who gave birth?                                    …     “

to Zoology (38:39-39:40):

”     …                                                                                                                         Do you know the mountain goats’ birth time,                                                                 do you mark the calving of the gazelles?                                           Do you number the months till they come to term                                                         and know their birthing time?                                                            …    “

and even to mythological zoology (40:15-41:26):

”    …                                                                                                                         Could you draw Leviathan with a hook,                                                                                 and with a cord press down his tongue?                                     Could you put a lead line in his nose,                                                                                    and with a fishhook piece his cheek?                                               …    ”

(Translations from Robert Alter)

The full grandeur of this astonishing outburst from God can not be fully appreciated from the limited quotes provided above, so I would encourage people to read the whole section (NET Bible).  There is so much to comment on here perhaps I’ll have time in a future post to say more.

I’ve highlighted before (part 1, part 2, and part 3) how the writer* of Job clearly had a keen eye for the workings of the natural world.  Here is another marvelous example  this time from the realm of meteorology.

Why, exalted is God, and we know not,                                                                                        the number of His years is unfathomed.

For He draws down drops of water,                                                                                               they are distilled in the rain of His wetness,                  as the skies drip moisture,                                                                                                                 shower on abounding humankind.

Can one grasp the spread of cloud,                                                                                               the roars from His pavilion?

Why, He spreads over it His lightning,                                                                                       and the roots of the sea it covers.

For with them He exacts justice from peoples,                                                                          gives food in great abundance.

Lightning covers His palms,                                                                                                           and He commands it to hit the mark.

His roaring tells about Him,                                                                                                           His zealous wrath over evil acts.

(Job 36:26-33, translation by Robert Alter)

This theme of God’s command of weather phenomena does not end here but continues into the next chapter – you can read on here (incidentally the NET Bible linked here is a fairly recent discovery for me – great translation and very upfront and open with its translating notes for each verse, a great resource).  I like the way this passage shows both how God uses His power over the natural world for judgement, but also for sustaining life.

* I say writer, but it is considered likely by scholars that the speech of Elihu  (chapters 32-37) is a work of another poet.  Reading through the book this indeed seems plausible, Elihu’s entrance is a surprise, there being no previous mention of this character, and there is a disjoint in the arguments and language used by Elihu compared with the rest of the book.

The Book of Job, provides a debate, in poetic form, on whether the righteous are always rewarded and the wicked alway punished.  The dialogue surrounds the character of Job who has led a successful, just and honourable life but is suddenly and unexpectedly stricken by immense physical and mental suffering.  The dramatic arguments are often filled with allusions to natural phenomena and to farming and this is a theme that I’ve been following in this blog.

Here is another example illustrating this theme, see also previous posts here and here.  In this case Job is comparing humanities grim reality to that of a tree:

For a tree has hope:                                                                                                                though cut down, it can still be removed,                                                                       and its shoots will not cease.                                              Though its root grow old in the ground                                                                             and its stock die in the dust,                                                            from the scent of water it flowers,                                                                                         and puts forth branches like a sapling.                                          But a strong man dies defeated,                                                                                         man breathes his last, and where is he?

(Job 14:7-10) Translation by Robert Alter

The irony is that even trees manage to survive and regenerate unlike perishing humans!  Here’s a few images of fallen tree trunks and old stumps providing a natural nursery for new tree growth.  Perhaps this type of procedure was used as an ancient agricultural practice in the time of the writing of Job.

In a previous post I had mentioned the use of the natural world as a source of inspiration for the writer of the Book of Job.  I’d like to continue that theme by sharing this fabulous passage, taken from Chapter 6.  Here the long-suffering Job likens his friends betrayal to a wadi that goes dry in the summer.

My brothers betrayed like a wadi,                                                                                     like the channel of brooks that run dry.

They are dark from the ice,                                                                                                 snow heaped on them.

When they warm, they are gone,                                                                                        in the heat they melt from their place.

The paths that they go on are winding,                                                                             they mount in the void and are lost.

The caravans of Tema looked out,                                                                                        the convoys of Sheba awaited.

Disappointed in what they had trusted,                                                                            they reached it and their hopes were dashed.  (Job 6:15-20)

A wadi is a dry creek bed in the desert where ephermal runoff streams are generated in response to infrequent rainfall events.  These sporadic pulses of rainwater can support vegetation in the desert environment that sustain the camels and goats of the pastoral nomads.  The mention of snow and ice here could suggest a northerly location perhaps where Israel’s boarder fringes the high mountains of Lebanon.

Those wanting a more in-depth technical study on wadis and their hydrology, including sustainable management for water resource purposes might like to consult this book on the topic.

I have recently been reading through the book of Job using the new translation of Robert Alter that I received for Christmas.  The writer of Job obviously had a keen eye and deep appreciation of nature as is evident in much of the language used throughout the book.  Here is a classic example in Chapter 4, where we have an obvious allusion to farming — plough-plant-reap — wrapped up in a standard moral teaching:

As I have seen, those who plow mischief,                                                                        those who plant wretchedness, reap it. (Job 4:8)

We then move to the animal kingdom, where the lion is used as another line of evidence in the case for the traditional system of retribution:

The lion’s roar, the maned beast’s  sound –                                                                     and the young lions’ teeth are smashed.

The king of beasts dies with no prey,                                                                               the whelps of the lion are scattered.  (Job 4:10-11)

Apparently there are five different words in Hebrew for lion and the writer of Job demonstrates his impressive lexical wealth by using all five within two sentences creating a headache for the translators!

I recently read and enjoyed the book “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony“.  The author  Richard Bauckham is an eminent Biblical scholar and theologian (see his wikipedia link and his own website).

His thoughts on the Environment can be found here [video] with his lecture at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, Cambridge.  The seminar is entitled “Jesus, God and Nature in the Gospels”.

He also has a recently published book “The Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation ” which should be worth checking out at some point.