Sabbath Day Thoughts — “Father of the Seas” Job 38:1-18
We live in a watery world. 70% of our planet is covered by ocean. So important are the seas for the existence of life on earth that they are sometimes called the lifeblood or the lungs of the planet.
All life depends upon the water cycle that begins at sea. The ocean is warmed by the sun and water evaporates. Warm water vapor rises and condenses into clouds as it enters the cool air of the atmosphere. When clouds become filled with water, it precipitates, falling as rain or snow to fill our lakes, cap our mountains, bless our forests, and bring forth the harvest.
The ocean is equally essential in sustaining a breathable atmosphere. Scientists estimate that seventy percent of the oxygen in the atmosphere is produced by marine plants, which absorb carbon dioxide from the air and convert it to energy. At the same time, they release oxygen into the atmosphere, giving us fresh and healthy air to breathe.
The ocean is the great temperature regulator of the planet. It absorbs heat in summer and disperses it in winter. Currents within the ocean, like great rivers, sweep the globe, bringing warm tropical waters north and cool arctic waters south. For example, the Gulf Stream sweeps northward through the Atlantic, bringing warmer tropical waters, rain, and milder winters to the United Kingdom and Scandinavia. In fact, without the ocean to moderate the earth’s temperature, this planet would be in perpetual winter.
The ocean is also a haven of stunning biodiversity. Microscopic marine plants (phytoplankton) are the great base of the ocean food chain. Bioluminescent fish dwell in the watery depths of the sea, never seeing the sun but generating their own light. Enormous blue whales, the largest creatures to ever exist on the planet, live ninety years, can reach up to 110 feet, weigh more than 330,000 pounds, and eat six tons of tiny crustaceans called krill every day. How amazing is that?
One of the most essential truths that we embrace as people of faith is that God created the world and all that is in it. In pondering the ocean, we can affirm that God is a master creator with a stunning, interconnected, complex plan for the flourishing of life as we know it.
Our reading from the Book of Job offers one of many descriptions in scripture of God’s work in creation. According to Job, God spoke out of the whirlwind, remembering the birth of the ocean. The primordial waters gushed forth from the cosmic womb and into the hands of God, who shaped them and set their bounds and limits. Next, God clothed the deeps, like a newborn child. God wrapped them in clouds and swaddled them in darkness. Then, God swam through the springs of the sea and walked in the recesses of the deep.
I love this particular creation story. It affirms the truth that God is the great creator, but it does a whole lot more. In the setting of limits and the forging of bounds, we hear that bringing our oceans into being was hard and intentional work. In the holding and clothing of the seas, we hear God’s love for the ocean, like a parent tending a firstborn child. Finally, as God swims through the waves and walks upon the sea floor, we learn that God inhabits and delights in creation. Anyone who has done a little body surfing at the beach or snorkeled along a coral reef knows the joy that God experiences in the ocean. Indeed, this is a creation story that inspires both awe for the Creator and reverence for God’s watery creation.
Unfortunately, our oceans are in trouble and the problem is manmade. We have used our oceans as a dumping ground. Have you heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? It’s a floating dump in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean, two-times the size of Texas. Prevailing currents have collected trash from America and Asia into a 100-million-ton debris field. It’s an ecological catastrophe.
Plastic pollution is one of the biggest challenges to healthy seas. 17.6 billion pounds of plastic enter our oceans every year. That’s equivalent to a garbage truck load of plastic being dumped into the sea every minute. Five trillion plastic pieces weighing 250,000 metric tons are floating in our oceans right now.
Climate change greatly impacts our oceans. In the last fifty years, oceans have absorbed ninety percent of the excess heat caused by global warming. That means that ocean temperatures are rising, especially along coastlines and at the poles, where scientists say the earth is warming twice as fast as at the equator. Cold water habitats are shrinking, including places where phytoplankton grow, that most essential link in the world’s food chain. As our oceans absorb the growing carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, that increases the acidity of waters, killing coral reefs and eroding the shells of clams and crabs.
That stunning biodiversity of our seas is at risk, too. 90 million tons of seafood are fished each year. Sixty percent of the world’s fisheries are overfished and in danger of collapse. In 1992, years of overfishing led to the collapse of the Canada’s Grand Banks. 40,000 fishermen found themselves out of work. Despite a moratorium on cod fishing, the Grand Banks cod population has never recovered.
It isn’t just the fish we eat that is a threat to biodiversity. In the twentieth century, the whaling industry killed an estimated 2.9 million whales. That’s a marine holocaust. Some species, like the blue whales were reduced in population by ninety percent, putting them at risk for extinction.
It isn’t just what we fish. It’s how we fish. Trawling drags massive nets along the sea floor disrupting the ecosystem. Every year, hundreds of thousands of whales, dolphins, and porpoises are killed as they are caught and drowned in commercial nets – a practice that the fishing industry refers to a “bycatch” as if this is an acceptable by-product of the business.
