The Whirlwind Creation Museum: an imaginary tour, inspired by ch. 5, “Behemoth and the Beagle,” from The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder, by William P. Brown, and ch. 12, “God of the Whirlwind,” from Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering, by Ronald E. Osborn.
God’s answer to Job provides the most panoramic view of creation in all of the Hebrew Bible (Job 38:1-42:6). On its surface, the text serves to chasten Job and expose the limitations of his knowledge and ability (38:2; 40:2, 8-14). But never has a rebuke been so colorful and richly textured, even from God. God reproves Job by taking him on a scenic detour through creation’s rugged, far-flung lands, a mind-bending tour of the vast domains of cosmology, meteorology, and zoology. God’s answer features such a variety of particularities, from hail to hawks, that some scholars have compared these chapters to the ancient Near Eastern genre of a catalogue or list. . . . (pp. 116-117)
. . . we must credit God with the making of biting and stinging insects, poisonous serpents, weeds, poisonous weeds, dangerous beasts, and disease-causing organisms. That we may disapprove of these things does not mean that God is in error or that He ceded some of the work of Creation to Satan; it means that we are deficient in wholeness, harmony, and understanding — that is, we are “fallen.” (Wendell Berry, quoted in Osborn, p. 151)
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Welcome to the Whirlwind Creation Museum. Other so-called creation museums place their emphasis on a narrow, literalistic, modernist reading of the early chapters of Genesis. They imagine that these chapters simply “tell it like it is” — this is how God did it. Period. We, however, focus on a more panoramic and comprehensive text about how God created and rules over the universe, our world and its inhabitants: Job, chapters 38-42. This passage reminds us that we weren’t there, and none of us actually has any idea what God has wrought or how it all fits together. Job teaches us that herein lies wisdom.
It is my pleasure to give you an overview of the museum today, so that I might then set you free to explore the vast wonders of creation on your own — wonders that go beyond our human ability to describe and explain.
You see, we think the most basic truth about creation is its ultimate incomprehensibility.
Though we humans have the privilege to use our minds and imaginations to explore and discover and theorize and understand God’s creation, we will never come to the end of it. Its sheer scope and its innumerable mysteries resist our attempts to grasp it all. Its contradictions and conundrums stretch the limits of our logic. Before this great universe, we are very small. We do not think this should discourage us, however. Instead, we devote ourselves to learning, appreciating, contemplating, and proclaiming the splendor of God’s handiwork. In the end we yield our quest for all knowledge to the spirit of trust and worship.
Our Whirlwind Tour begins “with the farthest reaches of the cosmos and [concludes] with the tightly knit scales of the sea-dragon, from the farthest to the smallest scale of perception, from cosmos to chaos” (Brown, p. 125).
That sound of heavy construction you hear would be overwhelming if we were to play it at full volume. It’s God, laying the foundations of the earth, his holy Temple. He measured the entire space — the whole world! — and sank everlasting pillars to support it. He laid his temple’s cornerstone at a glorious dedication ceremony, an event celebrated by the innumerable hosts of heaven as they raised their voices in celestial song — choirs and orchestras filling the skies! Were you there? Can you imagine what it must have been like? The cacophonous sound! The overwhelming power displayed in sinking mountainous foundation stones through the ocean depths! The painstaking craftsmanship involved in forming each plain and forest, each hill and vale, each mountain and desert region!
And then, slam! the entire universe echoes with a thunderous bang of doors being forced shut upon the raging waters of all the oceans and seas, rivers and lakes, setting bounds and firmly holding them in place like a mother swaddles her newborn and cradles him securely in her arms. Were you there? Can you imagine? The tsunami is turned back! With bare hands, God turns the course of the raging river!
Please board this tramcar with me and hang on. As we round the corner, suddenly there is light! Brilliant, blinding light! And just as suddenly, as though by a switch, we descend into a depth beyond darkness. From the blazing surface of the sun to the gates of Hades and its deathly dark we ride, through vast Himalayan-sized storehouses of rain, snow, and hail waiting to be let loose upon the earth. Then out through heaven’s windows into the night, we fly among the constellations and the immeasurable emptiness of space. Have you ever been there? Can you even possibly imagine? Light streaking from billions and billions of incandescent sources! Darkness so deep you feel it on your skin! Weather, and storms, and thunders and lightnings so impetuous, so terrifying, so dazzling!
