One criticism that has been levelled against Christianity fairly consistently by the earth religions is that YHWH is a sky god who distances himself from the earth.
It’s one of the glaring unpaid bills of the church that few Christians even try responding to this. Many from NeoCalvinist and Dispensationalist traditions would probably even agree with the charge! However, even when we have responded, emphasising the immanence of God in nature, generally our responses have been highly theological – drawing on a few verses from Genesis and/or Psalms we’ve weaved dense intellectual arguments for YHWH as immanent creator of all creation. Rarely, however, have we interacted with this mythologically. I’ve been guilty of this myself.
Teaching my son, though, has reinforced for me the importance and power of narrative. At 3 years old he’s hardly going to remember a theological expose. If it’s going to be digestible, it’s got to be in story form. Yet, is it so much different for most adults – particularly those inclined towards retro-romanticism?
Normally we’re used to thinking about the biblical narratives as focused on the covenant, not creation; on humanity, not the ecosystem; and on a God of the clouds, not an earthy deity. It would seem we have little to draw on. No stories of nature cycles. No stories of YHWH as earth god or sea god which could balance out the popular image of him as sky god.
Or is there?
Looking at the narratives afresh, it is becoming more and more apparent to me that YHWH is constantly interacting with the gods of earth and sea as well as the sky, right throughout the Old and New Testament narratives.
Historians have previously noted that the plagues of Exodus could be read as a power encounter with the Egyptian gods (See here and here for variant synopses), that on a mythological level they can be read as a series of interactions with Hapi, Heqt, Geb, Khepfi, Apis, Thoth (Imhotep), Nut, Anubis, Ra and Osirus. What I am wondering about more and more though is why bracket that sort of realisation to one book of the Bible? The Greeks and Romans were just as pagan as the Egyptians. How might the gentiles of the first century, Christian and non-Christian, have originally interpreted Jesus’ calming of the lake, of the shaking of the earth at his death, of his cursing of the fig tree? Could they not conceivably be viewed as power encounters with Poseidon and Zeus, Gaia and other fertility gods and goddesses? Is it so inconceivable ancient pagans may have seen it that way?
And what about the rising of Jesus from his earthen tomb? Revelation explicitly talks of resurrection as a power encounter with Hades, the Greek god of the underworld and brother of Zeus, that Jesus undermines the sovereignty of Hades in his own domain. Is it conceivable that we have de-paganised these narratives too readily, and that in this post-Christendom age we need to deconstruct our readings of these texts, allowing for the excluded middle zone of gods and goddesses?
When we come to the gods and goddesses appropriated by popular culture, such as Nike, the goddess of victory, and Morpheus, the god of dreams, consider how this might relate to the resurrection stories, of the counter cultural vindication of Jesus over and against pagan authorities, and with the exile stories, with Daniel’s mastery over dreams in his encounters with the Babylonian magi.
What we see in these narratives is YHWHs mastery of the energies of earth, sky and sea, a mastery of far greater scope and depth than that of Zeus, Posidon and Hades. In understanding the relationship between YHWH and the earth, I wonder whether we focused too myopically on YHWH as ‘Creator’ and the earth as ‘creation’? Should eco-theology be so narrowly conceived of as to label it ‘creation theology’? Shouldn’t we go well beyond the Genesis narrative for our eco-stories?
What begins to emerge for me is a new, more holistic cosmology. Instead of a two (or three) tiered medieval cosmology of unearthly God in conflict with an earthy Satan, what emerges is a God of earth, sky and sea through whom the entire cosmos will be renewed (new heaven, new earth) and before whom the lesser gods and goddesses, angels and demons, are relatively powerless. But what sort of power are we actually talking about? The paradoxical weakness of Jesus nailed to the cross! The power that dethrones the gods, goddesses and governors is found in the complete vulnerability of a Galilean peasant. There is a psychic and political potentiality in Jesus/God that transcends all archetypal energies in our psyches and social forces in the world around us. In the narratives of scripture we can see shadows of Gaia and Kronos bowing down to Jesus.
4 thoughts on “YHWH as god of earth and sea”
Wow, Matt, what an excellent post!