If God were to speak to us from the whirlwind this morning, it would be a tale of lament. The father of the oceans would weep as their beloved child suffers. God would swim through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in disgust. God would walk the devastated ocean floor in despair. In our misuse of the oceans, we have failed to honor the creator and the creation. The lifeblood of the planet is bleeding out. The lungs of the earth are gasping for air. We have treated the keystone of creation like a sewer and a boundless resource for our personal profit. In doing so, we have threatened death to the planet. It is time to gird up our loins like adults and account for our actions. Lord, have mercy.
So, what we can do? It begins with a shift in how we see the world around us. If God is, indeed, the Creator who has birthed and delights in the creation, then we, as people of faith are called to touch the earth lightly, to carefully consider the impact of our actions upon this great web of being that God has woven. If we can live and act from a place of reverence and humility, then there is hope for our oceans.
We can all make lifestyle choices that reduce our impact upon the oceans, starting with plastics. We can stop using single use plastics like straws, cutlery, coffee cups, water bottles, plastic bags, and take-out containers. If every American just used five fewer straws each year, it would keep 1.5 billion straws out of our landfills and oceans. We can also demand that restaurants and industries use and develop plastic alternatives like compostable containers for leftovers, re-useable cloth bags for produce, and bio-degradable plastics made from corn.
We can reduce our carbon footprint and take our little bite out of global warming. If you live in town, try walking or riding a bike to run errands. If you live out of town, combine errands to make only a trip or two each week. Turn off lights when you leave a room. Better insulate your home to reduce fuel consumption. Consider turning back the thermostat at night or when you are away from home for eight or more hours – you’ll save money and reduce heat loss through your building envelope. Those of us who are carnivores can try eating less meat. Land-based proteins like beef, pork, and lamb generate methane, a greenhouse gas, as part of their digestion. If we really want to cut the world’s carbon footprint, we can make peace. War consumes massive amounts of fossil fuels, devastates the natural world, and warships release extreme amounts of waste into bodies of water, degrading marine habitats and coastlines.
We can also do our part to maintain that stunning biodiversity of the ocean. It can begin by making wise choices at the grocery for seafood that is sustainably fished or farmed. I’ve made some copies for you of Monterey Aquarium’s Seafood Watch National Consumer Guide. The aquarium monitors the fishing industry to determine which seafoods are most sustainably fished or farmed. They adjust their guide every six months so that you can trust that your fish dinner isn’t coming from fishing stocks in danger of collapse. We can also speak out about “by-catch” that murders marine mammals in pursuit of a profit, and we can only purchase tuna that is sustainably caught – look for a label saying so on the can. Finally, tell others about the importance of consumer choices for the world’s fisheries, and let your favorite restaurant know that you only want to see sustainable options on the menu.
We live in a wonderful, watery world. It’s the pride and joy of the Father of the Seas. On this Care for Creation Sunday, let’s resolve to do our part to keep the planet’s lifeblood flowing and lungs breathing.
Joe McCarthy. “How War Impacts Climate Change and the Environment” in Global Citizen, April 26, 2022. Accessed online at https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/how-war-impacts-the-environment-and-climate-change/
Alison Bailes. “If You Think Thermostat Setbacks Don’t Save Energy, You’re Wrong!” in Energy Vanguard, Feb, 17, 2012. Accessed online at https://www.energyvanguard.com/blog/if-you-think-thermostat-setbacks-don-t-save-energy-you-re-wrong.
Environmental Investigation Agency. “The State of the Ocean.” Accessed online at https://eia-international.org/ocean/the-state-of-the-ocean/
David Bauman. “State of the World’s Oceans” in UCONN Today, Feb. 10, 2016. Accessed online at https://today.uconn.edu/2016/02/state-of-the-worlds-oceans/
World Wildlife Fund. “7 Ways You Can Help Save the Oceans,” June 6, 2018. Accessed online at https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/7-ways-you-can-help-save-the-ocean
Oceana. “10 Ways You Can Help Save the Oceans” in Protecting the World’s Oceans. Accessed online at https://oceana.org/living-blue-10-ways-you-can-help-save-oceans/
Diane Boudreau, et al. “All about the Ocean” in National Geographic Resource Library, May 20, 2022. Accessed online at https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/all-about-the-ocean
38 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3 Gird up your loins like a man;
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
7 when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb,
9 when I made the clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?
12 “Have you commanded the morning since your days began
and caused the dawn to know its place,
13 so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
14 It is changed like clay under the seal,
and it is dyed like a garment.
15 Light is withheld from the wicked,
and their uplifted arm is broken.
16 “Have you entered into the springs of the sea
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.