Saturday, September 27, 2008

Genesis 1:31

By way of review, many modern Christians insist that because (in Genesis 1:31) God called what He had created "very good," that must mean that there was no predation or animal death associated with that creation. As Henry Morris has it,
There was, therefore, nothing bad in that created world, no hunger, no struggle for existence, no suffering, and certainly no death of animal or human life anywhere in God's perfect creation.
Such insistence warrants several responses.

First of all, it is worth noting that this view that animal death is bad is a very modern and urban problem. Our great-grandparents, who, if they wanted to eat meat, had to do the butchering themselves, had a much more accurate and biblical understanding of the vast differences between animals and humans (as do those who still live much closer to the land today). (In this regard, those modern Christians decrying animal death as bad have seemingly adopted some of the misunderstandings of the very evolutionists against whom they argue.) To be sure, animals (especially birds and mammals) experience pain. But they do not in dying worry about their children left behind or expect to stand before their Maker in judgment for their sins. Simply put, this view of animal death as a bad thing is a culturally-derived concept and not one that comes from Scripture.

Second (and to piggy-back directly off that last statement), where Scripture speaks of animal death and predation, God unapologetically takes responsibility for it and seems to view it as good. God tells Job that it is He who provides animal prey for the lion and the raven (38:39-41), and for the hawk and the eagle (39:28-30). In speaking of the created animals, the psalmist praises God, saying
...when You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust, When You send forth Your Spirit, they are created, and You renew the face of the ground. (Psalm 104:29-30)
So the Bible itself praises God and gives Him glory for the creation and sustenance of predatory animals; it would seem presumptuous (at best) for us to stand in judgment over Scripture in this regard.

Third, the Hebrew words translated (in Gen. 1:31) "very good" do not mean "perfect." This can be seen by the fact that the very same words are used to refer to Rebekah (in Genesis 24:16), where they are generally translated "very beautiful." Again, the phrase is used (by Joshua and Caleb in Numbers 14:7) of the land of Canaan, where it is translated "exceedingly good." Thus, the creation prior to the fall of Adam should likewise be understood as having been exceedingly good or very beautiful.

Fourth, even if we were to read into these words of Genesis 1:31 some sense of perfection, we would have to understand that perfection as applying to God's purposes for the created order. What Morris, Ham, and others do is to judge the creation (and its ecology) by their own standards. Logically, this entails the corollary view that ever since the fall we are living in a sort of cosmic Plan B. But the whole of Scripture makes clear that the central event of all human and cosmic history--the atoning death on the Cross and subsequent resurrection of Jesus--was planned from before the foundation of the Earth. (For a wonderful contrast of these two quite different understandings, I highly recommend Mark Whorton's Peril in Paradise, from which I have derived much of my understanding of these issues.) The original creation was perfect for God's purposes for it, not perfect according to the arbitrary sensibilities of modern Americans (or Australians).

Fifth, the claim being made by these well-intentioned but misguided Christians is eerily similar to one for which Jesus strongly rebuked Peter. In Matthew 16, Jesus had just commended Peter for rightly understanding that He was the Christ, the Son of the living God. But then Jesus began to share that He would go to Jerusalem to suffer and be put to death. Peter said,
Far be it from You, Lord! This shall never happen to You.
In effect, what Peter was saying was, "My view of God has no place in it for this sort of suffering!" Though we read of Jesus' rebuke of him, modern Christians are guilty of the same sort of thing: "My view of God does not include His having a purpose for millions of years of animal suffering!"

Sixth (and lastly for now), the view that animal death is bad betrays an utter ignorance of ecology and a naivete about life itself. I'll be glad to discuss this one at great length at another time, but for now let a teaser statement suffice. While it is easy to blithely talk about life without death, such life (at least given the physics of this universe) would of necessity entail no reproduction, no eating, no movement, and no metabolism.

We who are Christians have every reason to affirm with Scripture that the world God created and the life with which He filled it were--and are--"very good." But when we go on to read into Scripture our own ideas about what is and is not good, we run the risk of blaspheming the very Creator we should be praising.

(Next up... Romans 5:12.)

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