It sounds like someone in the Christian community is starting to ‘get it!’ It won’t be long before others start to realize what is just dawning on Christians now, what Native culture has known all along. There is only one God, as they have always known, and Creation IS Him. There is no such thing as inert matter. The complexity of the Christian historical trauma is starting to unravel to show its misinterpretations based on its fortress mentality against its enemies.
This, in a nutshell, is the current search for the explanations of the need to understand the eschatology of first century Christians facing the destruction of Jerusalem. It began with the misinterpretation of the Commandment to have no other God but God. Slowly we popularly refined this to mean there was no spirit world, only God, souls, inert matter and the devil. Anything outside of the first two defaulted to the latter.
What the Church is starting to wake up to is that souls are not the only conscious entity outside of God in Creation. This human-centeredness has developed to an extreme assumption today that we take it for granted and cannot even form the questions that you point to. Gallileo may have realized that the earth is not the center of the universe, but civilization still thinks that human consciousness is the apex of the consciousness of the universe, God catering to His ‘only’ children. In this way the world remains flat. How can you see the spiritual nature of all reality when we consider it inert matter to be manipulated by science, business and individuals?
If you took the Bible to a Native holy man, or woman, and asked them to read it the way they understand Creation as ‘whole,’ they would be able to expand your exploration massively. What they understand since time began, mind culture is just waking up to now. Native culture is a wisdom culture. It never succumbed to the dominance of the mind like civilization, including religion, did. We do not appreciate what the dominant mind has done to us. It is part of our hubris that we control the meaning and look down our noses at ‘primitive’ cultures. It is inherent in the conceptualizing of everything. We take it for granted.
Your criticisms of New Age self-centeredness is quite correct. Much of it does not recognize God. As this modern, mind-man creation delves into the strange spirit world, they do not understand the extreme dangers involved. The spirit world is just as dangerous as our material one. If it is not anchored in the same God as Christianity and the Natives, it will suffer the same fault as secular man does, wanting to harness the ‘natural laws’ of the spirit world for its own limited, selfish purposes. Our knowledge culture dislikes wisdom because it cannot control it. The mindset of scientific man’s confidence in being able to control reality from the mind instead of the true heart.
This is the wedge that Christianity must ‘leverage’ (how I hate that word). It knows the true God. Jesus taught us, despite our myopia thinking that we live in dust. Yes, the spirit world exists. But simple things cannot be missed. Reactionary feminists worship Mother Earth against the masculine ‘God.’ What they don’t understand is that they can never truly know Mother Earth unless they realize She begins with her love of Father. She loves God like we do. If you ignore that reality, you plunge into the error that Christianity was actually pointing out. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t exist. But, anchored in the God of Abraham, we understand the same starting point as she does. Father is All. We are part of All. The Natives understand this. They have known it all along. New Agers are still in reaction to dominance issues stemming from the historical Church.
The kind of thing you are talking about has been there all along in Orthodox theology, and has never gone away.
Consider, for example, the blessing of water at Theophany (or Epiphany, if you prefer), or even the blessing of waters for baptism, when the priest says, of Christ’s baptism in Jordan, “Thou didst trample upon the heads of dragons that lurked therein” (a reference, of course, to Isaiah 51:9-10).
Some legalistically-minded Christians sometimes ask why Christ had to be baptised, since he did not sin. But his baptism was different from ours — when we are baptised, the water changes us. When He was baptised, he changed the water, reclaiming it for the Kingdom, and made our baptism possible. The same is seen in his walking on the water and stilling the storm
One of the accounts of the temptation (Mark’s, I think) says that he was with the wild beasts. A short phrase, but telling: he is the New Adam, come to restore the relation between man and the non-human creation. And many stories of the saints tell of their friendly relations with dangerous animals — saints rode lions, leopards, rhinoceroses, shared their lunch with bears and so on.
The word Jehovah or Yahweh doesn’t even make an appearance in the NT.
And our first creation story tells of the Elohim. Melchizadek even speaks of a higher God- El Elyon.
The prologue of St. John explains that Christ is our Creator.
Ephesians 3:9 says: ‘and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been hidden in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ!’ And Colossians 1:16 says: ‘For by Him (Christ) were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in the earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him!’
Hebrews 1:2 says: ‘God has spoken in the last days unto us by His Son, who He has appointed Heir of all things, by Whom He also made the worlds (plural)!’.
