104:1-9, 24, 35c
by Revd Rachel Carnegie, Anglican Alliance, Anglican Communion Office, London
Notes on passages
Job 38:1-7, (34-41)
The final chapters of the Book of Job describe God asking a series of questions to reveal the wonders of creation. God’s joyous creativity and delight in every aspect of divine creation are proclaimed. The description which follows shows how intimately God knows and cares about creation, his concern ranging from the smallest of earth’s creatures to the very foundations of the earth and universe, from the raven’s chick (v.41) to the stars and heavenly beings (v.7).
Earlier chapters tell the story of Job’s woes and his lament and questioning of God’s role in the world, where evil, injustice and suffering continue. God responds by presenting this vast, sweeping picture of divine power and wisdom across time and space, contrasted with the limited understanding of humanity: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (v.4) In the final chapter 42, Job acknowledges his own lack of knowledge “of things too wonderful for me (beyond me) which I did not know”. (42:3)
The Book of Job is part of the Wisdom tradition in Scripture. This reading in Chapter 28 introduces the theme of divine wisdom encompassing the complexities, meaning and ordering of the cosmos. In this description, the earth, its creatures and the elements of the universe become like characters, with their own voice, agency and relationship with to their Creator, “shouting for joy” (v.7) and calling out, “Here we are” (v.35). This is a significant corrective to the anthropocentric view of humanity’s place within creation, revealing God’s concerns and actions as concentrating on all creation, not just on humanity. The anguished lament and soul-searching born of Job’s earlier suffering also resonates with questions about the suffering of those most vulnerable to climate change – people, creatures and environments – and with the anger and grief of so many, especially young people, at climate and environmental injustice.
Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c
This hymn of creation, sometimes known as the ‘canticle of creatures’, is one of the most beloved psalms. It speaks of God’s creation in all its glorious fullness: earth and skies, water and fire, mountains and valleys, and all living creatures. Its vision of creation is linked to the narrative in Genesis 1. It begins with a vision of God the Creator (v.1-4) and then celebrates the process of divine creation, controlling the waters of chaos (v.7-9). The psalm continues to describe creation in the skies, in life on earth and in the seas and how all creatures are dependent of their Creator. The passage’s final two verses (vv.24, 35) rejoice in the richness and diversity of God’s creation: “O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made the all; the earth is full of your creatures… Praise the LORD!”
The opening verses envision the manifestation of God, ‘wrapped in light as with a garment’ and ‘riding on the wings of the wind’. This evokes a profound sense of reverence for God and also for God’s creation, with which God is intimately involved and deeply concerned. It is painful to contrast the psalmist’s delight in the abundance and variety of all creation with our current dread at the loss of biodiversity in the world.
This passage highlights the value of humility. It gives a description of the truly human ‘high priest’, whose humanity requires humbleness, dealing gently with those who are ‘ignorant and wayward’ while recognising their own weakness and sin. People cannot aspire to the priesthood; God alone can call to that honour. The passage then reflects on the high priesthood of Christ, who is the pattern for humility. “Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest”, but was appointed by his Father. Christ is shown as fully human in suffering ‘with loud cries and tears’ (v.7) and as fully divine, in being ‘the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (v.9).
In the context of our theme, this passage suggests three insights: the humility that we need to recognise, as human beings, our dependence on God and our interdependence with all God’s creation; the need to acknowledge our own failings in relation to the climate and environment, before we seek to convert others; and the calling that God is making on us at this time to bring a servant leadership to the environmental and climate crisis.
In this passage, James and John come to Jesus with a question which shows they do not yet understand what it means to be his disciple. They are seeking prestige and honour, so Jesus teaches the disciples again that to follow him truly is to lead a life of humble service and sacrifice, ‘for the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.” (v.45) Jesus compares this humility to those who are tyrants, lording it over others. (v.42)
In the context of our theme, this is a call again to humility, service and sacrifice, as we heard in the passage from Hebrews. It also raises questions about the nature of humans’ relationships not only with each other, but also with other creatures. This would question anthropocentric readings of Genesis 1, with humanity claiming dominion over other created beings. (Genesis 1:28) Even the Genesis 2 view of human beings as ‘stewards of creation’ presupposes a hierarchy, while the readings from Job and Psalm 104 show God delighting in and relating to all created beings, not just humanity. Each part of creation has its own purpose to honour God, not to serve human beings. Holding these scriptures together, humanity is called to profound humility, to recognise and repent our ‘lording it over’ the earth and failing to hear creation’s voice and honour its intrinsic worth and our mutual dependence.
