The Sea and Its Limits

Chaos is a particularly terrifying form of evil. It is, by definition, unpredictable. And that’s what makes it so unbearable. You have no idea what will happen next. Chaos could be anything from a house full of hyper children to a global pandemic. You would rather know what is going to happen next, even if it’s something bad. If you know that the worst thing that will happen is that a child breaks grandma’s antique vase, at least you know nothing worse will happen, and you might even be able to prevent the vase from being broken. But chaos means you have no idea what will happen. You can try to prevent every possible negative outcome, but there are too many, and it’s overwhelming.

One aspect of our current pandemic that makes it so difficult is the chaos of it. No one really knows how many people will die. No one really knows how long it will last. And no one really knows what life will be like when it’s over. We have experts who can make models of the spread or predictions of the economic consequences, but the wisest and most honest of them admit that they don’t really know what will happen. At best, they can make educated guesses, and this is helpful. But what we really have is chaos. No one really knows what will happen, and no one is capable of stopping whatever that may be.

In Hebrew thought, the sea epitomized chaos. This idea goes back to the creation account. Before God spoke everything into existence, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Gen. 1:2). Notice, the earth was (1) formless and (2) void. So God’s creative action not only brought matter into existence, but also gave structure and order to the new material world. Virtue is to be in step with God’s order for the world, and chaos (or evil) is to be out of step with his order. It’s to go back to the state of “the face of the waters” before God brought order through creation. Since the fall into sin, the seas have always epitomized chaos and disorder. Especially in the ancient world, before we had massive steel ships the size of cities, the sea was a frightful place. There was a reward in trying to traverse it, because it was the often fastest way of transportation, but every sailor knew the danger, unpredictability, and chaos of the sea. No one can tame or control it, but only hope to survive it. So in Hebrew thought, the sea epitomized chaos.

But God claims to be the one who set limits to the sea. In Job 38, when God finally answers Job’s complaint, he says to him,

“Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb, 
when I made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band, 
10 and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors, 
11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?”

Job’s world had turned to chaos. This once prosperous man lost his wealth, his health, and even his children. He didn’t know why, and he didn’t know where the chaos would stop. But he also did not know that God had set a limit to his troubles before they even started (Job 2:6). God never told Job why he was suffering or where he set a boundary to the chaos, but he reminded him that he is the one who set limits to the sea. He is the one who pushed the ocean floor down, pulled the dry ground up, and authored the law of gravity to keep the lethal water within its prescribed limits.

And just as God set limits to the chaotic sea, so he also sets limits to every evil we may encounter. The struggle for us is, just like Job, we don’t know where those limits are. But we do know who authored those limits. We don’t know where it is, but there is a coronavirus boundary, and we know who set it. We also know his disposition toward us, because he loved us enough to not spare his own Son from us (Rom. 8:32). He does not hide himself from the evil we endure, but he endured all of it with us and for us. Furthermore, he has ordained an end to the sea. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Rev. 21:1).

The peace of Christ be with you all,

Pastor Dan