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(Blog) From the Pews: Behold the Hippo

From the Pews offers members of the UCiM community an opportunity to share their own faith journeys, questions, challenges &/or doubts. We invite you to walk with our Brothers & Sisters & share your feedback and thoughts. And, should you be so moved & feel you too would like to contribute to this aspect of our ministry, please contact Dea. Richard! He would be excited to walk with you, & support your 500-800 word submission, which might include your own photo to accompany the blog and a brief 2-3 sentence description as to who you are!

A thoughtful man recently said to me, “Have you ever noticed how, when we quote the Bible in church, it is always the nice, gentle passages? But there is a lot of other stuff in the Bible that is not so nice. Why don’t we talk about those parts too?” It seems to me he has a good point, and it seems especially appropriate as we once again come to Earth Day. On Earth Day we tend to celebrate the beautiful and majestic about nature, and the lovable and cuddly about animals. But nature is like the Bible; there is a lot of nasty stuff in it.  There are earthquakes and volcanoes and tsunamis in nature, as well as flowery meadows and gorgeous sunsets. There are deadly viruses and ticks and mosquitoes as well as birds and butterflies. But we do not often celebrate that other side on Earth Day. In fact, we regard those nasty things as our enemies. Maybe we are a bit one-sided.

That was in my mind as I was reading an article in Christian Century by Calvin DeWitt, a professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin. It is entitled “Behold the Hippo,” and it is based on a biblical text we rarely read in church on Earth Day or any other time, Job 40. That is the place where the writer has God finally speak to long-suffering Job, only to tell him to shut up look at the world around him. Now that is kind of harsh, you might think, considering that Job has, through no fault of his own, lost his spouse and children, and been afflicted with a skin disease that makes him a horror to all his remaining friends. But God is unsympathetic. “Where were you when I made all this?” God demands of Job. Then God directs Job’s attention to several aspects of Creation, including a creature called Behemoth.

It turns out that the Hebrew name “Behemoth” is, in English, “Hippopotamus.” Thus the title of the article. This is what God has to say about the hippo in Job 40 (NRSV):

Look at Behemoth,
which I made just as I made you;
it eats grass like an ox,
Its strength is in its loins,
and its power in the muscles of its belly.
It makes its tail stiff like a cedar;
the sinews of its thighs are knit together.
Its bones are like tubes of bronze,
its limbs like bars of iron.
It is the first of the great acts of God…

Now I have seen hippos in zoos, and there they can be amusing to watch. But I have been told that there is nothing amusing about confronting them in the wild; if, say, one is attempting to steer a boat up a river where they make their home. There is nothing cute or loveable about them. And they are useless to humans, except perhaps as a lure to adventure tourists in some impoverished nation. But, according to the Bible, the hippo is “the first of the great acts of God.”

So there it is. Job presents us with one of those Bible verses we tend to avoid, one in which God tells an innocent suffering human to suck it up and see the Big Picture. This part of the Bible directs our attention to one of those passages in the Book of Nature that we tend to overlook on Earth Day. Let’s be real with the Bible, and not ignore all those parts we don’t like. And let’s be real with Earth Day. We celebrate “all things bright and beautiful,” yes. But let’s not ignore the dangerous and the useless, because, among them, we find “the first of the great acts of God.” After all, as Job learned, it’s not all about us. Behold, the hippo!

John Badertscher is an old guy
who sometimes wears sunglasses
in a futile effort to look
like Jack Nicholson.

From the Pews blog


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