Immortality is a Divine Gift (RJS)

Death is natural – immortality is a divine gift. This isn’t true because of the fall – it was true from the beginning of creation. This statement will seem off-base, and seriously in error for some. It will seem completely reasonable to others. I would like to open this idea up for conversation in the post today.

The issue of death and the role of death and suffering in creation is a major question in the interaction between science and the Christian faith. If we have a big bang, an old earth, and evolution -  then explosions, asteroid impacts, earthquakes, tsunamis, death, and competition in the animal world are all part of God’s good creation. But this is contrary to the view of creation taught in much of our church. I’ve received a number of e-mails concerning the discussions we’ve been having about Adam, Eve, and the writings of Paul. A comment quoted below brought up exactly this issue:

I believe in theistic evolution and I am an evangelical Christian. For the most part, I am OK theologically with believing that Adam was not a literal man. However, I have problems with an issue that no one really seemed to address … I embrace the view expressed by some Eastern Orthodox theologians and N.T. Wright, among others, that non-human evil entered the world through the Fall. What I mean by non-human evil is death and decay in creation that does not result directly from poor decisions made by humans after the Fall. …

From an evolutionary perspective, before humans ever existed there was suffering in creation caused by disease and natural disaster. I stand by Wright in the idea that God will eventually renew both us and creation, restoring it to what it was meant to be before the Fall. However, I have just realized that it is very difficult for me to explain non-human evil without the literal account of creation found in Genesis. This leads me to a faith crisis. Suffering in the natural world, caused by things like cancer and earthquakes, must be explained if God is good and his creation was created good.

The conflict here doesn’t arise from an overly literal view of the Bible, but from a struggle to understand what scripture teaches and what this means for our theology. The issues brought up here are among the major issues that keeps many intelligent Christians like Dr. Mohler and like some of the commenters on this blog holding to a young earth and special creation in the face of all of the scientific evidence to the contrary. I’ve given a hint of my opinion in the opening line of the post, and I will begin to develop it further in the after the jump, but to start the conversation consider the question introduced by this letter writer and many others.

What is natural evil – is this a meaningful concept?

Is death, all animal death, an alien intruder in God’s good creation?

What kind of death is referred to in Genesis 2-3; Romans 5, and 1 Corinthians 15?

What does it mean when we say that God will restore all creation in Romans 8?

The questions opened up by the e-mail above will take more than one post (and likely more than one series of posts) to address in their entirety. I would like to start today with some reflections on the first three questions – the concepts of natural evil and death. This involves some discussion of new creation, but further consideration of new creation and NT Wright’s commentary on Romans 8 will provide the grounds for the next post on this topic.

Here is my thinking at this time – all of it, of course, being put up for discussion and potential refutation.

Natural “evil” is a natural part of God’s creation. Evil is a concept that requires moral accountability.  Natural disaster is evil only in the impact that it has on people. There is no indication in scripture that death was alien to God’s good creation. There is no clear indication that death – apart from human death – is evil. Even cancer, from the point of view of evolution, is a natural byproduct of a creation that creates itself.

The key scriptural passages here that appear to teach otherwise are Genesis 1 where God declares creation good and very good, Genesis 2-3, Romans 5, especially 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned and statements like that of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:54-57

But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;  but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The victory over death and the hope for new creation is further expanded on in the Revelation of John.

The beginning and the end. Many take these passages to mean that God’s initial creation did not include death, at least it did not include animal suffering and death. God’s original creation was a peaceful idyllic paradise. The new creation is a return to the idyllic original creation God always intended. But I don’t think this is the way we should be reading Genesis, Paul, and Revelation. The new creation is not a return to an idyllic original creation and death was not foreign to the original creation.

The dynamic, developing, growing creation we see around us is and was part of the original creation declared good.  In Genesis 1 both animals and humans are given a charge. Following the creation of animals of the sea and sky we are told that God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” Likewise after the creation of land animals and humans God blessed them [the humans]; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

There is a mission begun in Genesis 1 that involves life, change, and growth. It involves, of necessity, death of animals, insects, and bacteria to name just a few. There is no indication of inherent immortality. God did not produce mosquitoes, black widow spiders, lions and tigers, and plate tectonics as a response to the Fall.

