Sunday, October 05, 2008

Flinging things and thinking ships

Today, I decided to take some time and actually "study" the Bible rather than just reading it and getting a nice little thought for the day.

Every since seminary I've been wanting to really nail down the Hebrew from both Jonah and Ruth. Learning two languages in the last three years has sort of put a damper on keeping up the Hebrew (and Greek). In fact, it still is and will be until we get back to the States some time next year. And for the record, I do not believe you need to know one iota of Greek or one jot of Hebrew to read and completely understand the Bible. For me, I just enjoy "studying" the Bible in this way. It certainly is not needful/necessary. As the French say, "C'est juste mon truc" (It's just my thing).

In Jonah 1:4, the Lord is said to have "sent out," "hurl," or "flung," a great storm on the sea. I get this image of this really big hurricane, and God is so much bigger than it, that he can fling it onto the sea. I just like the word "fling," or "hurl," for a storm sent by God onto the sea.

In the same verse, the ship that the sailors were on is said to have been on the verge of breaking up. Literally, we have the ship "thinking about," "planning," or "considering" breaking up. Granted, we know that the ancient Hebrews (those who wrote and those experiencing the storm on the ship) did not believe that ships had a brain and was thinking. But the use of personification grabs the reader's attention. The ship "considering breaking up" shows how close the ship was actually was in being destroyed. It literally was on the very verge of it.

The point. God hurls storms and ships think. That's a pretty cool ship and an even cooler God.


Stew said...

"The point. God hurls storms and ships think. That's a pretty cool ship and an even cooler God."

I must differ. If God is directly responsible for storms, if he is daily intervening and causing storms, ships don't just think. They sink. People die. Innocent people. Children.

The Tsunami of 2004. Hurricane Katrina,and recently Ike. If God is responsible he must also bear responsibility for the terrifying, agonising death of children, the destruction of families.

Very, very uncool.

I apologise for dumping on you after ages of not visiting. I know it's hardly polite.

pecheur said...


HEY!!! Where have you been??? Anyway, glad to see you again.

No worries, it's not a "dumping." Your comments are always welcomed here.

Now to your concerns (or issues raised). I do not know where to start so I'll just jump in the middle and hopeful have something of a response.

First, this particular text does not address the issue of why the innocent children die, nor why the wicked adults die (or even live as here). In this story, the wicked disobedient (Jonah) actually lives. In fact, even the not so wicked pagans (probably Phoenicians) get to live. And to top it off, their boat is not destroyed (no matter how close it was to becoming destroyed). The verse in question only says that God is bigger than the hurricanes (it may have been just a real bad storm, not necessarily a hurricane) and in this particular case he flung one on the sea. We'll have to see later on if this story does address God creating storms and being responsible for their destruction (i.e. death of innocent children). He may be in both cases. But for right now, this verse only states that he has the capability of throwing massive storms around like I would a dog's toy or a kid's toy. So, that's what makes God impressive to me. I'll assign a value to that latter (when we talk about good God vs the question of evil).

The mistake I MAY have made was actually having a point to the story. It's very modern of me. I have to really try hard to not give a point. But I am willing to stick to it, even if I erred.

Second, just because this text does not address God creating storms and if he's responsible for their destruction or not, does not mean we can't discuss what you've brought up. We just can't discuss it from this particular text, since this passage does not address such questions.

Having lived on the Gulf Coast most of my life, I am all too familiar with the destruction of hurricanes. I was a part of one of the aid units after Katrina. I've personally how people's lives have been destroyed by these massive storms. I've heard the stories and seen the stunned looks on people's faces. I've handed out water to victims who only had the clothes on their back. Said all that to say, this particular type of destruction is not something I've seen only on my nice comfortable sofa, thinking oh, look, what an awful tragedy has happened half way around the world. Thank goodness I wasn't there. I've had to be able to answer the questions by people who believe in this mighty good God, the same questions you've asked. "Where was God in all this? How could this have happened? Why didn't God stop it? etc. etc. etc.

