Tag Archives: Creation

Whale Sharks, Scope, and the Matter of Dreams

Whale Shark

In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.
Daniel 7:1 (NIV)

Last week I had a dream and I referenced it in the message I delivered on Sunday. I dreamt of a giant whale shark that was swimming in the river Thames. It was so big that it was almost as wide as the river itself. It lifted up out of the water and a gust of wind burst from it’s wide mouth like an exhale. As this happened I thought to myself that the mighty sea beast really needed a 300 gallon bottle of Scope.

What did my dream mean? Nothing really. The previous evening in conversation someone had referenced a whale shark. The city of London had some into the conversation as well. I believe that my dream was simply regurgitating in its subconscious state the images and bytes of conversation from the previous day.

A few years ago I had a very different dream about tornadoes. I woke up and was troubled by what I had seen much like Daniel in today’s chapter. I wrote down the dream and shared it with a few individuals. I can still recall the dream in its vivid entirety, but also like Daniel, will choose to keep it largely to myself for now. I admit that I don’t understand all of what I saw and experienced in that dream but I knew that this dream was different. It had been given to me, though the reason has yet to become clear.

I have come to believe that there are two errors one can make with relation to dreams. One is to dismiss them entirely. There are numerous instances throughout history of people having very specific dreams for, it turns out, very specific purposes that cannot be wholly explained by science. We should take note and pay attention when prompted in our spirit to do so. The second error is to make too much of dreams. Some dreams are simply whale sharks in the river Thames, and I believe it a fools errand to spend too much time and energy searching for metaphorical meaning in every subconscious vision that emirates from our brains’ nocturnal processing.

Centuries later there are, and have been, numerous interpretations of Daniel’s dream of the four beasts in today’s chapter. I have read and studied several of them over the years, and I have my own thoughts on which interpretations have credibility. Nevertheless, Daniel’s dreams have little bearing on my day. I have a long day ahead of me with several presentations to make for a client, tasks that must be accomplished, and people to show love and kindness. I am reminded this morning by Daniel’s dreams that the times and eras and kingdoms of this world are part of the Great Story which, I believe, is already written and continues to be slowly revealed in the borders of time and space that were set in creation. It’s fascinating to ponder Danny Boy’s dreams, and discuss them over a pint. The bottom line, however, is that I have my own small part to play in the Story, and so I begin my day.

The Point Amidst the Myth

Who has a claim against me that I must pay?
    Everything under heaven belongs to me.
Job 41:11 (NIV)

The description God gives of the great Leviathan in today’s chapter is one of the most intriguing passages in all of God’s story. Having just watched The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies in 3D a few weeks ago, I have to tell you that Leviathan appears to be a dead ringer for Smaug, the dragon who destroys Lake Town (watch the video, above):

Who can strip off its outer coat?
    Who can penetrate its double coat of armor?
Who dares open the doors of its mouth,
    ringed about with fearsome teeth?
Its back has rows of shields
    tightly sealed together;
each is so close to the next
    that no air can pass between.
They are joined fast to one another;
    they cling together and cannot be parted.
Its snorting throws out flashes of light;
    its eyes are like the rays of dawn.
Flames stream from its mouth;
    sparks of fire shoot out.
Smoke pours from its nostrils
    as from a boiling pot over burning reeds.
Its breath sets coals ablaze,
    and flames dart from its mouth.
Strength resides in its neck;
    dismay goes before it.
The folds of its flesh are tightly joined;
    they are firm and immovable.
Its chest is hard as rock,
    hard as a lower millstone.
When it rises up, the mighty are terrified;
    they retreat before its thrashing.
The sword that reaches it has no effect,
    nor does the spear or the dart or the javelin.
Iron it treats like straw
    and bronze like rotten wood.
Arrows do not make it flee;
    slingstones are like chaff to it.
A club seems to it but a piece of straw;
    it laughs at the rattling of the lance.
Its undersides are jagged potsherds,
    leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing sledge.

