"Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? ... Tell me, if you understand."
- Job 38:4-7
No, Lord, we dont understand.
"Be fruitful and multiply, and subdue the earth," you told the finest of your creation, and the creature obeyed (Genesis 1:28). Today, the multiplied creature exceeds the stars of the sky and the sands of the earth, but we didnt stop there.
We multiplied the plants and animals on the tiny section of earth where our life began and searched for more lands to subdue, but we didn't stop there.
We crossed mountain and sea to locations no man had gone before. We toiled with the hands and strength of our bodies. We fashioned tools and refined and multiplied the fruit of our labors. We increased in wisdom and in skill and learned to prolong our lives.We shared the knowledge we gained and the fruit we multiplied with the world. We plumbed the depths and soared the skies, and subdued all the earth we knew, and thought: "There must be more."
So we strained at the limits of our knowledge and aimed our finest tools and minds toward the heavens. Now we mourn the seven who dropped like falling stars from the sky, and try to understand. Did we go too far? Did we know too little? Should we reach for the outermost again?
Our questions, on the heels of the president's message linking the fallen astronauts to the stars which God numbers and calls by name (Isaiah 40: 26), reminds me of Job, the Bible's supreme questioner.
Job couldn't think of anything he had done to deserve the string of calamities that fell on him. He was a good man; he loved God with his whole heart. Yet, in rapid succession, he lost his children, his sheep, his camels, his servants, and his health. Only his wife and friends were left, and they were convinced Job had brought his troubles on himself.
Job never denounces God, but when his spirits are the lowest he asks, "Why?"
"My days of suffering grip me (and) my gnawing pains never rest I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer... . Have I not wept for those in trouble? Has not my soul grieved for the poor? Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness... . My harp is tuned to mourning" (Job 30: 16-30).
God comes to visit Job and reminds him there is much he doesn't understand because there is an unfathomable difference between the creature and the creator. No matter how wise the creature is, he can't "lay the foundations of the earth, set the stars in the heavens, cause the rain to fall, or send the lightning bolts on their way" (from Job 38).
Finally Job understands. "Surely," he responds, "I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know" (Job 42:3).
While the Columbia was still in orbit, six of the crew members were startled to see the entire reflection of the earth in astronaut Kalpana Chawla's eye. Is there a better example of the difference between the creature and the creator than that?
The loss of the Columbia and her fine crew may be beyond our ability to understand, but perhaps wondering why such a tragedy occurred isn't the answer we seek. If, from a far corner of the universe, the planet earth is no larger than a human eye, the question asked by the Psalmist may be more appropriate:
"When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him?" (Psalm 8:3-4).
Among the many assurances that God has made is this one: "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4).
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to seabara@ aol.com.)
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