Christian Science

No, I am not talking about the religion called “Christian Science”.  That religion always reminds me of Grape Nuts (its neither grapes, nor nuts).  I am talking about how a Christian does science, or understands science, or appreciates science. 

This is not a question to be settled only by the people in the lab coats.  All of us are affected by science, and oft those outside the trenches are best able to take in the meaning of the battle.  I claim no expertise, then, but simply lay out my opinion for your comments and thoughts.

First, a Christian doing science will use the same methodology as anyone else doing science.  He or she will use the scientific method appropriate to the field of study.  Appeals to the bible or the viewpoints of the church (as if the church was univocal) will be totally out of place in deciding scientific questions. Nor will the Christian scientist be affected by the question of whether or not God exists.  The reason is that if God does exist, he has presumably left the area of science under investigation subject to the natural laws of physics he established.  Miracles are more the realm of the historian than of the scientist.  This combination (of belief in God and metaphysical neutrality in methodology) actually gives the Christian an advantage: He or she is able to be content with saying of some things: “we don’t know”, rather than forcing facts into ill-fitting theories that try to explain everything from a naturalistic viewpoint. 

Second, the Christian doing science or appreciating science is able to understand the picture, not just examine the brushstrokes.  I take this metaphor from the times I have stood staring at a Van Gogh at a local museum.  With my face a few inches from the glass I have wondered and been amazed at how the crazy brushstrokes conveyed the weary face of the farm worker, or the beautiful mess of the haystack.  And the crucial work of those in the lab coats is to unveil or to shine light on, the various parts of the painting.  A few, whom I will call meta-scientists, will step a few feet back and show how all the parts of the painting work together to create, not isolated images, but a blended panorama.  A Christian (or, substitute most religious persons here) are not those who see different things in the painting, but are those who can consult, as it were, Van Gogh’s diary on why he painted what he did.  They see not just the beauty of the painting, but the meaning of the painting.  They praise not only the glory of the masterpiece, but the glory of the master.

Of course, others are free to view with skepticism whether the religious folk have the real diary, or even if the painting had a painter.  But those are not scientific questions.  And the religious folks, alleged diary in hand, are free to respond, “And what is your explanation, not for what the painting is, but what it means, and how do you justify that explanation? I’m all ears.”

What is Leviathan and Why should I Care?

At the end of God’s speech to Job, He speaks for an entire chapter about a creature called Leviathan.  There is much confusion about the identification of this creature (in spite of its lengthy description) for the following reasons:

  • The word itself is simply a transliteration of the Hebrew (not a translation).  It seems to derive from a root meaning, “coiling, gliding”.
  • It’s description does not match exactly any one creature.
  • The context would seem to be a real (not mythological) animal known by Job, but the description seems to be mythical or hyperbolic.
  • The word is used only five times in the bible, and seems to have a different meaning in some of them.
  • It’s closest parallel seems to be to another being mentioned in the Bible, Rahab; This creature is equally mysterious and not mentioned by name outside of scripture.

Options, please:

A. Leviathan is a crocodile. This is supported by the following facts:

  1. It is described as being covered with something like scales or a skin impervious to puncture.
  2. It is described as having fearsome teeth.
  3. It is a marine animal, yet also can leave a trail in the mud

The weaknesses of this view are the following:

  1. Leviathan is described as a beast that none can capture, but crocodiles have always been able to be captured by skilled hunters.
  2. Related to the above, Leviathan seems to be pictured as the most fearsome beast, but few would give that description to the crocodile.
  3. Leviathan is said to breathe fire
  4. “The deep” usually refers to the sea, not swampland or rivers
  5. The parallel passages which refer to Leviathan do not fit with the description of the crocodile.

B. Leviathan is an extinct dinosaur:

  1. A number of ancient fossils describe a beast like this
  2. While these creatures would not be known to Job, God could still be describing them (and perhaps fossils of dinosaurs were known)

The weaknesses of this view:

  1. It would fit the context better if it were a being that Job had actual knowledge of.
  2. No dinosaur could breathe fire.

C. Leviathan is a crocodile (or some other animal) that is given a hyperbolic, not literal, description.

  1. This would make sense of the crocodile like features, as well as the breathing fire.
  2. This would fit the style of the book of Job (this is poetry, after all, not a zoology textbook).