So our Creation is Christ imbued- the Earth, Sky, and Stars. His body is the body of the Zodiac. This is the Cosmic Christ of Arthurian Christianity.
Oannes is the half fish sea god- root of “John”. His name is still intoned in Christian Community churches on John the Baptister’s day.
BTW the pagans might be shocked to know Yahweh is really a feminine God.
Blavatsky calls Jehovah a Moon God, which is quite accurate. Eliphas Levi says it refers to a group of beings.
I’m inclined to suggest that part of the “obstacle” lies in the vision we have in digesting and interpreting biblical texts, as much as in intuiting the “stuff” of the creation (you, me, creatures, plants, water, gases, stars etc).
It seems to me that we can discover a “counter-intuitive vision” in Scripture, which in turn points us to the way we “see” creation and God’s actions. If you look at the prophet Isaiah you will easily detect a polemic against the idolatry of Judah, as well as the idolatry of Babylon. Once you approach Isaiah 40 onwards you will discern the polemic against the Babylonian deities. For shorthand purposes here you can see this in various oracles on idols. There are Babylonian craftsmen who take wood and stone and fashion statues of their gods, but those very craftsmen were themselves created by Yahweh; the very wood that is carved into a deity comes from trees Yahweh created.
The craftsmens’ activities are puny alongside what Yahweh does. The craftsman measures his metal statue, but Yahweh measures the whole earth. The activity of Yahweh throughout the earth is cast in a grand scale. So those in exile have circumstances “reframed” with a counter intuitive vision. On one level, yes Judah is in exile under the rule of Babylon; but Babylon is puny compared to Yahweh and kingdoms like Babylon are doomed to fail and fall; Yahweh keeps on keeping on.
Other counter-intuitive examples are like Abram. Abram “here all this land is for you and your descendants.” On one level it looks absurd because other peoples live there. But the vision offered to Abram is bigger than those circumstances. The choice is to go from “what seems to be” (the land is occupied by others) to “what is” (Yahweh’s vision).
I think you can grasp the counter-intuitive and reframing effect in Jesus’ beatitudes, in various parables, and in encounters like with the Samaritan woman.
So in approaching the activity or presence of Yahweh throughout creation, it is helpful to look for the counter intuitive vision in the texts; and then to reframe the way we peer at the stuff of creation. Part of this involves realising that while Yahweh chooses relations with humans, that Yahweh relates directly to the rest of the creation irrespective of our presence or acknowledgement. Yahweh interacts with the sea and soil and plant and creatures quite apart from interacting with us. There’s a rabbinic tradition about Leviathan (the creature mentioned in Job 38 onwards). The rabbinic point is that Leviathan is created by Yahweh, and Yahweh interacts with Leviathan. Leviathan swims in the ocean and Yahweh is delighted by how Leviathan moves and plays. Indeed the rabbinic point is that Yahweh “plays” with Leviathan; perhaps a dim analogy is how we can “play” with a cat or dog or canary.
Inside that framework also comes those “intermediary” creatures (angels, seraphim etc) who also interrelate to the creation and with us. The difficulty is when our focus goes to the intermediaries at the expense of God in Christ reconciling us.
Part of the counter intuitive vision it seems to me then is being able to shift beyond mere phenomena as classified in our neat categories. We have worked out a system of classifying rocks – igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic; we know what minerals we can find and what uses we may have for them. But is rock simply “stuff” gathered in a particular mass, chemical and atomic relationship? We can classify kangaroos as mammals, marsupials etc but is that all there is? Do we ever contemplate or even liturgically acknowledge God’s appreciation, enjoyment, relationship with this “stuff”? Do we see things from God’s vision, or just from a truncated vision of our own making?
Do we look at myth, symbol, narrative and “stuff” operating in a liturgical vision of biblically informed salvation? If we look at it dimly or through auto-soteriology, then we dumb down our quest and our appreciation by turning inwards to find answers on our own – the grave error of willfully absenting ourselves from God’s grace. Our basest motivations can make us like Faust in a pact to sell our souls.
Or the counter intuitive way is what Christ said “lose your life for my sake” and receive the divine medicine of grace.