The new creation is a consummation to God’s original goal not a return to his starting point. I think that this is the appropriate reading of scripture whether one holds to a young earth or an old earth. Death is the enemy over which Christ has won the victory, but this is not because death, even animal death, was in every way foreign to God’s original creation.

Immortality is and was a divine gift. In Genesis 2-3 we read about death and immortality. In the garden there were two special trees.

Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Gen 2:9)

The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Gen 2:16-17)

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. (Gen 3:22-23)

Immortality, even in the Garden, whether we read the text literally or metaphorically, was a gift from God through the tree of life. Here we see that death was not foreign to God’s creation, but was always a part of God’s creation. Immortality and perfect communion with God are intimately related ideas. When Adam and Eve sinned God removed the gift of immortality, expelled them from the garden. For dust you are, and to dust you will return.

Death entered human experience through sin. I think that the death that entered through sin was both physical and spiritual – but it was physical because of the disruption of innocence and communion with God. When, where, how, and who – this is lost in the mists of antiquity. We don’t need to know. Whether you hold that is was a unique couple, a community, or a representative pair just plain doesn’t matter. On our own we cannot be faithful, even the very first humans as morally accountable agents could not be faithful, and God had to know this before creation. But God is faithful.

When I say, as I did in the post last week, that Christ is the beginning of the Gospel it is because Christ is the faithful one and through his faithfulness we are restored to union with God. This was the plan from the beginning: incarnation, reconciliation, faithfulness. Our perishable selves will put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality through the gift of God through Christ.

The questions of Adam and evolution are secondary because they do not change the essential Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are not returning to the beginning but moving on to the goal – and the goal did not change because of sin.

I will look a bit more at New Creation in the next post in this short series. I haven’t done justice to the entire question posed by the letter writer. But this post is already too long. Let me stop here and open it up for questions and comment.

What do you think – was immortality a natural part of God’s good creation? Why or why not?

Is natural “evil”  intrinsically evil?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

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  • Phil N

    RJS,

    How I’ve dealt with this in my teaching (I often try to outline the whole story from good creation to new creation), is that God created a good world knowing full well that it was the path to a perfected world or “new creation”. For new creation or our understanding of sinless perfection, God had allowed for human agency, fall, the good becoming broken so that it could be made perfect.

    I still have difficulty though with the concept of death. What can be the difference between death necessary for Old Earth (which I hold to), and death that resulted from the fall.

    I remember some years ago in college, a guest lecturer dismissed creation and evolution as the issue of the day, but how could a good God use evolution (and the pain and death involved) as the means for creation. He did highlight that God is extremely patient, and would go many generations through the OT before rescue, could the same be said of natural pain in creation.

  • DanS

    Interesting connection made between the tree of life as the vehicle for eternal life and the banishment from that tree as part of the punishment. But I don’t think that settles the matter because there is more to the curse. Not only is man “cursed” but the ground is cursed as well. It is not just being excluded from the tree of life, it is the addition of something negative.

    Augustine was pretty clear in City of God:

    Book 13 Chapter 3
    “But a question not to be shirked arises: Whether in very truth death, which separates soul and body, is good to the good? For if it be, how has it come to pass that such a thing should be the punishment of sin? For the first men would not have suffered death had they not sinned. …Wherefore we must say that the first men were indeed so created, that if they had not sinned, they would not have experienced any kind of death; but that, having become sinners, they were so punished with death, that whatsoever sprang from their stock should also be punished with the same death.”

    In Book 13 Chapter 2
    “The death, then, of the soul takes place when God forsakes it, as the death of the body when the soul forsakes it. Therefore the death of both— that is, of the whole man— occurs when the soul, forsaken by God, forsakes the body…And this death of the whole man is followed by that which, on the authority of the divine oracles, we call the second death. This the Saviour referred to when He said, Fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)”

    BTW, the statement about Mohler and others “holding to a young earth and special creation in the face of all of the scientific evidence to the contrary” is a little bit of a cheap shot. Most would say there is evidence that supports evolution and evidence that does not support evolution. They are not saying “we will hold to a literalist view with our eyes completely closed”. It would take too long to rehash that further, but for me, the philosophical assumption of naturalism and premature statements about “junk” DNA are just two of many examples of areas where evidence for Evolution loses some of its impenetrable facade of certainty. (Again, I do not insist on a young earth, personally, only a historic Adam and historic fall).

