Bible Quizzes for Smart People XVII
Bill Long 1/6/07
1. "And the sea was no more."
That's it. Just those words. Actually, this question should have been placed with my "Movies" quizzes (here) because this quotation was said by the priest in Titanic as he and others were clutching to him and the sides of the ship as it was rearing up to a 90 degree angle before plunging into the icy waters of the North Atlantic. I didn't much like that film when it first came out because of its overly dramatic camera effects. That is, I felt the director "tried too hard" to make his point. But Titanic, like Shawshank Redemption and others, has made it to what I call the "frequent rerun circuit," and now I rather like it. I can be entertained for up to twenty minutes at a time by it, I think. Well, this dramatically poignant Scripture was spoken by the priest right before the sea claimed the lives of most of the passengers. It dramatically captured the deepest longing of people at their time of need--that they would be delivered from a watery grave. But which Scriptural book speaks of a time when the sea will be no more, and what is the context of those words?
2. "Thou destroyest the hope of man," KJV. The NRSV has it in nearly the same words: "so you destroy the hope of mortals."
This is one of the most hopeless verses in the Bible. It is spoken in one of the classic poems of Western literature, where the author speaks patiently about his hope, the way that nature teaches lessons about hope, his loss and the way that nature itself also teaches lessons about loss. Though nature comes back to life every year, thus giving us a sense of renewed hope when we are in our dark or unproductive days, nature also erodes away the seemingly indestructible features of the world. The moutain falls and crumbles away, the rock is removed from its place; the waters wear away the stone and torrents wash away the soil of the earth. Then, the author says: "So you destroy the hope of mortals." Our hope is evanescent, even though it might appear like the mountain. Eventually it, and we, gets worn down, and we only feel the pain of our own bodies. Where is this most bleak assessment of the human condition and of God's role in it (the "Thou" or "you" in the text refers to God)? Do you have any response to it?
3. "so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect."
What a contrast this verse is to the preceding! It is as if we have moved out of a dank, cramped place with stale air and noxious fumes to a verdant valley, with streams and other accoutrements of pleasant living. Just as the context is important to understand the full import of the preceding quotation, so you need to know the larger literary context of this verse to understand its buoyant appeal. To give you a "hint," then, you should know that the author of these words has just told us about lots of virtuous people in whose company we some day shall be. The reason this verse always tugged on my heart, however, is the sense in it that the virtuous people from of old will not be "made perfect" without us. It is as if God is holding up the denoument of his plan, the resolution of history, until we are included in it. The ship is about to leave the dock, but there still is room in it for us. By using these words, the author is giving a protreptic, a sort of an exhortation, to the hearers to keep the faith in tough times.
4. "Tabor and Herman joyously praise your name."
One of my favorite hymns growing up was "This is My Father's World." It was beloved of New England Congregationalists of the early to mid-20th century, for it reflected the optimism of the time. The poem was composed in the 17th century, but it wasn't put together with the music until 1901. Here are the lyrics of the first verse:
"This is my Father's world/ And to my list'ning ears/
All nature sings, and 'round me rings/ The music of the spheres./ This is my Father's world:/ I rest me in the thought/ Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas--/ His hand the wonders wrought."
The philosophy of the Scriptural quotation is shared by the author of the lyrics. Nature sings, the music of the spheres (actually a concept from Greek philosophy) gently rings around me. God is visible in the wonderful works of nature. Though quotation 2 above talks about the brutal lessons taught us by nature, this verse talks about the way that two of the prominent mountains in the Holy Land majestically praise God. The author doesn't mention what it is about the mountains that praises God. Perhaps it is, like words in another hymn,
"Thy justice like mountains high soaring above,
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love."
Does this Scripture more accurately capture your approach to nature than # 2 above? In any case, where is this from, and what is the overall spirit of the passage from which it is taken?
5. "for he trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible; and we shall be changed," KJV. The NRSV is similar, "For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed."
Again, I hear Handel when I quote this verse. It is not the only place where trumpets enter into the action at the end of time, but it is one of the more memorable. For example, another one is this: "For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first." Where is that Scripture? The bolded one above also appears in Handel's Messiah, in Part III, near the end of the piece. I will never forget the power of the words "we shall be changed" for GWF Handel. The tenor, I believe it is, sings these words about five or six times without pause, running the scales, until he sings once more, triumpantly, "And we shall be changed." Once this happens, the Oratorio quickly proceeds to the end. Death is now swallowed up in victory. Its sting no longer reaches us. Praise is due to God. That is how the mind of GWF Handel worked. So, where is this verse from? Do you like it as much as Handel seemed to like it?
Thank you for joining me in this quiz.