I have heard this passage interpreted many different ways. As John mentioned in his comment on yesterday’s post, we sometimes get so darned literal these days that we fail to appreciate the nature of poetry when we see it. In the spirit of poetic device, which we discussed yesterday, perhaps Leviathan is simply hyperbole layered over a description of an actual beast (i.e. crocodile, komodo dragon, or etc) and used for dramatic effect. We must remember that the epic poem of Job comes out of early human history which was very different than our post-enlightenment age of advanced science and modernity. Mythical beasts in epic poems were threads in the fabric of ancient society (i.e. Grendel in Beowulf). Perhaps there are extinct creatures that resemble the description more aptly than we know or can appreciate. It’s certainly fodder for spirited discussion over a pint.

Amidst the fun debate over the description of Leviathan, however, I don’t want to lose sight of the point of today’s chapter. I am constantly finding that people like to debate the jots and tittles of obscure textual references (e.g. prophecy, the Nephilim, Eden, angels, demons, heaven, hell and etc.) while ignoring the larger point of the overarching story. Let’s make sure we essentially get the point, and then I’ll buy you a pint and we can haggle over the non-essential question of what Leviathan actually is.

I found “the point” of  today’s chapter in verse 11 (pasted at the top of this post). God’s point to Job in His description of behemoth and leviathan were that these great beasts were created by Him and were under His dominion, which by contrast reveals how impotent Job’s authority and dominion are. God declares that everything, from mythical beasts to Job himself, belong to Him.

Today, I thinking about dragons and unicorns and Pegasus. I’m thinking of Grendel and Smaug and Faery. I’m mulling the intersection of human myth and spiritual reality, and how beautifully layered it all is across history with imagination and meaning.

Cosmic Questions

source: 23409752@N08 via Flickr
source: 23409752@N08 via Flickr

“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?
    Can you loosen Orion’s belt?
Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons
    or lead out the Bear with its cubs?
Do you know the laws of the heavens?
    Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?”
Job 38:31-33 (NIV)

God finally weighs in on the debate between Job and his friends, and He immediately puts Job on the witness stand for questioning. He tells Job, “Brace yourself like a man,” and then the cross-examination begins. God starts a long litany of questions. Today’s chapter is a cosmic tour of creation, astronomy, geology, meteorology, and physics as God asks Job to verify where he was when it all began and what power or authority he has over any of it.

Last week there was a fascinating article on the pages of the Wall Street Journal by Eric Metaxas regarding ways in which science is beginning to understand just how miraculous our existence in the universe really is. When I was young, Carl Sagan and his documentary Cosmos were all the rage. Sagan argued that there were only two simple things needed for life to exist on another planet: The right kind of star and a planet that is a certain distance from that star. Fast forward 40 years and scientists now realize that you need more than two things, and the list now stands at 200 parameters which must be perfectly met. In fact, the parameters must be so perfectly met that the odds of our existence on this Earth defy common sense. Metaxas writes:

Fred Hoyle, the astronomer who coined the term “big bang,” said that his atheism was “greatly shaken” at these developments. He later wrote that “a common-sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology . . . . The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”

Theoretical physicist Paul Davies has said that “the appearance of design is overwhelming” and Oxford professor Dr. John Lennox has said “the more we get to know about our universe, the more the hypothesis that there is a Creator . . . gains in credibility as the best explanation of why we are here.”

For the record, I despise the evolution versus creation debate that seems to incessantly rage in our country. Thirty-five years of wandering through and studying God’s Message has led me to conclude that it is an epic story. In fact, I believe it to be the Great Story which spawns all great stories. God’s message, I have personally come to discover, is not a science text book. I think it silly to confuse the two.

This does not mean that the Great Story is a work of fiction. Quite the opposite. It is fascinating to me that genetic science has proven that we all came from the same woman whom the scientists appropriately dubbed Eve, and that scientists are now beginning to realize that our very existence so defies the odds as to be miraculous. God’s Message points us to these basic truths in beautiful, literary form without explaining the science or intricacies of them. I have concluded that God’s Message is not about answering the minute details of how we came to be, but about leading us to answer the most important, eternal questions of why we came to be.

Which leads us all back to Job’s side, bracing ourselves to answer the Creator’s questions.