However:

  1. If the point of the chapter is to show God’s greatness in what He created, it perhaps seems pointless to have an exaggerated description.
  2. The problem with the parallel passages remains.

D. Leviathan is an unknown (probably extinct) sea monster of some kind.

  1. The depths of the oceans still holds many mysteries to us

However:

  1. It stretches credulity to think of a sea monster who was able to breath fire.
  2. The context seems to demand a creature who can also appear on land, or at least the shallows.

E. Leviathan is a purely mythological being.

  1. Since no animal actually matches the description, it must be a mythical or symbolic being.

However:

  1. The context almost demands an actual created being.

F. Leviathan is a unique and somewhat supernatural being, associated in some way with Satan’s primeval opposition to God.

G. Leviathan is a real creature (like a crocodile or dinosaur), but also serves as a symbol for the evil forces opposing God’s good rule over creation.

Let’s look at these last two ideas more closely:

In addition to the description in chapter 41, the book of Job also mentions Leviathan once more:

First, in Job chapter 3, where Job is cursing the day of his birth.  He says in verse 8.

May those who curse days curse that day,

those who are ready to rouse Leviathan.

Let the stars of its dawn be dark.

 

Here we see the first thing Leviathan was associated with in the ancient mind: darkness.  Those ready to rouse Leviathan are looking to blot out the dawn or the day.  Leviathan seems to be a creature at war with the coming of light or day.

The book of Psalms mentions Leviathan twice, in very different contexts.

The first is in Psalm 79:

12 But you, O God, are my king from of old;

you bring salvation upon the earth.

13 It was you who split open the sea by your power;

you broke the heads of the monster in the waters.

14 It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan

and gave him as food to the creatures of the desert.

15 It was you who opened up springs and streams;

you dried up the ever flowing rivers.

16 The day is yours, and yours also the night;

you established the sun and moon.

17 It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth;

you made both summer and winter

This psalm is a cry for God to save His people from their adversaries.  The section here hearkens back to God’s power in His victory over his enemies at the dawn of creation.  Leviathan is described as a sea monster with several heads.  At some time associated with creation, God crushed Leviathan and gave him as food for the creatures of the desert.

Before we look at a parallel text to this, we should also look at Psalm 104:

 

24 How many are your works, O Lord!

In wisdom you made them all;

the earth is full of your creatures.

25 There is the sea, vast and spacious,

teeming with creatures beyond number—

living things both large and small.

26 There the ships go to and fro,

and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.

Here Leviathan is again associated with the sea, but is seen, not as a fearsome foe of God, but one of the animals that frolic in the sea.

The Last mention of Leviathan is somewhat surprising to us in light of what we already have read.  It is Isaiah 27:1:

In that day,

the Lord will punish with his sword,

his fierce, great and powerful sword,

Leviathan the gliding serpent,

Leviathan the coiling serpent;

he will slay the monster of the sea

Again, Leviathan is seen as some sort of sea monster, and an enemy of God.  But God’s victory over Leviathan is seen in the future, not the past.  Indeed, most Bible scholars view this whole section of Isaiah as eschatological, that is, looking forward to the final victory of God over his enemies and the establishment of His eternal kingdom.

Now, before we begin to interpret these verses, we should also point out verses that deal with a being that seemingly is associated with Leviathan: Rahab.  This being is not mentioned outside the Old Testament, but many of the ancient myths refer to a creature or force like Rahab.  The first reference is again in the book of Job (26):

10 He marks out the horizon on the face of the waters

for a boundary between light and darkness.

11 The pillars of the heavens quake,

aghast at his rebuke.

12 By his power he churned up the sea;

by his wisdom he cut Rahab to pieces.

13 By his breath the skies became fair;

his hand pierced the gliding serpent.

Here we see many of the same themes associated with Leviathan: a gliding serpent in the sea that God cuts to pieces as part of the creation process.

Psalm 89 also describes God’s power over creation and Rahab:

9 You rule over the surging sea;

when its waves mount up, you still them.

10 You crushed Rahab like one of the slain;

with your strong arm you scattered your enemies.

11 The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth;

you founded the world and all that is in it.

