December 17, 2017

Creation Is a Many-Splendored Thing (4): The Whirlwind Creation Museum

Lions Panel, Chauvet Cave

Lions Panel, Chauvet Cave in southern France

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)

• • •

Hand Print, Chauvet Cave

Hand Print, Chauvet Cave

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!

Rhinos, Chauvet Cave

Rhinos, Chauvet Cave

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?

• • •

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.

• • •

CaveHorsesNote from CM:

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.

Comments

  1. Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

    So, you’re saying that Behemoth and Leviathan were dinosaurs, right? That’s what I got out of this 😀

    • Whatever they were at the time of Job’s writing, the original readers would have known what they were. We are only left to guess.

      • We have some idea – There are similar creatures in contemporary mythologies. Heroes and gods have to subdue them. I actually prefer this as a reference – saying that Yahweh controls or subdues those paragons of violence and chaos is more moving and impressive than the rationalist-creationist assessment: “God is greater than the brontosaurus.”

        • >>…saying that Yahweh controls or subdues those paragons of violence and chaos is more moving and impressive than the rationalist-creationist assessment: “God is greater than the brontosaurus.”<<

          Ha! Yes!

          It's *poetry* people – the art and beauty of language invites a response that is not based on rationalist reductionism. The rationalist response was exactly what CS Lewis was criticizing in "The Abolition of Man" – and I think he would have a few words for today's creationists, too, since they are indeed also descended from Enlightenment Rationalism. Lewis was arguing against an educational theory (based on a view of humanity) that ended up destroying, through the constant imposition of that rationalist assessment, a person's appropriate response to Beauty.

          Dana

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            “When you point at something with your finger, the dog sniffs your finger. To a dog, a finger is a finger and that is that.”

  2. So dinosaurs and man don’t coexist? Nuts…..and here I was imagining faith like the Flintstones. Who’s going to be Bam-Bam? 😉

  3. The Lamb (by William Blake)

    Little lamb, who made thee?
    Does thou know who made thee,
    Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
    By the stream and o’er the mead;
    Gave thee clothing of delight,
    Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
    Gave thee such a tender voice,
    Making all the vales rejoice?
    Little lamb, who made thee?
    Does thou know who made thee?

    Little lamb, I’ll tell thee;
    Little lamb, I’ll tell thee:
    He is callèd by thy name,
    For He calls Himself a Lamb.
    He is meek, and He is mild,
    He became a little child.
    I a child, and thou a lamb,
    We are callèd by His name.
    Little lamb, God bless thee!
    Little lamb, God bless thee!

    The Tiger (by William Blake)

    Tiger, tiger, burning bright
    In the forests of the night,
    What immortal hand or eye
    Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

    In what distant deeps or skies
    Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
    On what wings dare he aspire?
    What the hand dare seize the fire?

    And what shoulder and what art
    Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
    And, when thy heart began to beat,
    What dread hand and what dread feet?

    What the hammer? what the chain?
    In what furnace was thy brain?
    What the anvil? what dread grasp
    Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

    When the stars threw down their spears,
    And watered heaven with their tears,
    Did He smile His work to see?
    Did He who made the lamb make thee?

    Tiger, tiger, burning bright
    In the forests of the night,
    What immortal hand or eye
    Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

  4. Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

    …and of this violent, many-colored Creation we were constituted, male and female, prophets and prophetesses, priests and priestesses, kings and queens.

    There’s a very striking contemporary account of a vision experienced by Elder Aemilianos of Simonopetra. One night he has this vision of everything filled with light. The stars come down and unite themselves with earth, and everything is praying the Jesus prayer. In this state in due course he somehow finds himself going from his cell to the church and is celebrating the Liturgy. That light that he’s seen outside moves from his surroundings to his heart, and he recognizes that heaven and earth sing the Jesus prayer without ceasing and that the monk truly lives only when he, too, is animated by it.

    but alas, we renounced our priestly office and became devotees of the Snake, and learned schism under his tutlage.

    asynctôs atreptôs adiaretôs achoristôs

    • I second the recommendation of Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams. I watched that and his <The Happiest People on Earth on consecutive nights. What a wonderful mixup that made in my brain.

      • Adam Palmer says:

        I second your seconding of the recommendation of CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS. It’s a splendid film. I want Werner Herzog to follow me around and narrate my life.

  5. What a wonderful post on Job 38-42, Chaplain Mike! I love the idea of a Whirlwind Creation Museum and seeing the Chavet Cave paintings!