The Thunder of His Voice on the Horizon

source: andyrs via Flickr
source: andyrs via Flickr

“At this my heart pounds
    and leaps from its place.
Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice,
    to the rumbling that comes from his mouth.
He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven
    and sends it to the ends of the earth.
After that comes the sound of his roar;
    he thunders with his majestic voice.
When his voice resounds,
    he holds nothing back.”
Job 37:1-4 (NIV)

While I was in college I had a friend whose family owned a cabin on the southeastern shores of Lake Michigan. One evening we were visiting their cabin and parked along some cliffs that afforded an expansive view of the western horizon, the Great Lake, and the Chicago skyline in the distance. It was a gorgeous, calm evening but behind the skyscrapers of Chicago we saw black clouds rising. Over the next couple of hours we watched a massive midwestern thunderstorm develop before our eyes. The dark clouds rose like mighty pillars and giant tentacles of lighting spread out like a breath-taking fireworks display across the evening sky. As the storm enveloped the city and began to cross the lake, the wind rose and giant white caps began to break against the shore beneath us. The thunder was deafening.

God says that His eternal nature is evident in creation, in what He has made. That night looking out over Lake Michigan I remember thinking that we were witnessing a tour de force of God’s might. I’ve never forgotten that experience, and as I read the opening lines of Elihu’s conclusion in this morning’s chapter, my mind took me right back to that night.

Elihu’s final words regarding the thunder of God’s voice foreshadows the final chapters of Job’s epic poem. After 37 chapters of silence in response to Job’s questions and the long debate with his friends, God is about to open His mouth to speak.

As I write this post it is the morning of New Year’s Eve day. I look back on a strange and somewhat difficult year in 2014. I stand on the precipice of 2015 with more questions than answers. It’s perhaps apropos that the year had ended with a journey through Job’s epic poem, with questions, and with struggle. It is equally appropriate that the current year ends waiting to hear from the Almighty, and that the new year will begin with God’s voice. Whether God’s voice arrives in the thunder of a  midwest storm or the whisper of a still, small voice, I’m anxious to hear what God has to say. I’m looking forward to what the new year will bring.

The Natural Ebb and Flow of Conversation

source: bitzcelt via Flickr
source: bitzcelt via Flickr

They were also to stand every morning to thank and praise the Lord. They were to do the same in the evening…. 1 Chronicles 23:30 (NIV)

I am continually learning. The further I progress in my journey the more I find that there are certain religious trappings and traditions that have no meaning for me, and so I let them go. I also find layers of meaningful discovery that add color and texture to my relationship with God and my spiritual sojourn.

One of the discoveries that has emerged for me in recent years is actually quite ancient. In fact, I have come to believe that it was woven into the very fabric of life by God in creation. I have discovered the connection between the natural cycles of creation and my ongoing conversations with God.  Just as there is an ebb and flow to the conversation between Wendy and me at different parts of the day, so there is an ebb and flow to my conversations with God. Prayer is not a compartmentalized moment, but a flowing conversation that continues throughout time. I saw an allusion to it in the above verse as it talked about the responsibilities of the Levites in the ancient temple.

In the morning my conversation with God is in gratitude for a new day, never promised, yet full of possibilities. As I wander through my day, the conversation flows into gratitude for daily provision, into contemplation of decisions that need to be made, of the need for strength, patience, endurance, and/or courage in the tasks. As people flow in and out of my day through phone calls, e-mails, and visits, my internal conversation with God flows into requests made on the behalf of others I encounter and my own responsibilities in those relationships. In the evening the continuing conversation of spirit ebbs towards reflection, processing the events of the day, of letting go of things I cannot change, and of gratitude for blessings that I encountered along the way.

That is just one day. I have come to realize that there are similar cycles of conversation and relationship which ebb and flow on a more macro level of seasons of the year, years in the life span, and life span in eternity. Conversely, there are also layers of the conversation on a micro level which ebb and flow with each inhale and exhale of breath.

Today I am thankful for the ways that my relationship with my Creator and Redeemer grows richer and deeper the further I proceed in life’s journey.

