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God's Longest Speech

10/29/2013 03:52 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

The longest single soliloquy attributed to God in the Bible is at the end of the Book of Job (Chapters 38-41), where Yahweh asserts his mystery and magnificence to the glib and falsely-assured advisers to Job. It is not just the length and the poetry of Yahweh's words that strike me, but the nature and animal metaphors that are presented as God's precise "selling points" that both touch and inspire me. The text ends up being a praise of creation as something that humans can never fully appreciate or understand, but which forever stands as an affront to our knowledge, control, arrogance, and certitude.

If I read the first part of the speech correctly (38-39), Yahweh names at least 23 elements of creation, and 16 different animal species as signs of God's benevolence, love, and unresolvable mystery. There is almost no mention of human qualities or creativity except where it says "the children of God chanted praise in chorus" for all of this creation (38:7). Both nature and animals are presented as necessary mystery, humiliation, and foil to all human arrogance and superiority, and as God's multiform self-revelation besides.

I will list them here, and this will surely invite you to read the text for yourself and perhaps it can help us all to withdraw a bit of our anthropocentric and human superiority complex. "It is all created for our entertainment and food" does not seem to be Biblical at all. Instead, the text seems to say, the world is created for our education, enlightenment, stewardship and care.

Earth itself, the stars, the sea, the mist, clouds, dawn, light, depths, abyss, the underworld, lightening, rain, grass, dew, snow, ice, frost, three constellations (which most Christians consider a pagan idea!), soil, mud, and the salt plains are all mentioned as an assault on human understanding.

Then the ibis, the cock, the lioness, her cubs, raven, mountain goats, their calves, the wild donkey and the wild ox (which, we are reminded, cannot be domesticated!), the ostrich, stork, falcon, horse, grasshopper, hawk, and eagle. It ends with a taunt from Yahweh to both Job and his naïve advisers: "Are my opponents now willing to give in? Have God's critics thought up an answer yet?" (40:2). Or have we? Surely Biblical people must accept that these words are also and forever addressed to humans in our time, too. I hope it is not too late.

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Book Of Job