*‘Can you draw out Leviathan* with a fish-hook,
or press down its tongue with a cord?
2 Can you put a rope in its nose,
or pierce its jaw with a hook?
3 Will it make many supplications to you?
Will it speak soft words to you?
4 Will it make a covenant with you
to be taken as your servant for ever?
5 Will you play with it as with a bird,
or will you put it on a leash for your girls?
6 Will traders bargain over it?
Will they divide it up among the merchants?
Job 41:1-6 (NRSV)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together counsels that in our daily reading of scripture if a word or verse capture us, we stay there, stay with it, allow it to do its work. It is good counsel. For how infrequently in our reading of scripture does the Word rise up at us and call to us.
So this morning in our service of morning prayer, the appointed reading comes from Job. In the chapters where God gives Job what he has asked for and answers him, with questions (perhaps outside the gospels one of the most authentic encounters with the Living God). And I was captured by these verses, so much so that I had to be spoken to in order to bring me round.
For my purposes here, I will take it that Leviathan is a great whale. How does Job Now respond to God? For indeed what is the Great Leviathan now. Indeed traders Do bargain over it and divide is up amongst the merchants and no longer does ‘Moby Dick’ spell a Herculean struggle and Doom. No, for now a rocket harpoon with an explosive head, launched from a safe distance does the business of Ishmael. Technological man now speaks back to God, Behold! Now what do You say? Answer Me!!
(Is it any wonder that in an age when We have conquered we have reduced the significant important theological questions from ‘What is man that you are mindful of him?’ to ‘What is God that he allows us to suffer?’)
Technology has as others have noted expanded the dominion of the human. So now, almost as a sporting event, a man leaps from the edge of space with a parachute on his back and we think nothing of drilling deep beneath the disappearing sea ice for oil (whatever the dangers, both to life and limb and to our survival). As I meditated on the passage I couldn’t help but feel that we had in our grasping the Domination of Creation – it’s kingship, that which was never ours, we have become utterly lost, we have lost all sense of our scale and who we are.
And as we have expanded externally we have become less and less internally. Who are you? is a question we might ask of the modern human and they might answer (after Descartes), ‘my thoughts’, or more so today,’my emotions’. What we are Not, it seems, is our body. Indeed our body has become our enemy. Whilst St Paul counsels that the flesh must be brought into subjugation, it was so that it might truly serve God’s purposes, not because we were at war with our bodies. But as we cry out in perplexity or anger to, or at, God, ‘Why must I suffer?’, the I that is at once inflated beyond the imagining of even our recent ancestors, is similarly so deflated and shrunk that it cannot comprehend that it is not actually the Lord of the Universe after all.
At root this, as with all human troubles, is an issue of the heart. It is only the shrunken heart that revels so in illusory expansiveness. Christ gave us Life giving commands, the most crucial of which in terms of the repair of the heart seems to me to be ‘Love your enemies – pray for them – ask God to bless them richly’. It is only in this outward focus on the concrete reality of those we do not love that we can begin to come to ourselves. Here is no illusory Mastery of Creation, here is no delightful concept or conceit with which we can comfort ourselves that we have a right, like Jonah, to be angry. Here is our Enemy, the source of our healing, the one who is given to us to bring us to ourselves, the one who ruthlessly exposes the toxicity of our heart and causes us to cry our ‘Lord, have mercy on Me, a sinner’ – the one who if we will give ourselves to this command will once more re-orient us towards the worship of the living God, before whom we are nothing, before whom we need to repent in dust and ashes of our folly, our words without knowledge and our lives without LIFE, Thus leaving us with better questions and far richer lives.