    I think Proverbs 25:2 sums up our dilemma succinctly: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, But the glory of kings [that is, of human beings] is to search out a matter.” The NLT puts it this way: It is God’s privilege to conceal things, and the king’s privilege to discover them.

  6. Beautifully outlined mental tour in this post….thank you!!!

    This simply serves to remind me that His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts….and anyone who thinks s/he “understands” God is delusional at best.

    I can no more understand God’s motives, plans, and heart than my dog can understand mine. Sure, he “loves” me with all of his fuzzy little heart, but he lacks the ability to process WHY I do the things I do. I may be created in the image of God, but I got just enough of His heart and mind to recognize and worship Him…but no where NEAR enough to understand His “Whys..?” And I am OK with knowing how very little I know….

    • It might be useful to say that we can KNOW God (have a relationship with him, recognize him, etc.) but not UNDERSTAND God. (In French it would be easier to distinguish: we can connaitre God but not really savoir God.)

  7. The thing that I get from Job is no matter God spoke to him. I heard the most beautiful voice that I had ever heard in my life in a dream and as I awoke right away the only thing I wanted to do was fall back to sleep so I could hear it again. Twenty minutes went by as I so wanted to hear it again that the translation going over and over again finally sunk in. He said the same voice that blesses me curses me. Instantly I knew that my getting angry and frustrated at work and swearing was what this meant. Didn’t matter if I did it around others or not which I usually didn’t. Immediately I was elevated out of this beautiful voice and it was love that had elevated me. What a difference that made in me. He cared enough to correct me in the most beautiful way ever and it has so worked coming out of this incredible love. When he spoke to Job for such a long time I just know Job was elevated to such heights that few men will ever know for this is how he was and is loved. I understood thy rod and staff comfort me and that is still being built on today as I learn.

    I am a hunter here in Pa. Seems kind of funny to some here because I love the animals so much. I pray over them all the time and I have seen some healed. Even had one fall down on me as I was praying and I thought he had died till he got up all staggering around and all. It made me laugh as I thought you just got knocked down by God and you should of saw the look in his eyes. These are mountain animals I have met on my walks there. I even put a lost fawn in a hiding spot once after a storm as it had gotten separated. The next morning I checked and mom showed up as did I at the same time needless to say she wasn’t pleased with that so I left quickly. A couple of years ago I went hunting with my youngest son. He had already filled his tag and was going to help me as I hadn’t and usually I try for others to be successful first. I always pray for safety for all who enter and this morning he grabbed my hand and prayed first which was a first. Got set up and he was going to drive and I was praying because I was having a hard time with taking life and I had just said if you send something out I will take it. Just then the entire hillside was filled with deer and there were so many that I had to choose which one. I did and it fell immediately. I broke out into uncontrolled crying and sobbing so much I couldn’t see. I thanked him and I said please help me take care of this responsibly and help me control myself before my son shows up. He did. My son showed up and I said nice drive to many came out to count. He said I never got started and you shot. He said I knew it was you because I had just got done praying when you shot. My son doesn’t talk about praying and doesn’t like church yet. I had such a hard time with this kill. I thought God was teaching my son how to pray. The next morning I heard his voice,” the animals are mine and they would die a million times over for you to know about me”. It fell on me in power and I cried again as I thought about such love. It was a year later when my son told me he had given himself to Christ in that prayer and it fell on me all over again in such power. You see he told me then he had a dream where a raccoon came down the path he walked with its paws open wide and that happen that day there as did two weeks before a monarch butterfly wing dropped to my feet on the dusting of snow as I was untying my hunting boots in late December and leaving unsuccessful. This was right after I had told him I was disappointed for not having harvested a deer which if I had the day with my son would not have happened. That butterfly wing goes with me everywhere all the time. His ways go so much further than mine. True story every word. Sorry for the length. God is faithful.

    • If those who created the paintings in the Chauvet Cave could speak to us, I believe they would speak in words like yours, w. Actually, I do believe that they are speaking to us in your words. The Cave of Forgotten Dreams continues to exist in our world as long as there are human beings with spirits like yours, who exist in constant dialogue with God and with the world around them, for whom praying and working and hunting and living and dying and dreaming and crying and laughing are all of a piece, and the darkness is as full of light as the life of a beast painted in the depths of the earth on a cave wall. May God continue to bless you.

