Message for Sunday September 11, 2016
Speaker: Minister Vicki McPhee
Scripture Reading: Job 38:1-18
I want to be clear about one thing right away—our man Job, whom God is chastising with great fervour in this morning’s reading, has a great deal to complain about. He has a legitimate leg to stand on, so to speak, in his ranting and railing towards God and the apparent lack of order in his life. Straightaway at the beginning of the Book of Job the reader is told that Job was honest inside and out, a man of his word who was totally devoted to God and hated evil with a passion. We’re talking about someone whose devotion and relationship with God was a priority in his life. Job would get up the mornings after his sons hosted parties and sacrifice a burnt offering JUST IN CASE they had sinned while merrymaking. But then, God and Satan have a little chat one day, which involves a bit of one-upmanship. God brags about the faithfulness of Job and Satan says Job’s wouldn’t be faithful for long if his life went sideways. God says, ‘go ahead, just try turning Job away from me’. Satan, of course, calls God’s bluff—or what is assumed to be God’s bluff—and utterly destroys all that is good in Job’s life.
All this happens in the first twelve verses of the Book of Job. The rest of the Book, all forty-two chapters of it, is about Job asking, ‘what is the point of life’ and arguing with his friends that have come to support him, who urge him to admit what he’s done SO wrong that God would punish him in such a way. Job refuses to speak against God nor will he allow that he has done anything to deserve such treatment. He doesn’t hold back in complaining that he had things under control, he had his ducks in a row, he did things properly and in good order—HOW could all these bad things be happening to him? And, after 37 chapters of Job hearing discouraging words from the friends and him crying out words of despair, God replies. God says, “where were YOU when I created the earth? When I decided the size of it? When I created light in the darkness. Separated the land from the water? When I set limits upon creation—told the waves where they were to stop and told the dawn when it could rise? WHERE were YOU? Right. YOU were not there. I was there. I was the One who did all of this. Not you. So, get off your high horse and quit telling me you are the one in control. Because you’re not. I am. Get over it.” And, not to ruin the story, but Job does get over it. He acknowledges the awesome power of God and his own role in God’s great creation. The Book of Job is, essentially, one huge kick in the pants of humanity for those times when we start believing that WE are the creators of our world and we forget that God is the one who breathed life into this world when it was still stardust.
Through our history, we humans have had a tendency to think that everything of the world is for our use. For our own purposes. For a long time, the scripture from Genesis in which God tells Adam that he’s to have dominion over the plants and animals was interpreted to mean that humanity had control over creation. And in our ignorance and in our arrogance, we have believed that we do control these things. After all, we have opposable thumbs, imagination and an ability to manipulate and deceive others in ways that other creatures do not. But in the past forty years or so, the scales covering our eyes have been falling away to reveal an earth full of ecological systems that are far more sensitive to actions of humankind that was ever understood before. We have begun to see the accumulated effects of our disregard for nature—from acid rain, to the near extinction of the buffalo, to the melting of the polar ice caps. Concern over the health of the environment and the health of all of earth’s creatures, including humanity, has inspired different denominations within Christianity to make space for a new season within the religious year. We call it Creation Time and, in Canada, it is in September, during harvest time and near to the secular holiday of Thanksgiving. In this season God comes to be seen, known, and experienced in the midst of all of creation, rather than only within human history. Creation Time looks at our deep and rightful connection with nature, and at our wrongful domination and exploitation of it.
We cannot totally be blamed for thinking we are in total control. After all, it was a human who figured out how to harness hydro energy hundreds of years ago; how to cultivate crops so that large groups of people could be fed; how to manage fire to cook our food and heat our dwellings; how to build an airplane so it would fly and develop a way of communicating over long distances; discovered how electricity could power light bulbs, trains and cell phones; how to make plastic. In fact, the invention of plastic, or Bakelite as it was originally known, its invention alone has allowed the production of all manners of things needed and wanted by humans to evolve so rapidly that it is now more affordable to buy new rather fix things. Humans have done all of these things. We think we have done them all by ourselves, with our great intellect and our ingenuity. That we, and we alone, are responsible for such achievements. In this thinking, we are Job at the beginning of his story. He did what he thought was right, what God wanted and he ordered his days as such. We, as rational sentient beings, measured and took stock of the world and used logic to make progress through it. But, just as Job discovers that even in his righteousness, he didn’t know all there was to know about God’s power, we humans have discovered that we do not know all there is to know about this awesome creation of God’s world.
In our striving to be more efficient, to make more, to sell more, to buy more, to move more we have devised systems that consume fossil fuel which had the unintended consequence of acid rain. And, so as not to be wasteful, a chemist named Leo Baekeland, found a way to make use of a petrochemical byproduct to create a heat-resistant substance that would not conduct electricity. Bakelite, which we now call plastic, was so remarkably sturdy that the unintended consequence of its development is that it will not decompose. Ever. Another other unintended consequence of plastic it that it is cheaper to throw things away rather than fix them so our landfills and our oceans have become repositories for the garbage that we’ve created. I Googled ‘ocean’ and ‘garbage’ and saw some pretty alarming images of garbage on beaches, floating islands of garbage and fish and ocean animals trapped by garbage. By plastic. That won’t degrade. Ever.