As we come back to this world, let us move next into our zoology section, one of the Whirlwind Museum’s most impressive and, some say, maddening exhibits. I’ve heard it tends to disturb some folks’ theology.
Why? you may ask. Well, let’s begin with our first animal, the lion, a fierce carnivore. Who provides food for the lion? Or how about the scavenging, predatory raven? Who delivers its prey? Tough questions, if the intended answer is “God” (which it is).
Who made these wild animals, such as the wild donkey and wild ox, to resist dominion in a world where humans are to exercise it? This is the truly wild kingdom which humans fear and avoid. And yet it is God’s world, and it is good.
Who made the ostrich so that she forgets her young and treats them cruelly? Again, this is an animal God made to have “no wisdom . . . no share in understanding.” How puzzling!
Look at the majestic horse, made perfectly for war and violence, mighty in strength and agility, smelling in its very nostrils the aroma of battle, ever waiting for the trumpet to sound. Who made that?
And what about the hawks, the eagles, the vultures, who soar above and gaze down with one thought in mind — dinner! Wait. God provides carrion for the birds of prey?
God describes each one with such evocative detail that Job is afforded a point of view that lies utterly beyond himself, a perspective that is God’s, but one that the animals also share. Job is invited to see the looming battle through the eyes of the warhorse, to spy out corpses through the eyes of the vulture, to roar for prey as the lion, to cry for food like the raven’s brood, to roam free on the vast plains, to laugh at fear, and to play in the mountains. Job’s Earth trek is no descent but an ascent to Nature. (Brown, p. 128)
The high point of our zoological exhibit features two of God’s most fearsome creatures: Behemoth and Leviathan. “Whatever they are, these larger-than-life beasts are the quintessential embodiments of the wild, highly esteemed by God . . .” (Brown, p. 128). These creatures were known in Ancient Near Eastern myths as the purveyors of chaos, which must be overcome in order for the gods to create the world. But God speaks to Job of them differently. For all their awe-inspiring terror, God says of Behemoth: “It is the first of the great acts of God,” (Job 40:19) and of Leviathan: “On earth it has no equal, a creature without fear” (Job 41:33).
Were you there when God made these wild, dangerous, and wonderful creatures? Have you been to their dens? Have you stood face to face with them? Can you exercise any control over them? Can you imagine such wonder, such intricacy, such terrifying mystery as you see in creatures like these?
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This is the end of our tour, for now. I now release you to ponder, to imagine, to contemplate how wondrous and immense and incomprehensible God’s creation must be.
If this tour has taught me anything, it is that God’s creation is not simple, nor is it grasped by human minds. From the side of those who practice the Christian religion, this tour can at first be a faith-shaker. You will notice that nowhere in Job does God assign blame for the messiness of creation to a “fall” or the presence of sin as we do in our theodicies. So, when we put the simple, neat descriptions of Genesis 1-2, with their orderly seven-day pronouncements of a good world and a garden paradise next to this wild and frightful vision of a messy, untamed, complex and bewildering world, which includes competition, circumstances of endless variety (both “good” and “bad” from our perspective), seemingly uncontrollable freedom on the part of God’s creatures, discomfort, difficulties, violence, death, and unexplained suffering, it can be disorienting.
As it was to Job.
Yet it is in bowing before God in the midst of all this mess, this turbulent whirlwind of creation, rather than insisting we be able to explain it, categorize it, and systematically theologize it, that we find Job’s wisdom.
And ultimately, it is when we come to Jesus Christ, whose own mother suffered the pangs of birth to bring forth a new creation, and who himself “descended into the lower parts of the earth” (Eph. 4:9), that we find One who walks with us every day through the whirlwind.
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For those who wish to see the awe-inspiring story of the discovery of Chauvet Cave (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) with its wondrous Paleolithic cave paintings, the oldest human art known on earth (30-33,000 years old), I recommend Werner Herzog’s documentary film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams. It is available for free on Netflix for subscribers, and for rental or purchase from Amazon.