Now just because I've had to be able to answer those questions does not make me an expert.

Nobody knows. I feel this has gotten a bit long so I will stop here and continue in another comment.

Thanks for taking the time to read. I'll try to keep the other comments shorter.

pecheur said...

So picking up from where I left off above.

When I said, "Nobody knows," I was answering the questions as to why good God allowed destruction even to innocent children.

Next, why are we so concerned about the innocent children and people? Rarely do we have anyone blaming God for a storm killing their dog. Is human life that more valuable than a dog's life?

But since we all ask the question, "If God is so good and mighty, then why does He let innocent people die, or even why does he create destructive things and not take responsibility for it?" we must respond.

I am not sure (and I mean this, I am not being a butt) God in fact does create storms. Neither do I believe some evil Satan creates them either. They are created by nature. I am fascinated by the relationship of the gods (or God) to the Sea and Storms. In fact the title of this blog(Crushed Leviathan) is an assertion of God overcoming, in particular, the sea monster Leviathan. The ancient Canaanites believed that Baal (storm god) and Yam (sea god) fought. I feel I am a chasing a rabbit here so I stop.

But back to nature being the source of storms. As I remember from chemistry class, nature tends towards chaos (Yam is often seen as the chaos god too). We know Nature does not have a will or a brain. It does not go around thinking up destructive things then willing it to certain people. It just does what it does. When conditions are right, a storm is produced if people are in its path they have the chance of getting killed or hurt. It's because Nature has no will that we do not care if it destroys itself nor people. But somehow we care if God does what Nature does. But God is not Nature. He's outside nature.

It still does satisfactorily answer the question why a good God does not stop destruction.

(Again I do not know why He does not)

But if God was always intervening into Nature's "bad behavior" then what is now a supernatural intervention into nature (i.e. a miracle) would be commonplace or basically "natural." There still would be no God because all he would be doing would be a part of what happens in Nature; that is when bad stuff happens it is neutralized by God. Again, because it would be naturally for it to happen, we would not need God. We still come to atheism.

Here's is where you can really hang me out to dry. I'm ready to be taken to task on this...

God is good in that,even though he has decided not to beat nature's brutality to the punch and bail us all out of nature's trouble, he has decided to go with us through the storm, even it kills or hurts us.

He has provided a way to overcome even death, when it comes for us, whether we are innocent or not.

Thanks again for being so kind to read all this. I look forward to continuing the talk.

Stew said...

Another derail to the post :) has your study of Canaanite history made you consider that JYHW is an continuation of Canaanite mythology? I'm thinking of Genesis use of plural for God "Let us make him in our image" etc.

There is so much good stuff to discuss!

pecheur said...

I love derails, if you haven't noticed.

In fact, I am fairly confident that the Psalmist stole a Canaanite praise song and simply changed the name from Baal to YHWH.

But the Genesis use of Elohim (plural form of El, the Canaanite Father god) instead of YHWH probably is not a borrowing from Ugaritic (Canaanite) stuff. It may be Akkadian. My Genesis background stuff is rusty at the moment.

But like you said, so much good stuff to discuss!!

Stew said...

You see, this is why I can't pigeonhole you, I'm used to talking with USA fundamentalists, Young Earth creationists and inerrant bible types. Often all three in the same person - a diabolical trinity.

So; I confess that when you talk of Bible study and how cool God is I kind of expect you to fit that mould, but whoops, there you go busting my preconceptions.

When I was a believer I did a lot of Bible study, mainly using baptist commentaries. Now as an atheist I'm reading much of the Bible again and marvelling at the difference in perception. I read some sections and I can still remember how the old me reacted to those same verses.

pecheur said...

Very nice of you to say.

But who knows maybe I am a fundy in disguise.

I can see how American Baptist could turn you into an atheist. LOL =)

Oh and I'll admit the word "cool" was not the best choice. I was just being a lazy writer.

Take care