12 You created the north and the south;

Isaiah 51 hits the same notes:

9 Awake, awake! Clothe yourself with strength,

O arm of the Lord;

awake, as in days gone by,

as in generations of old.

Was it not you who cut Rahab to pieces,

who pierced that monster through?

10 Was it not you who dried up the sea,

the waters of the great deep,

who made a road in the depths of the sea

so that the redeemed might cross over?

This last verse also brings in another meaning of Rahab.  Rahab also symbolizes Egypt, as the enemy of God’s people (and therefore of God himself). This symbolism is brought out plainly in Isaiah 31:

6 An oracle concerning the animals of the Negev:

Through a land of hardship and distress,

of lions and lionesses,

of adders and darting snakes,

the envoys carry their riches on donkeys’ backs,

their treasures on the humps of camels,

to that unprofitable nation,

7 to Egypt, whose help is utterly useless.

Therefore I call her

Rahab the Do-Nothing.

This same identification of Egypt with Rahab is seen in Psalm 86: 4

Finally, in Ezekiel 29, the king of Egypt is described as a monster not unlike Leviathan or Rahab:

Son of man, set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt and prophesy against him and against all Egypt. 3 Speak to him and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“ ‘I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt,

you great monster lying among your streams.

You say, “The Nile is mine;

I made it for myself.”

4 But I will put hooks in your jaws

and make the fish of your streams stick to your scales.

I will pull you out from among your streams,

with all the fish sticking to your scales.

5 I will leave you in the desert,

you and all the fish of your streams.

You will fall on the open field

and not be gathered or picked up.

I will give you as food

to the beasts of the earth and the birds of the air.

See also the almost identical scene in Ezekiel 32:1-4.

Analysis:

  • It appears obvious from the above that a simple identification of Leviathan with some animal is inadequate.
  • Leviathan is equated or at least associated with another sea creature, Rahab.
  • Rahab is both already conquered by God, and yet to be conquered by God in the last days.
  • Rahab has a strong association with the sea, and sometimes seems to personify the sea in its resistance to land and human civilization
  • Both Leviathan and Rahab are also associated with darkness.
  • Rahab serves as a symbol of Egypt and Egypt’s king, enemies of God’s plan.
  • It is worth noting that Satan is described in Revelation as both a serpent and a dragon (chapters 12 and 20), and in Genesis 3 as a serpent.
  • In Revelation 13:1 the first beast is described as “coming out of the sea”. See also how the four beasts of Daniel 7 also arise out of the sea).
  • Perhaps we see two hints of all this in the first and penultimate chapters of the Bible.  Cryptically, the only day of creation which God did not pronounce his blessing on (“It was good”) was the second day, when the seas were formed. Just as cryptically, we find that Revelation 21:1 says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no more sea”.

Conclusions:

  • Leviathan is not a mythical being (totally made up), but rather a symbolic being.  God uses earthly creatures to point to spiritual (invisible) forces.
  • In the fullest sense, Leviathan stands for violent opposition to God.  This is pictured in the raging sea threatening life on land (or ships) with its stormy darkness.  Repeatedly, God’s forming of the world is described as a victory over the waters (see also Job 38:8-11).   But this is not simply inanimate resistance, but associated with the active resistance of intelligent and willful opponents of God. This is why God is described as triumphing not only over the sea (an inanimate force) but over the great monster of the sea (an animate and willful force).
  • It is this last sense that Egypt and Pharoah become apt symbols of Leviathan and Rahab.
  • It is also in this sense that the victory over Rahab is not yet complete.  Yes, Rahab as opposition to creation was defeated, but Rahab as opposition to God’s new creation (centered on a redeemed humanity) continues until it’s final defeat in the last days.
  • Option F (above) is possible. In this view a supernatural yet physical being still exists, probably in the deepest ocean lair.  This being was subdued and imprisoned there until the end of days when God will allow it to again wage war against God and will be completely defeated.  Note Job 7:12 —    “Am I the sea, or the monster of the deep, that you put me under guard?”
  • Option G is preferred. Job 41 is more than a description of God’s power in creating the crocodile or some other great being.  It is an affirmation that Satan and all the forces opposing God are totally under his control.  Job can place his trust in God because, even though his ways are mysterious to man, they are not random but part of his active plan to defeat the forces of evil.