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Order and Chaos

“The sea is his and he made it, and the dry land which his hands have formed”

There are some times and moments in life when everything feels to be falling apart. Our carefully ordered and constructed world seems to be giving way.  Chaos is breaking in.  It happens when someone we love betrays us; or our lives are disturbed by illness; or we lose income; or floods or some other crisis strikes us.

In those moments we need to remember: the sea is his.  The sea in the bible is not the benign, happy symbol it is to many people in Britain.  The sea is the great symbol of chaos, darkness and disorder breaking in.  The recent floods and tidal surges have brought this kind of chaos to many in our country.

At the beginning of the Book of Genesis in the first story of creation, the earth is without form and void, chaos reigns, and the waters are everywhere.  God creates the world by holding back the waters so that the dry land can appear and be formed.  God’s work of creation is, essentially, bringing order out of chaos. The sea remains throughout the Old Testament a symbol of chaos breaking in to the settled order of our lives.

Other religions in the Ancient Near East saw the universe as a battle ground between equally balanced forces of good and order on the one hand and chaos  and evil on the other.  But Israel’s faith in God went much further.

Israel’s faith came to the place where even chaos was held in God’s hand, even the sea was his creation, even the great sea monsters were his delight and his playthings.

In moments of crisis when chaos rules, the last thing we feel like doing is praising God. Yet praise restores our perspective. As we remember who God is, we move back to the place where we can say in faith, the sea is his and he made it.  In that place we find the calm we need to make good decisions, the solid ground for action and the confidence to begin to move forward again.

“O you of little faith” Jesus once said to the disciples in the boat.  “Who is this?” they said in reply.  The sea is his

This post is one of a series of daily reflections on Psalm 95 in January, at the start of the Diocese of Sheffield Centenary Year

Highs and Lows

“In his hands are the depths of the earth and the heights of the mountains are his also”

Sometimes we praise God by appreciating who he is. We might sing “Immortal, invisible, God only wise”.  Sometimes we praise God by singing out what the LORD has done for us or for all the world. Sometimes we bring God’s greatness to mind by recalling the wonder and scope of creation.

At first reading, this is where we are in verses 4 and 5.  We have praised God’s greatness and now we go on to see that greatness laid out in creation. If the depths of the earth are in his hands, how great must God be?

Take a moment to appreciate God’s greatness in creation.  Imagine the deepest valleys and the highest mountain ranges and remember that nothing and nowhere is outside of God’s creation.  But don’t stop there.

For this verse of the psalm and the next are not just about creation.  The picture of depths and mountain tops are also symbols of the highs and lows in our lives.  There is more than just geography here.

The psalms frequently use this kind of symbolism. Zion (or Jerusalem) is called a mountain.  Jerusalem is indeed built on a series of hills but not very big ones.  The point is that it is spiritually a high and important place where God dwells.  Psalm 23 talks about spiritual experiences in relation to the landscape – the valley of the shadow of death is a hard and difficult place but the psalmist finds God’s love and strength even there.

The New Testament picks up these pictures.  Jesus leads the disciples to a mountain top experience at the transfiguration and then back down into the valley to deal with the daily reality of life.  Paul writes in Romans that “height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (8.39).  In Ephesians Paul prays that we might be able to comprehend “the breadth, length, height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (3.18).

Our Christian faith and the joy God brings is not just for sunny days and mountaintop experiences.  In his hands are the depths of the earth.  His love is with us in the depths of human desolation. The LORD has been there and is there with us.

This post is one of a series of daily reflections on Psalm 95 in January, at the start of the Diocese of Sheffield Centenary Year