Browsing Among the Lilies

okeefe lilyMy lover has gone down to his garden,
    to his spice beds,
to browse in the gardens
    and gather the lilies.
I am my lover’s, and my lover is mine.
    He browses among the lilies.
Song of Solomon 6:2-3 (NLT)

A few years ago Wendy and I were at the Des Moines Art Center browsing through the Center’s collection. We came across a painting by Georgia O’Keefe. “Oh my goodness,” Wendy softly exclaimed by side. “There’s no mistaking what that’s about!” O’Keefe is sometimes referred to as the mother of American modernism. She was particularly fond of painting enlarged flower blossoms, presenting them close up as if you are viewing just a part of the blossom through a magnifying glass. She often used lilies and sections of lilies.

O’Keefe came to prominence as a painter in the early part of the 20th century about the same time that Freud’s theories on psycho analysis rocked the world. Perhaps it was inevitable that O’Keefe’s paintings would be psychoanalyzed under the magnifying glass of Freudian thought just as she painted magnified views of her subjects. Despite the artists own denials, it has long been noted that her paintings seem to conjure up parallels to female sexual anatomy. Thus, Wendy’s soft exclamation upon viewing O’Keefe’s painting.

Lilies, in particular, have always had strong metaphorical parallels to sexuality dating back to ancient times. Roman and Greek mythology viewed the lily as a flower of purity, chastity and innocence. Even church tradition associates lilies with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Roman tradition was that Venus, the goddess of love, was so envious of the pure beauty of the lily that she gave the lily it’s large, long pistil in it’s center to make it less attractive. The pistil at the center of the lily’s flower has long been noted for its’ phallic metaphors; The center of the pure, white petals of the Calla Lilly being seemingly penetrated by the long, large pistil.

It is no wonder that Solomon’s ancient song of the budding, erotic love between the young king and the young woman of his harem would include imagery of the lilies. Solomon himself wrote, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Georgia O’Keefe did not invent the parallel between the lily and a woman’s sexual organs. If anything, her art was natural prey for metaphorical connections humans have made between the lily and sexuality for thousands of years.

Now, read the verse above once more and imagine an infatuated young woman saying these words as she fantasizes about the man whom she wants to marry and become her lover. Does Solomon’s song really intend these sexual metaphors? A hormonal young man writes a song about the sexual tension between himself and a gorgeous young woman whom he desires sexually. It doesn’t take a giant leap of reason.

God created us male and female. He created us as sexual beings with hormones and sexual desires. He created a natural order in which people grow, develop, desire one another and have sexual relations through which new life is created. He called it “good.” Too often in a pursuit of purifying the ranks from the sinful excesses with which many indulge  our natural appetites, the institutional church has thrown the baby out with the bath water. Many of us have forgotten to embrace, celebrate, and appreciate the natural God-given appetite which, when experienced as God intended, remains as pure as a lily.

The Wonder of Creation

I snapped this photo of a deer feeding at the spring at Ha Ha Tonka State Park.
I snapped this photo of a deer feeding at the spring at Ha Ha Tonka State Park.

You make springs pour water into the ravines, 
so streams gush down from the mountains.
They provide water for all the animals….
Psalm 104:10-11a (NLT)

This past weekend was spent at the lake with our friends Mat and Anne and their daughter Madeline. On Saturday we jumped in the boat and took a long cruise to Ha Ha Tonka State Park. A gorgeous nature trail along the water wound back towards a natural spring that continuously pours out from under a large cliff to feed the river. All along the water’s edge we saw wildlife. Turtles were there in abundance sunning themselves on logs. We saw muskrat swimming and feeding. A young deer had somehow made it down a steep embankment to feed in the clear stream. Mat pointed out all sorts of creepy crawlies to Madeline like millipedes and snails.

How ironic that this morning’s psalm is all about the beauty of God’s creation. It couldn’t be a more appropriate epilogue to our weekend. Our time at the park reminded me of the wonder of God’s creation. I’m also reminded of Paul’s words to the Jesus followers in Rome:

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

This morning I’m thankful for the opportunity to commune with God and with our friends in the midst of His creation. My soul is refreshed as I enter the week.