Listening to the Word:
These passages read side by side offer profound insights into the nature of God’s relationship with all creation and challenge the assumption that humanity sits at the apex, to ‘lord it over’ creation. Themes echo across the readings about God’s concern for and activity within all creation. They speak of humankind’s urgent need for humility to recognise our place in the web of God’s creation. This is a place of mutual dependence, in which we are called to serve not to be served, to listen to creation’s suffering and the suffering of our fellow human beings and respond in committed and sacrificial action.
The passages from Job and Psalm 104 highlight the intrinsic value of each created being and natural element and the inter-connections between the earth, skies, seas and all creatures. It celebrates the diversity and abundance of the natural world. Each part of God’s creation has its own purpose independent of humanity; its purpose is not to serve humanity. Yet at the same time we can no longer deny our interconnectedness, as, increasingly with climate change, humanity experiences the groaning of creation, the raging fires, rising and storming seas, flooding rivers and cracking, desiccated fields.
Linking to the World:
Indigenous Christians across the Anglican Communion have created a series of videos with Prophetic Indigenous Voices on the Climate Crisis. They call out and grieve the violence done to the world and our fellow creatures and prophetically expose the illusion and self-deception that regards the earth and all in it as a resource to be exploited endlessly by humans. They contrast an extractive mind-set, which defines much of the modern economy, with one in which humanity sees itself in relationship with creation. In the theological reflection from Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, the contributors explained: “Indigenous Maori and Pacific peoples understand creation as inherently unified… Maori recognise relationship as kaitiakitanga… The concept of kaitiakitanga positions human beings in creation – not supreme masters over the earth community but as interdependent members of the earth community.”
What is God’s call?
The Indigenous Prophetic Voices videos decry the suffering of the whole planet, through climate change, bio-diversity loss and pollution of land, rivers and seas – crises which indigenous people experience and suffer acutely. These are prophetic calls to repentance, turning again to transform our attitude and approach to nature.
In his book Reality, Grief and Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks , Walter Brueggemann talks of the urgency for Christians, and society at large, to break through denial by confronting reality, to acknowledge and accept grief as a process to recognise what is being lost and broken, and to build hope out of despair by challenging and changing unsustainable patterns. In the context of the environmental and climate crisis, we hear God’s call in these passages to see the reality of our disastrous plundering of nature, to grieve and rage with a groaning creation, and to use these responses as engines to build a realistic hope in serving and healing God’s creation.
What is our response?
Today many people, especially young people, are experiencing grief and rage at the current climate situation. A young theologian, Hannah Malcolm, describes in a blog  how this emotional response is in the prophetic apocalyptic tradition and “is able to live alongside expressions of hope because it implies an awareness of an alternative way of living. Anger and grief are not just accurate expressions of reality but tools for change, reminding the hearer that this violence is a choice, or what we might call sin. As far as the community of creation is concerned, it doesn’t have to be this way. It is possible to turn back.” And, as the lectionary passages remind us, God has given us the vision of a creation living in harmony under divine wisdom, as well as a pattern, in Christ, of humble service and sacrifice for the good of all. This inspiration we carry as our hope as we engage with the issues of ecology, economy and society.
The changes that are required are not just tinkering with the current structures, but fundamental transformations on personal, institutional, national and global levels. For this we need a kind of ‘stubborn optimism’, as says the former UN Executive Secretary for Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, in her book (with Tom Rivett-Carnac) called The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis . Our faith gives us radical hope and calls us to make the right choices. Our scriptures inspire us that, with God, these changes and choices are possible.
- Prophetic Indigenous Voices on the Planetary Crisis: https://anglicanalliance.org/prophetic-indigenous-voices-on-the-planetary-crisis-update/
- Walter Brueggemann (2014) Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks
- Hannah Malcolm blog on Arocha website: https://blog.arocha.org/en/finding-words-for-the-end-of-the-world/ Also, video of her lecture on Theology and the Environment and the recent book she edited: Hannah Malcolm (editor) et al (2020) Words for a Dying World: Stories of grief and courage from the global Church
- Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac (2020) The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis
by Revd Rachel Carnegie, Anglican Alliance