There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number—living things both large and small. (Psalm 104.25)
The Most Sacred Substance
While Creationists and Darwinists bicker over the origin of life, both agree water existed before it began. Evolutionists cite water as the medium in which life spontaneously erupted and developed. Although their opponents differ regarding what transpired in the water, they concur it was there from the start, based on Genesis 1.2: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” The implicit agreement between such dogged foes startles us with water’s distinction as the only tangible substance that predates life. We accept it as the basis of life, so much so we can’t conceive life existing anywhere without it. Yet very seldom do we consider water as our tactile connection to eternity and, hence, the divine.
Pass your hand through an open tap stream. Go to the river’s edge and scoop up some water. You have touched a thing older than time, a thing possibly as old as God, since we have no Biblical or scientific explanation for its genesis. Water is as impervious to time as its Maker. It exists in a closed cycle of evaporation and condensation that enables it to permeate the landscape and atmosphere. Like God, it flows where it will, rests where it will, and inhabits infinite forms, yet in all of them it remains invulnerable. It’s impossible to manufacture, contain, or destroy. When an organism dies, its water departs and reenters the life cycle. Thus, the water we taste, see, and feel is the same water that covered our planet from the start. It’s the water that felt God’s Spirit brush its surface. It’s the water that flowed in Eden’s delta, deluged Noah, obeyed Moses, and washed over Jesus in baptism. It’s the same water. Water is, has always been, and will forever be the most sacred substance on Earth. Why don’t we get that?
Tampering with the Tabernacle
Nowhere is water’s majesty more visible than the sea. By extension, nowhere do we find a clearer reflection of God’s creativity and energy. Like the water it contains—and the God it reflects—the sea has a life of its own that the rest of Creation draws from and is drawn to. It is, in every way, the reservoir of life and everything that occurs on the planet is made possible by it. The moisture rising from its surface collects in the sky to be transported across the land, where it rains down growth, sustenance, and refreshment. Then, in a miraculous feat of divine gathering, water that escaped the sea makes its way home, carving through mountains and plains, creating climates and terrain to support the planet’s vast diversity of organisms—or, in some regions, fostering diversity of life by its absence. Regardless where we are on the planet, the sea’s journey to and from us affects our lives.
Then there’s the sea itself—a universe we glimpse into and try to understand but can never inhabit. It’s a fearsome thing of astonishing beauty and resilience. Its majesty is displayed in immense tranquility as well as overwhelming ferocity. Because it is at once so familiar and yet completely alien to us, because it’s composed of Earth’s most sacred substance and filled with life forms older than we (another detail we all can agree on), the sea becomes the preeminent place to behold our Maker’s majesty. When Psalm 104’s poet extols the magnificence of Creation, he writes, “There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number—living things both large and small.” (v25)
To be sure, all Creation reveals God’s nature and handiwork. All of it should be revered and cherished. But the sea’s prominence as giver and sustainer of life sets it apart as a tabernacle housing God’s majesty in all its mysterious wonder. And when our greed, curiosity, or convenience leads to tampering with the tabernacle on any scale, we shouldn’t expect to be rewarded. So while we can, and should, loathe BP’s recklessness, we’d do well to drop our stones, because none of us is sinless in this matter. We’ve all, at some point, in some way, put self-concern above reverence for the sea and the planet it nurtures.
The Wisdom Narrative
It’s common knowledge Genesis provides two (markedly different) Creation accounts. It’s seldom noted, however, that Proverbs 8 offers a third version we might call “The Wisdom Narrative.” As far as I know, it’s the only first-person testimony we have, other than God’s occasional mention of our origins. Here, “Wisdom” tells the story, prefacing it with, “I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began. When there were no oceans, I was given birth.” (v23-24) The narrator goes on to describe the fashioning of the heavens, seas, and land, adding, “Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” (v30-31)
Of course, this is Solomon taking poetic license. Yet as believers striving to get our arms around our environmental responsibilities, we should incorporate his version into our awareness. Solomon tells us wisdom is older than water, which makes it key to environmentally sound behavior. Was it wise for BP to expedite deep-sea drilling without heed to warnings, precautions, and contingencies? No. Are we any wiser in ignoring warnings, precautions, and contingencies attached to goods and services we use or habits we’d rather not break? No, we are not. In light of the disasters we’ve seen of late and ongoing tragedies we’ve abetted, Wisdom’s closing remarks in verses 34-36 are chilling: “Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the LORD. But whoever fails to find me harms himself; all who hate me love death.”
The sea is the tabernacle where God’s majesty is displayed in all its wonder. Tampering with it on any scale is not wise.