Mainstream Christian belief is that we live in a fallen world, in the sense that the natural creation is dysfunctional and responsible for natural evil. Some theistic evolutionists reject the fall as a factor (or reject the fall altogether!), but still see the creation as tainted by death and sin, the latter understood as meat eating, parasitism, animal suffering and so on. They sometimes invert the Biblical picture and say that this imperfect creation resulted in mankind’s sin. I disagree.
Either way, this dysfunction would be a pretty key factor in life, and so the corruption of nature ought to be a major theme in the Bible’s teaching, right? In fact, it isn’t mentioned at all.
Apart from the huge effects on human life, and the marring of our view of God through his handiwork, the fall of nature would require a new series of creative acts on somebody’s part, introducing violent inanimate events, and redesigning the entire realm of life to encompass predation, parasitism and death. This might have been God in judgement, Satan in rebellion or nature itself in corruption (begging the question of where nature got the power of self-organisation). In fact, nothing like this is ever mentioned in the Bible, Old or New Testaments. It’s a non-biblical doctrine. It’s unfounded. It’s just wrong.
Today I’m going to look at as much as I can in a small compass of the Bible’s actual teaching on the matter, and return on another occasion to deal with passages often cited against my conclusion, and on a more Scriptural view of human affliction. I’m assuming the truth of deep time and evolution over time throughout, because that’s what I believe the evidence shows.
Genesis 1, nobody denies, calls the original creation good (contra the TEs above). This does not mean perfect but suited to purpose. Nevertheless it does not mean dysfunctional or corrupted either. One could argue that this says nothing about the post-fall world, but thats not so if John Walton’s interpretation of Genesis as a functional temple-inauguration account is true, as I’ve argued elsewhere. If it is, then the events of Genesis 1-3 occured in relatively recent times, when we know things like predation were long established. It is not a story of material origins. So we can say creation was good even when men lived upon the earth. No dysfunction there, so no dysfunction in the fossil record either.
The primary evidence for the fall is Genesis 3, so what does it teach about nature’s fall? Nothing. There’s a curse on the snake, with no definite anatomical change and from the dietary point of view, it begins to eat dust, not meat!
Theres a curse on childbearing and marriage, though some commentators consider this to mean kid trouble rather than obstetric problems. In any case, it affects only womankind.
Theres a curse on the man’s work and the ground puts forth thorns and thistles. Given that he is also excluded from a cultivated garden to the wild land outside, no change to vegetation is necessitated, and even if it were it would be restricted to thorns and thistles, hardly the worst of natural evils. In addition mankind is excluded from the tree of life – he is doomed to death. That, too, is restricted only to humans (for animals outside the garden had no access to the tree), and it is not a change in the natural order, but in the supernatural grace of eternal life. And that’s the lot. Genesis 3 teaches, at most, dysfunctional snakes and thistles. A poor basis for claiming a completely corrupted natural order, it seems to me.
The next big passage on creation is in Job, at the point where God silences (and converts) Job by his self-revelation. You’ll remember the gist of the speech is, ”Here’s what I’ve done: who are you to call me into question?” God’s mighty and mysterious works are the subject matter. Apart from complete control of the forces of nature, he takes credit for finding prey for the lioness, food for the raven, managing the pregnancies of mountain goats, sorting habitats for wild donkeys, creating ostriches to be a bit dumb but powerful, forming behemoth (hippo) as a mighty and dangerous beast and leviathan (crocodile) as all that together with razor teeth, a bad temper and an invulnerable hide. There’s absolutely no hint of Satanic or other dilution of his creative wisdom and he even exults in responsibility for some of the things regarded as natural evil. He leaves no room for Job to reply, It would be better if the lion ate straw.
The same picture arises in the psalms (which are intended, remember, for praise) especially 104, 147 and 148. Praise is elicited for his feeding of lions, sea creatures, cattle and ravens. Praise rises from all his works including great sea creatures, weather, mountains and hills, trees, wild animals, cattle, small creatures and birds. There isn’t the least hint of any part of creation subverting his will, nor even any mention of natural evil when praise is offered for God’s turning his face away and causing wildlife terror, his action causing death, or his spirit recreating life. Or even for creating volcanic activity. The whole creation points clearly to the God of Israel, and to him alone.
There are other scattered Bible references to God’s creation, but not a single one to nature in revolt or malfunction. God claims total creative responsibility, and the Scripture calls for nothing but worship for the fact. In Proverbs Wisdom rejoices in all God’s creation – which is to say God created everything wisely. Even in Ecclesiastes, where every source of life’s vanity is spelled out in depressing detail, natural evil is never mentioned at all.
And if it’s never mentioned, even under another name, whilst natural good is lauded even when its uncontrolled, dangerous or destructive, then it’s pretty clear to me that it has no place as a key concept in theology. We are not intended to judge creation, but to praise God for it all of it. But somehow I think being mealy-mouthed in our praise is going to be a hard habit to break after 500 years or more.