Biblical Beasts: Ostrich

Biblical Beasts: Ostrich

The ostrich is mentioned twice in the bible, once in Lamentations and once in Job. In Lamentations, the Lord complains that his people have become heartless like the ostrich, and in Job the Lord gives a caricature of the ostrich as a bird which waves its wings proudly but cannot fly. Taken together, these two passages can be understood to say something about humanity in general. Just as a bird’s freedom depends on its wings, so a man’s freedom depends on his rationality. In the case of the ostrich, we see that having wings is not sufficient for a bird to have the freedom to fly, yet the ostrich seems joyfully oblivious to the way in which most birds use their wings and the ostrich doesn’t seem to care that it is flapping its wings in vain.

Similarly, man’s freedom depends on being a rational animal, but being rational is not sufficient for man to be completely free. Man’s use of his reason can be like the ostrich’s use of its wings. Sinful man can think as much as he likes and yet can be totally unaware of and unable to reach the heights to which sinless man reaches, which is nothing other than the beatific vision in heaven. The story of our redemption is how Jesus Christ not only shows us what we can do if by grace we were to be cleansed from sin, but he can actually give us the grace to live without sin. So rather than being like ostriches which can’t fly, our nature is transformed to be like the birds that have the freedom of the heavens.

Robert Verrill OP

fr Robert Verrill  lives in the Dominican Priory in Cambridge, where he works at the University chaplaincy while completing a Doctorate at Baylor University, Texas.