    Last, regarding insects and plants, in many YEC constructions, such do not die in the same sense Adam died. The general response is that “life” consists of breath and blood and so life and death in Genesis is referring to the animal kingdom. Eating a plant is not an example of death before the fall, for example. Killing an animal and clothing Adam and Eve with the skin is. Some may object to that distinction, but the distinction is made in YEC circles.

  • rjs

    DanS,

    I am about to board a plane so I don’t have much time to comment for a few hours at least.

    I don’t think though that Augustine has the first or last word here. He was a man localized in time, space, and culture. He had important Ideas to contribute, but we need to take his ideas in a larger context.

    My comment about in spite of evidence harks back to Dr Mohler’s speech last summer where he asked “why does the earth look so old?” and gave some suggestions, but answered that we would only know in the new creation. I don’t think my comment is a cheap shot at all.

  • phil_style

    I think the “human death” thing is the core issue here. Animals/plants – not so much. After all, dirt is simply bio-degraded plant matter, so even if you take a literal “garden of eden” you’ve still got the need for dead plant matter all across it..

    Richard Beck (experimental theology blog) has been running an interesting blog series recently on the death/sin issue. He proposes an interesting understanding of this relationship, whereby it is death that results in Sin, and not Sin that results in death. It is our fear of death that drives us to sin… I won’t expand more here.

  • Jerry

    This sounds like a plausible explanation worthy of discussion. One question that comes to mind: Is there anything in historical Christianity to support such a position, is there precedence for this view? I hope so, even if it is a “minority opinion.” Otherwise, are we merely accommodating our interpretations (beliefs) to fit the “facts”?

  • T

    Jerry,

    On the history/tradition of the Church, I think 2 thoughts are relevant at least. First, as always, tradition has it’s history of error even though its always worth hearing. But secondly, and specifically to this issue, if what we discover in the natural world matters for understanding origins, and I think it should, then much of the Church’s traditions will have been formed in the absence of those discoveries which now demand consideration. It’s one thing to quote Augustine, for instance. It’s another thing entirely to think that he would say the same things about Genesis and origins now that he did then, in light of the significant additional information we have about the physical world, including its age. So, on this point that is often as much about physical history as theology, tradition may not be helpful as it can be in other areas.

  • Matt

    This statement is very helpful: “The new creation is a consummation to God’s original goal not a return to his starting point.” If we envision Genesis as the goal or equate it with the New Heavens and Earth (which is often done), we are diluting the hope of Revelation 20-22, are we not?

  • Adam

    Part of my understanding is that the early chapters of Genesis are written retro-actively. At some point, early humans began asking themselves “Why is the world like this?” and the Adam and Eve story is how they explained it to themselves.

    This is not a new concept. Every religion does this. Even science does this. The story of a singularity that explodes and spreads energy, which coalesces into matter, and creates the known universe is still a story meant for understanding and not a dictation based on measured fact. So, what is the point of this story?

    The first point, I think, is the difference of this story verses the stories that surrounded it. Nearly all of the ancient creation stories begin in violence, but the Hebraic creation story begins in community (let US create in OUR). This story is trying to say the universe, at its core, is friendly towards us.

    And then it becomes a “proof is in the pudding” situation. Cultures that tell stories about an unfriendly universe and unfriendly gods lead to selfish and violent societies. A culture that tells stories about a friendly universe and a friendly God lead to a selfless society.

    And this is where death comes in. The Hebraic story recognizes that humans are not living in a selfless society but instead of blaming the gods they point to themselves. It was humans who broke the agreement and heaped burning coals on their heads. But the Hebraic story keeps going and keeps affirming that God is still in control and still friendly.

    Even after humans destroyed their chances, God makes them clothes. When humans kill one another (Cain and Able) God seeks restitution for Able and still preserves Cain.

