A Lesson from the Ostrich – Job 38:17

 February 13, 2019

Each Monday morning I spend an hour in quiet contemplation at the adoration chapel at St. Joseph church. I love this time. Time to just sit with God and see what God has in store for me. I usually read the psalm that I am blogging about that week. Little did I expect to learn a lesson from the ostrich!

The Book of Job

This past week as I sat reflecting on Psalm 58 and coming up with nothing, I chanced upon a reference to Job. Upon reading this passage, I felt called to read more. I read the first three chapters that set the stage. If you aren’t familiar with the story, God is chatting with the heavenly court when Satan stops by after roaming the earth. God says to Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job, and that there is no one on earth like him, blameless and upright, fearing God and avoiding evil?” (9)

Satan tells God he saw Job but he wasn’t impressed. After all, God has surrounded him with many blessings, a large family and prosperity. “But now put forth your hand and touch anything that he has, and surely he will blaspheme you to your face.” (12) Satan challenges God and God accepts the challenge. He gives Satan power over Job to bring harm to him, first to his family and possessions, finally to his body. Job’s seven sons and three daughters are killed when a building collapses upon them.

Job’s three friends join him and sit shiva for seven days of mourning as proscribed by Jewish custom. They sit in silence. After seven days, Job speaks. That was a mistake. Once Job opened his mouth, that opened the door for his friends to speak, and speak they did, pouring out long discourses on why Job was suffering.

God Speaking through a Whirlwind

I skipped over the discourses in order to get to the heart of the book, God speaking out of a whirlwind. God utters beautiful poetry about the world and all creation. He talks about many different animals.

At one point he mentions the ostrich. “For God has withheld wisdom from her and has given her no share in understanding.” God has withheld wisdom from her and so she didn’t worry or fear about her eggs. She just leaves them in the sand and goes on her way. She does what is in her nature to do.

The Lesson from the Ostrich

Now this is not the same as saying she buries her head in the sand, but perhaps this is where the saying originated. An ostrich doesn’t bury its head in the sand and hope to thereby escape danger. The ostrich buries her eggs in the sand. Now and then she will stick her head in the sand to check on them and turn them, as any good parent would do. Also, if real danger threatened, the ostrich is more than capable of outrunning most predators. As God says, “Yet in her swiftness of foot she makes sport of the horse and his rider.” (Job 38:18) And at an average of 300 pounds, ostriches would be formidable foes if they chose to stand their ground and fight. A kick of their long legs can prove deadly.

My problem is that, because I have understanding I worry and fear about everything. As I wrote in another post, if it can be worried about, it must be worried about. If only I could turn off my brains at times, I wouldn’t worry so much. But it is in my nature to worry, so worry I must, just as it is in the ostrich’s nature not to worry.

This gift of understanding that is ours because of Adam and Eve is also a curse. It is the curse of wanting to know, struggling to understand that which we simply can’t understand.

How Can We Know the Mind of God?

When God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind, he doesn’t give him an explanation. Rather he asks Job, who is he to question God? Was he there when the earth was created?

How can we know the mind of God? It is so far beyond our understanding. It would be easier for the ostrich who has no understanding, to understand our minds, than for us to understand God’s mind.

Job doesn’t get an answer to his question, yet he is content with what he received. He asked God to show himself, and God did that. God gave him an experience of his majesty, just a glimpse, and that was enough. In the same way, when I struggled in my twenties to understand suffering in this world and railed at God about it, I didn’t get an answer, and yet I received an experience of God’s great compassion for humankind. That was enough.

Some things in life we simply cannot understand. No amount of arguing and debating will provide adequate answers. In those situations, we need to learn a lesson from the ostrich, not worrying so much about matters about which we have no understanding.

What have you questioned God about? Did you get an answer? I would love to hear from you!

The wings of the ostrich beat idly; her plumage is lacking in pinions. When she leaves her eggs on the ground and deposits them in the sand, unmindful that a foot may crush them, that the wild beasts may trample them, she cruelly disowns her young and ruthlessly makes nought of her brood; for God has withheld wisdom from her and has given her no share in understanding. Yet in her swiftness of foot she makes sport of the horse and his rider.” Job 38:13-18


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One response to “A Lesson from the Ostrich – Job 38:17”

  1. Lol! I needed to read this again! I’ve been spending hours on the phone with my insurance company, doctor’s office, and hospital billing. Trying to understand why a procedure was denied. Some people would just give up and pay the bill, but not me. I want to know! I’m struggling to understand that which can’t be understood – Health Insurance!!! It’s a quagmire.

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