Blue Planet, Blue God: The Bible and the Sea is the result of an unusual writing partnership: Meric Srokosz is an oceanographer, and Rebecca S. Watson is a biblical scholar. Together they have written a book that explores biblical views of large bodies of water (oceans, lakes, rivers) and puts these into conversation with contemporary ocean and climate science. The result is both informative and captivating. The biblical exegesis and the scientific discussions stand on equal footing; Srokosz and Watson do not attempt to make the Bible more “scientific” than it is, nor do they use science to illustrate or prove points derived from their biblical analysis. Instead, they draw broad thematic links between the two. For example, they follow a discussion of the scientific concept of chaos, including its role in sustaining life, with readings of biblical texts that grapple with human vulnerability in the face of overwhelming forces, be they oceans or hostile empires. The two kinds of chaos are not equated, but rather compared in order to generate creative engagement with both. They argue that although chaos is not bad—it is in fact necessary—it can nonetheless undermine human life. They highlight ecologically harmful attempts to control chaos, and offer in their place both practical and religious means of coping with life in an unpredictable world.
Though Srokosz and Watson occasionally make overtures to non-religious readers, the primary audience for the book is Christian and non-specialist. It makes a perfect study for a church book club and would also work well in an undergraduate or seminary class on the Bible and ecology (to aid group study, each chapter ends with a summary of the key point of their discussion, the challenges raised by the chapter, a set of discussion questions, and a list of practical actions, with helpful online sources in the notes). The book is unapologetically religiously committed; in a political environment in which religious commitment and scientific seriousness are often at odds (I’m writing in the US), it is refreshing to read a book that apologizes neither for its faith stance nor its scientific arguments. Srokosz and Watson save their efforts to convince readers in the “challenge” and “action” sections of each chapter. These sections focus on current threats to the health of oceans and lakes: global warming, acidification, microplastics, overfishing, water-intensive agriculture, and so on. The biblical exegesis and the scientific discussions together direct readers to one overarching question: “How then are we to live?” (229).
For a book that is so suited to group study, the “action” sections are surprisingly individualistic. Many of their suggestions target individual consumption (they speak both of attitudinal and behavioral changes) and though these changes are all good (it certainly would help if we used less plastic bags and consumed less beef), climate change has reached a point where larger-scale, communal changes are vital. Towards the end of the book, Srokosz and Watson write that “faith can have an especially valuable role to play in [the] context [of environmental problems]” (233), and they cite several studies that encourage faith communities to become involved in environmental activism. Some suggestions for how congregations and denominations may leverage their networks for environmental activism would be helpful, as well as examples of groups that are already doing this. The suggestions they give are helpful in their attainability—anyone reading this book should be able to find action points that they can implement—but a clearer sense of where to go next, after you’ve decided to recycle, bike to work, and bring canvas shopping bags to the grocery store, would have added to the book’s value.
This is a minor quibble. Overall, the book communicates a vibrant love for and knowledge of oceans, a keen engagement with biblical texts that relate to oceans and waterways, and an urgent appeal for more responsible forms of human life and consumption. I suspect that many readers, like me, will come to the book with the assumption that the Bible is primarily hostile to oceans (I learned in seminary that the ocean was a symbol of chaos and death), but Watson and Srokosz present a more nuanced picture. Yes, oceans and waters sometimes symbolize chaos in biblical texts, but they are also associated with life-giving streams, sustenance, teeming abundance, divine delight, and frolicking play.
Mari Joelstad is Research Associate at the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University.
Date Of Review:
January 30, 2018
Meric Srokosz is Professor of Physical Oceanography at the National Oceanography Centre (NOC), Southampton working on biological-physical interactions in the upper ocean, remote sensing of the oceans, and waves. He is a former Associate Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion (2012-2015). He initiated the “Sea in Scripture” project while at the Faraday Institute.
Rebecca Watson is Research Associate at the Faraday Institute in Cambridge and Dean of Studies at St Hild College, Yorkshire. She is a member of Council of the Archbishop’s Examination in Theology, and of the Committee of the Society for Old Testament Study.
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