Thursday, August 22, 2019

Listen, and I will tell you a story

There’s an old, old story from the ancient near east, from a world that overshadowed the people of Israel for hundreds of years. In essence, it goes like this: the fresh-water god married the salt-water goddess, and together they had offspring. Their pre-eminent son murdered his father, and, in an epic battle, killed his mother and made the world from her carcass.

The Bible tells this story, too, but tells it different. Here, instead of an usurping god who fights, defeats and kills his parents, we are presented with the King of the Universe, the Lord of lords, who calms his creatures, the fresh-water god and salt-water goddess, not by wrestling them into submission but by listening to them.

We see this in the speech this Sovereign creator God makes to Job, towards the end of the book that bears Job’s name, where God speaks of the Behemoth and the Leviathan. Our English translations have all but domesticated these into the fresh-water hippopotamus and salt-water crocodile; but, even to the ancients, these are hardly beyond the skill of hunters working together. No, these are great and powerful spirit-beings, gods. And they cannot be tamed by might.

In a world where Yahweh, the God who becomes the god of Israel, made all that is, seen and unseen; and in which we see the consequences of rebellion against God among gods and men; God’s great act is to listen. To listen to the rage, the pain, the shame, that causes various beings to lash out, to act listen, until the fury is spent, and harmony is restored. To listen, even to rebellious gods, to the beings we call demons.

That is stunning.

Moreover, this same God calls on his people to do likewise: “Hear, O Israel...” Listen.

Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your strength and with all your soul...And you shall love your neighbour as yourself.

To listen to another is the most powerful thing, the most divine thing, it is possible to do, in all the universe.

And the book of Job sets this revelation up through chapters and chapters of exercises in not listening, in piling on layer upon layer of shame; while God, listens, and we are invited to listen-in.

In effect, the book of Job is a re-telling of Genesis chapter 1, in the present continuous.

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