There is the wide, immeasurable sea:
there move living things without number, great and small;
There go the ships, to and fro:
and there is that Leviathan
whom you formed to sport in the deep.
Today is the first in our series on Creation with a particular focus on oceans. I have heard two stories this week about the ocean. Both stories I have heard this week capture something of the terrifying wildness of the sea and yet something of the grace of God. Both stories were told by parishioners without any awareness that we would focus on Oceans this week.
The first story come from a voyage from Melbourne to Tasmania. The ferry that takes cars and people down to Tasmania was quite a big vessel as you can imagine. However, this story dates back to the days before the ubiquitous Catamaran ferries of today and the ships with stabilisers built in. It also happened before the weather forecasting became as accurate as it is today.
The Ferry set sail with its normal load of cars and people on what seemed like a fairly average crossing of the Bass Straight. During the night the ship ran into a terrifying storm that tossed the ship around as if it was a tiny vessel. The crew went around make sure that all children on board had life jackets on. It would have been impossible to sleep through the storm as the violence of the wind and the waves meant people would be thrown out of bed. No doubt many passengers and the crew prayed fervently during the night. At one point the passengers were convinced the ship were roll over and never come back up. They were terrified. Some vowed never to go to sea again.
The next day the ocean was like a milk pond. That day the captain invited all on board to come to the bridge so he could tell them what had happened and answer any questions. One answer surprised them. Was that his worst experience at sea. No, it was only the second worst. The worst was when a tsunami crashed over the bow of the ship smashing windows and breaking all kinds of things as it swept over the ship. The vow to never go to sea again was reinforced. But all on board survived and any damage was able to be repaired or replaced. In spite of the terror God’s hand had been on all those on board that night.
Another story was of a young man out swimming in the sea. I guess like many of us he had a love of swimming in the ocean. However, on this occasion he was caught in a current that carried him right out to sea. He kept trying to swim but the huge waves were crashing all about him coming from two different directions. He was exhausted and beginning to think he could not keep swimming. Suddenly two waves actually picked him up and threw him into the air. As he dropped back into the water a voice deep inside him said keep swimming, keep swimming.
Amazingly a helicopter flying by saw him projected into the air and began the operation to rescue him. The young man energised by the inner voice was able to keep swimming until the chopper was able to be in a safe position to rescue him. When he walked up the beach after landing, he remembers thinking, something much bigger than me was with me bringing those waves together and telling me to keep swimming. Up until then his life his life had been a bit wild. But he made a commitment on that day to turn his life around and to become a very different person. So, like the first story, the ocean was terrifying but somehow the young man knew God had him in the palm of his hand.
The psalmist writing psalm 104 seems to delight in the beauty and power of all creation including the wide immeasurable sea. The psalmist gives us a sense that humanity is only one creature among all the works God has made. In so doing perhaps he reminds us that humility is in order. Although psalm 8 also beautifully recognises humanity as one of the wonderful creatures of creation it gives us a sense that humanity is on the top of the pecking order.
4what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
5Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honour.
The risk with this emphasis is that we think it is OK for us to dominate the earth and all that is in it. With domination inevitable destruction follows. Instead psalm 104 brings us to humility. Hopefully we begin to realise that:
“humility, gratitude, joy, and praise are the foundation for ecological sensitivity and action, for they motivate us to love and enjoy the creation in all its majesty and multiplicity as much as God loves it and enjoys it”.
With humility and sensitivity, we can undo some of the damage humanity has already caused and begin to be better stewards of the oceans. We need the oceans for their capacity to absorb heat and Carbon Dioxide. And of course, we need the oceans and water ways of the earth for the wonderful capacity to provide food for us. On top of all that the oceans provide for many of us invigorating recreation. For me the sheer joy of swimming in the ocean or sailing seems to replenish my inner being. For others the surfing or fishing restore their zest for life.
Now the author of Job is something of a provocateur. He effectively asks, when Job was overwhelmed by the tsunami of woes, why was God asleep at the helm? Job is angry!
See DAVID R. HENSON’s comments: In a very real sense, Job is putting God on trial. He’s indicting God for crimes against humanity via divine indifference. [asleep at the helm]
And who can blame him? His children have been killed, his body afflicted with leprosy and boils, and he has become an impoverished beggar. Job looks around the world and sees it as a dangerous place, full of hard, sharp edges that cut at both the body and the soul.
The world has become a place of hopelessness and all Job can see is its ugliness and suffering. After the wounds of loss and grief, Job’s anger is understandable.
Is Job’s anger a deep, primal form of faith. Imagine the kind of faith it takes to trust God enough to condemn God.
From Job’s perspective the world is, at its foundation, random and chaotic. Yet God’s speech points to the deep order and structure in the universe. There is meaning. There is some underlying structure. There is some order.
See Karla Suomala’s comments The fact that God responds with questions, though different than Job’s, also suggests that the dialogue between them is ongoing, open and unfinished.
Does this help us when we ponder the often-senseless pain and suffering we see in the world? Does it help when sickness and disease visit our homes and friends? Is it enough to have a sense that there is deep meaning and underlying structure? Often when we are feeling completely overwhelmed by the randomness of disease and catastrophe we side with Job. We too want to hold God accountable. Or maybe we decide that in reality, no one is at the helm. God does not exist. That seems to be the only explanation for some. It takes great faith to want to hold God accountable. If God can draw fish into our nets but sits idly aside when drought and bush fire demolish even our will to live, is that not reprimand-able?
The dilemma posed by the book of Job is very real. In those moments of deep darkness there doesn’t seem to be any light and no end to the tunnel. The few crumbs of wisdom we are able to glean of meaning and underlying structure, of ongoing dialogue still leave us hungry for real answers.
I suspect the terror of that deep darkness shares some of the same terror of being on a ship when the captain orders people to put life jackets on, or swimming well out beyond our capacity to return to safety. In those moments it is as if the Holy Spirit amplifies our desperate cries for help and helps us to hear, “keep swimming”, hang in there. One of the jobs of the faith community is to be like the helicopter crew searching for the swimmer, like the deeply embedded skills and training of the ships crew. At times of deep darkness, the church can reach into that place and help us to know we are not alone, we are loved, and the God of grace is indeed holding us with love. Perhaps when we see the glassy sea the next day or walk safely on dry land, we might make new life changing commitments.
So today as we give thanks for the oceans of the earth lets be reminded to appreciate them with humility, gratitude, joy, and praise. Let’s vow to care for creation such that our oceans remain healthy. And if you can immerse yourself in the surf or dust off the old surf board.
And conscious that tsunami like waves sometimes overwhelm us lets call out to God from the very depths of our being. Trust God to lift you out of the terror into abundant life.