The Power and Mystery of God’s Universe

Monday, September 17, 2012 — Week of Proper 19

Hildegard, 1179

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 985)

Psalms 56, 57, [58] (morning) // 64, 65 (evening)

Job 40:1-24

Acts 15:36 – 16:5

John 11:55 – 12:8

God has begun to answer Job. With astonishing suddenness, God appears out of the whirlwind (beginning in chapter 38). Job has asked for a legal hearing. Now he gets more than he bargained for.

Job has charged that the world is without design and dysfunctional. In the first of God’s speeches (we hear only the conclusion today), God challenges Job by asking if he actually witnessed the foundation of the earth. It has a careful design indeed, but the world is created not for human beings but for God’s own inscrutable purpose. In the previous chapters, God lists sixteen items, half from the inanimate world and half from the animal and bird kingdoms — all are magnificent or wondrous in their own way. And Job had no role in them. The human race, including Job, are not the center of the universe.

Today we start with Job’s shy response. Then, God’s second speech begins. Its topic is justice. Job has impugned God’s justice.

In the West, we think of justice as passive and impartial — the blind Liberty holding scales, impassively hearing both sides. In the ancient Near Eastern concept, justice is active and partial, upholding the righteous and putting down the wicked. It is in this sense that Job accuses God for allowing the unjust to prosper and the righteous, like Job, to suffer.

God’s mysterious answer is to describe two mythological beasts — Behemoth (today’s reading) and Leviathan (tomorrow). These symbolize the two great untamed and chaotic areas of desert and sea. God’s demonstrates control over ultimate cosmic evil, but God does not necessarily exercise control over it for the immediate benefit of human beings. These beasts symbolize fearsome powers beyond our understanding or control. Yet, they have a place in God’s universe. They fulfill no evident function, cannot be domesticated, and do not serve humanity. Yet they exist under the providence and control of God, despite their potential for evil.

The world is God’s, in all its power and mystery. Human beings are not the center of the universe.

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