Unintended consequences is the underlying theme of the movie Jurassic Park. The scientist Malcolm, played by Jeff Goldblum, introduced the concept of Chaos Theory when he explained that the impact a butterfly could have when it flaps its wings. One small flap on its side of the world could create a hurricane on the other side of the world. This illustrates how interconnected our world is—by affecting one aspect of the environment and its inhabitants; we have the great potential of affecting another aspect of nature. And nature is very complicated. Cause and effect are not always immediately known. The butterfly would never know the effect its wings had on the other side of the earth. We humans like to think we can see direct links between actions or forces—after all, can’t we measure nearly everything in our world and beyond it? But what our environment has been teaching us lately is that we do not possess the full knowledge of creation. No matter how much we measure, compare or analyze the data, we do not fully understand the complex intricacies of this earth. There are areas of great mystery to us. Just as Job does not know the fullness of God’s power, we do not know the fullness of God’s creation.
We think we are in control of the creation, production and destruction in our world but we have been reminded again and again that we know not all the consequences of our actions. A later scene in Jurassic Park, Malcolm is talking with another scientist Ellie, played by Laura Dern. They are discussing the wisdom, or lack thereof, of cloning of dinosaurs. Malcolm says, “God creates dinosaur. God destroys dinosaur. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaur.” Ellie replies, “Dinosaur eats man. Woman inherits the earth.” Unintended consequences. Like the unintended consequence of shooting so many passenger pigeons thereby shrinking the large breeding populations necessary for preservation of the species. The passenger pigeon has been lost forever. Honeybees, bats and birds have been dramatically affected by pesticides invented by humans. The climate is warmer now due to the burning of fossil fuels—the polar ice caps are melting. My daughter, who is in grade 7, told me that she learned this week that if all the ice at the poles and in our glaciers melted, the ocean water levels would rise by 70 metres. Seventy metres! God told the waters where the limits were, where the waves would stop, but we missed those instructions. Abby also told me that a two foot—2/3 of metre—rise in water levels will cost over a trillion dollars in flood relief. But I can’t stop thinking about after seeing those awful images, is the fact that we are using the ocean as a garbage dump. At first, people probably thought that the garbage would simply sink to the bottom of the vast wide oceans and never be seen again. But we don’t know what we don’t know. Turns out garbage floats. Plastic floats. And fish consume them. To the point where whales are starving to death because their stomachs are full of non-digestible garbage. Or birds and turtles are trapped in such a way there are deformed or grievously injured or they too starve to death. We didn’t know. Unintended consequences.
But we know now. Today, in this moment of time, within this century, decade, year, we are no longer Job sitting in the ashes, complaining bitterly that we do not understand. We did everything correctly and now God’s creation has gotten dirty, worn out, tired and sick. We were in charge and we measured that and manipulated this—we did it all with great intent—to find cures for illness in our people, to feed our growing population, to meet and love and wage war with neighbouring tribes and continents. We’ve made the world a safer place for our children. We did it all because we were in control. We thought we were in control. And now God is chastising us, rebuking us. You think you cannot hear God’s voice, speaking out to us from a storm? What if God’s voice are the dead whales that were found with their stomachs full of car parts and plastic? What if God’s voice are the beaches full of garbage? What if God’s voice is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that was discovered in the late 80’s. The patch has exceptionally high concentrations of plastics, chemical sludge and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Ocean. Estimates of its size range from the size of Texas to being twice the size of the continental United States. God is there. God’s voice is there. And we can no longer sit in our ashes and wonder how it all went wrong. Now is the time to acknowledge that we don’t know what we don’t know and begin paying attention to our unintended consequences on creation. God’s creation. God’s creation that we are a part of and were to take care of. To tend and care for. So now is the time to get up from the ashes and pray, connect to God, remember you live in God’s world. Read and learn. But, above all, now is the time we must act because God’s waiting for us to wake up to the fact that we are destroying ourselves. God’s world. God’s awesome creation. WE are.
Bring your own – stop throwing things away. Check your tire pressure – trimming your carbon footprint. Many household electronics, such as video game consoles, stereos, computers, and kitchen appliances, continue drawing power after they are switched off. Estimates are that this “phantom” energy use accounts for 75% of the power consumed by electronics in the average home. Unplug them. You can help keep the ocean and other waterways healthy by picking your cleaning products carefully. Many household chores can be done with simple, non-toxic ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, or lemon juice. When it comes to many of our once-favorite seafoods, there aren’t always plenty more fish in the sea. In fact, some studies estimate that up to 90 percent of large predatory fish (those that eat other animals—and usually end up on our dinner plates) have disappeared since humans began heavy fishing. You can help turn the tide by demanding sustainable seafood at the supermarket and in your favorite restaurants. These are just some of the ways we can pick ourselves up from the ashes. Pray. Then act. Let us make it so.