Living Near the Edge – A Meditation on Some of God’s More Terrifying Gifts

JUne 23 blogSome of God’s gifts come in strange and terrifying packages. I was reminded of this when I read the following lines from the book of Job in the Office of Readings:

The earth, though out of it comes forth bread, is in fiery upheaval underneath (Job 28:2).

We live just above a fiery cauldron, separated from it by a thin membrane of earthly crust rife with cracks through which fire routinely flares in volcanoes, a crust that is always shifting and even shaking violently in earthquakes.

And yet, were it not for this cauldron beneath us, it seems unlikely that we would have life here at all. Volcanoes and other tectonic activity keep our soil rich and recycled. In this fiery cauldron are brewed some of our most useful minerals and our most beautiful gems. Entire island chains and land masses are formed by eruptions; geothermal energy is a resource we have just begun to tap. Many scientists think that volcanoes had a profound influence on the formation of Earth’s atmosphere and that the molten core of the Earth has an important influence on the Van Allen belts, magnetic fields that keep the harmful portion of the sun’s radiation away from the Earth’s surface.

Yes, Job had it right: some of God’s gifts come in strange packages. Earth’s capacity to bring forth bread is directly connected to the fact that it is on fire underneath its surface. And while responsible for many gifts, seismic activity has claimed an enormous number of lives and massive amounts of property.

Water, such a rich blessing and sustainer of life, can also become in a moment a destroyer of life in huge numbers. Floods and tsunamis can sweep away huge areas in the blink of an eye.

And yet who could ever deny that without water, life would be impossible? Ah, water, nothing more essential to life, yet nothing more deadly. Yes, some of God’s gifts come in strange and terrifying packages.

I have often wondered why so many cities throughout the world are built on or near floodplains or along the “ring of fire” with its frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. But of course the answer is clear enough: It is in these very areas that some of the richest soil and most abundant natural resources can be found.

God’s and nature’s most life-giving gifts are but a few degrees separated from death and disaster. We live on the edge of an abyss because that is where life is found.

It’s such a thin line, really. Mors et vita duello, conflixere mirando! (Death and life compete in a stupendous conflict!) To live is to cheat death.

All of the basic elements and forces: earth, air, water, and fire, are so death-dealing and yet so life-giving. They are all part of the great cycle of living and dying that God intends.

Only God is existence itself; the rest of us are contingent beings and part of a cycle. Only in union with Christ, who said, I am the life, will we ever cheat death. As Fulton Sheen once said, Christ gave the earth the only serious wound it ever received, the wound of an empty tomb. With Christ, and only with Christ, will we one day give the earth that same wound.

For now, we live upon a thin crust above the cauldron; beneath us burns a tremendous fire. But somehow, mysteriously, it is the source of our bread.

The earth, though out of it comes forth bread, is in fiery upheaval underneath (Job 28:2).

Yes, some of God’s greatest gifts come in strange and terrifying packages.

6 Replies to “Living Near the Edge – A Meditation on Some of God’s More Terrifying Gifts”

    1. I guess on one level the idea presented here can be disturbing to our sense of tranquility, but I find this post to contain an incredibly awe inspiring insight. It holds in juxtaposition the incredible and potentially deadly forces of Nature that can overwhelm mankind (whether in the ocean, on land or in the air (tornadoes, hurricanes)) and the sense of safety and security we mostly feel as we live and move on the earth. We often forget we are embedded in Nature, a part of it, and can even be killed by it. Isn’t it amazing that volcanoes may be spewing lava and ash in one place, refreshing the earth in violent shaking, while we are strolling through a grocery store shopping for chips in another?

      It speaks to the power of God – something so beyond us we can hardly conceive of it. It’s really food for meditation to me.

  1. What’s not reassuring in this post? it is crytal clear that: “Only in union with Christ, who said, I am the life, will we ever cheat death.”

  2. Great presentation to create interest and wonder about our magnificent earth !

  3. So many terrifying gifts, that demnad so much yet, offer so much to thoe who dare to accept the challenges.
    Consider those who’ve received a calling. Abraham was called to leave, with his flocks, the vicinity of a great culture and its available comforts and security. In the, more primitive, land there was a famine which tempted him to pass through to another great culture where he experienced problems, of his own making. Once he returned to the land where he’d been sent, he did manage to become established.
    But then, no children until he was an old man. So very important in that time and place. When the son did come Abraham was called on to sacrifice the son and wasn’t released, from the deed, until he was thoroughly committed.
    Or Jeremiah, whose initial reaction was to try and escape the calling. When he did accept it he found himself telling powerful people what they needed to hear, instead of what they wanted to hear -as was the job of all prophets to do. So, suffering the conseuences by such things as being imprisoned at the bottom of an empty cistern where he could only stand due to the muckky floor. Finally rescued and obliged to be kept in the safety of his rescuers’ stronghold, so as to be kept from the king’s wrath.
    Moses sent to lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt, and through forty years in the wilderness when he was an old man.
    Surely there’s a great reward but, so far away when the like of the bulls of Bashan nipping at the heels.

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