So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good.”
When I read Genesis 1:21 in the New Revised Standard Version, I must confess that something quickens inside of me. The fact that God created “the great sea monsters” awakens my boyhood fascination with monsters, especially the notorious King of the Monsters, Godzilla. Though devastatingly powerful on land, Godzilla was an ancient sea monster awakened by nuclear radiation. With fearsome might, he could break ships into bits or ravage Tokyo (which seemed to be his favorite pastime). The horrifying sight or iconic sound of Godzilla would send the crowds fleeing for their lives, hoping to avoid certain destruction.
According to Genesis 1:21, God created “the great sea monsters,” which would surely include Godzilla if he or she were something other than a fictional character. Sadly, I must grant that God did not actually create Godzilla, except in the sense that God created human imagination, which envisioned this awesome monster. Moreover, I recognize that other English translations are less stunning than the NRSV. Instead of “great sea monsters,” the NIV has “great creatures of the sea” and the CEB has “great sea animals.” We wonder if the NRSV goes a bit too far with “sea monsters,” since the “great sea animals” are no doubt whales and other big ocean dwellers.
The Hebrew word in question is tannin, which could be translated simply as “whale.” But it also could be translated as “serpent” or “dragon.” Figuratively, tannin is used in Scripture in reference to God’s enemies (Job 7:12). Jeremiah can lament that King Nebuchadrezzar “has swallowed me like a monster [tannin],” while Ezekiel can speak of Egypt’s Pharaoh as “the great dragon [tannin].” Thus, for the first readers of Genesis 1, the use of tannin meant more than “God created big sea animals.” It suggested that God created even the things that are big, scary, and overwhelming. The NRSV does not, after all, over-translate tannin with “great sea monsters.” It captures a sense of the original language.
Genesis 1:21 affirms God’s creative power and therefore God’s ultimate sovereignty over all things. We may not be afraid of Godzilla and other fictional monsters, but we may very well fear the “monsters” in our lives, that is to say, the things that seem overwhelming and dangerous, the things that wake us up in the middle of the night and keep us from falling back to sleep, the things from which we wish to run for our lives. For us, these things might be cancer or job loss or social injustice or family crises. No matter what the “Godzillas” are in our lives, God is greater and more powerful than any of them. Thus, we needn’t be afraid.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
What are the “Godzillas” in your life? Do you believe that God is stronger than these? What helps you to trust God when you feel afraid and overwhelmed?
Gracious God, you have created all things. Though you are not responsible for evil, you are more powerful than any manifestation of it. Nothing in Heaven or on Earth matches your power. Nothing can withstand your might. Almighty God, we praise you for your magnificent strength.
Help me, Lord, to trust you with the “Godzillas” in my life. There are things I fear, things I worry about, things I have a hard time releasing to you. By your grace, may I be reassured today that you are all-powerful and sovereign. May I live with confidence and trust in you. Amen.