    • W, you have such an evocative way of writing. The images you paint here pull to my mind the same kinds of feelings and mental images that the cave paintings do. It makes me a bit wistful for the times I have spent out in the woods, or in Montana, which are far too infrequent. Being outdoors and away from towns is such a different experience. Your whole being attunes to the natural environment, more so the longer you are there. The only feeling I can compare to it—except that it is an almost totally different bodily experience—is being around or on water for a long time. I almost forget what this is like, back in the city, where I feel almost all mind manipulating information (a skill I have fed and fed, which puts bread on the table), and society is basically human (plus, in our house, a silly parrot that has no idea it’s a bird). Perhaps that is why I need my 8 x 8 garden. The natural world reminds me I have a body that senses things.

      I digress. Robert is right, I think, that you could have painted some of those tableaus. Although if you had, I suppose there’d be a butterfly wing in there somewhere.

  8. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    See what we lost when the Bible became nothing more than a Spiritual Engineering Handbook of FACT, FACT, FACT?

    “His mind is made of wheels and metal.”
    — Treebeard re Saruman

  9. Recently I stood with a 10 year-old student looking down the Long Black Strip – the Montessori lesson on the length of time light takes to reach us from the smallest dimmest star – stretched across my front yard and half of the neighbor’s yard. It’s pretty long.

    He hears me say, “You’ve put out 13 flags. Each flag marks the spot which represents one billion years. You are standing next to the present moment here at the end of the strip. This little piece of white tape is 1/4th of an inch long. That is how long the planet Earth has been in time. Yet the white does not represent the time of animals. It is not the time of man. It represents the time of the Earth – hot broiling, swirling, cooling, shriveling, spewing lava, raining acids – obeying the laws of the elements that the God Who Has No Hands spoke at the beginning of all time. Our moment on this Earth took such a great and long time to prepare. What a Gift is Creation!” The student looked for a moment down that representation of 14 billion years and said, “This God is so amazing. This God is so big.” He went on to say how much larger the God of the Whirlwind is that the God of the literal creationist.

    We’ve had lots of follow up discussions ranging from were Adam and Eve hominoids, to cave paintings and their age, to original sin, to missing links (in humans), to giant cockroaches, to sea lilies, to not trying to convince our friends whose parents are teaching them a 6,000 year-old earth (He views it like not telling your friends Santa isn’t real.) but being there for them when they are beginning to ask questions about God later.

    Oh the wisdom of the child.

    • Confused. You say that you are not a 6,000 year old earther. So wouldn’t your white be about 1/3 of the entire tape. 4.5 billion out of 14 billion?

      • Yes. I did mistype. There is a sentence missing. It should read: “The little piece of tape is the time of recorded man on the planet and look, see the other mark of white tape out there around 4 billion years ago; do you know what that piece is representing?”

        I don’t know how I made it disappear. Typing while teaching is a challenge sometimes. Thanks for pointing it out.

  10. something beautiful about that ‘hand print’ in the prehistoric caves . . . like a declaration of ‘I am a human person. I existed. I was here. ‘

    and something unbelievably beautiful about the sophistication of the art on those walls . . . done by ‘prehistoric’ hands
    . . . reminds one of the cave paintings in Spain at Altamira Cave, which so inspired the modern painter Picasso in his day . . .

    it is said that, at Altamira, the prehistoric artists took advantage of the irregularity of depth on the walls and used it to create perspective in their paintings many thousands of years before ‘perspective’ was said to be expressed during the Renaissance

  11. “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.”

    “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.”

    In bowing before him, yes, but also in standing up before him, and maintaining our own ways. That is, in being neither more nor less than the human beings we are, as Job did, as the painters in the Chauvet Cave did. Bowing, by itself, is not enough; we must also stand.

  12. Aidan Clevinger says:

    This is beautiful Chaplain, thank you. I actually struggled with this very issue for a long time; for years now the only thing that’s kept me glancing wistfully at young earth creationism is the theological trouble with asserting death before the Fall. It’s taken me several years to work it out, and I don’t know if I have a specific answer yet. But I think your post illustrates really well that what we know of as death – the punishment for sin and the fruit of our first parents’ rebellion – isn’t the same as the changing of seasons or even the inherent violence in the creation. Among the animal kingdom it’s majestic (if in a harsh way), even beautiful; among humans it’s tragic, an enemy to be defeated. I almost think it’s a mistake of language to assert that other elements of the creation “die” the same way that sinful humans do.