    To me, the Hebraic creation story is not a treatise on how and when sin and death entered into the world, but a statement that underlying everything is a being working for the good of all things and that means there is hope and a reason to try to work towards selflessness.

  • Amos Paul

    Through the series of discussions we’ve been having on here, I think that, first of all, our concept of death is probably too naturalistically tied to material decay. That is, we see death as the passing of the body as much as that of the passing of a plant.

    But, as has already been pointed out, the dirt and Earth we know is composed of ‘decayed’ plant matter. Indeed, when I look at the Universe as a whole–I don’t see asteroid collisions and various “catastrophes” as evil or death, but the perfectly natural growth processes of the massive living entity of the Universe. A bunch of rocks crashing into each out to form a planet is, for the Universe, like us growing a toenail or a strand of hair.

    So life, I think, does not just indicate the lack of material decay–but a distinct end to productive and positive activity in the life of a human which constitutes both material and spirituality. The OT writers often imagined Sheol, the place of the dead, as a place where people perhaps ‘existed’… but pitifully and without hope of growth or development.

    That being said, the ancient Judaic and NT worlds both, clearly, viewed the physical deterioration and passing of the body as correlative to ‘death’ as a concept for us. The Psalms frequently spoke of the futility of Sheol and David and the prophets talked as though those that decayed passed into that state of death–even IF they at times showed hope of the ‘sting’ and futility of death being defeated by restoration or resurrection back into life.

    Nevertheless, I have also long held the belief that the physical and spritiual realities of life are not altogether as separate and distinct as we might otherwise imagine them to be. I think that the spiritual reality of death *is* indeed tied to the physical experience of our bodies decaying and passing away. Whether it has always been this way–I cannot say. What if human death, at one point, was not futile and final but merely a step in a positive growing process? After all, the ‘sting’ of death is not decay, but sin. Or, estrangement from God and his life-giving purposes.

    1Cr 15:56, “The sting of death is sin.”

    I also think that this sting is the result of a real, historical situation that occurred. And this situation affected all of Creation–or at least the whole of immediate Creation that is relevant to us here on planet Earth.

    Rom 8:20-21, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

    Moreover, I think there is a force or forces within Creation that have caused this futility besides *just* humans. It is those forces that we seem now to be in slavery or bondage to by what Genesis mythically proposes to be the choice(s) or our ancestors.

    1 Jo 3:8, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”

    1Cr 15:26, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

    And I *do* believe that spiritual realities can cause physical realities. So if death is the work of corrupt, created forces–then I have no problem believing that the specific physical realities we know death to constitute now may very well be different than they once were. Evil is corruption which can twist and alter Creation. By this process, I think that the ‘natural’ and non-evil decay has been transformed into the present reality of evil corruption along with decay that brings pain, suffering, and futility.

    However, I *also* think that even this sinful corruption of Creation that was once ‘very good’ was accounted for, in hope as Romans says, to bring about Creation that continues in God’s original plan of growth and full life. I know this is taken totally out of context, but:

    Gen 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

    For, Romans goes on to describe the futility of our present situation as, in actuality, the pangs of Creation bringing about new birth of life–like a baby being born.

    Rom 8:22 “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”

    I also wonder, metaphorically, if this is part of the ‘curse’ or consequences of corruption that are referenced in Genesis.

    Gen 3:16, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.”

    And I wouldn’t necessarily agree with you, RJS, that immortality is a *specific* on God’s part inasmuch as life itself was a gift to mankind and Creation on the part of God making us in the first place. Though it is, indeed, only by God’s grace that we can continue in this healthy and good plan for us–rather than enter into the futility of death. It is only God, mataphrically represented by morality and healthy living on Earth, who can enable and equip us to continue on in His plan for Creation. That is, eternal and perpetual life which, I do agree, is in actually eternal process of growth and development. That’s what living is.

  • phil_style

    Amos, “the ’sting’ of death is not decay, but sin. Or, estrangement from God and his life-giving purposes” …”1Cr 15:56, “The sting of death is sin.””

    I highly recommend you read Richard Beck’s posts on the slavery of death here: http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2011/08/slavery-of-death-part-1-he-who-does-not.html

    Romans 6:23 always seems to be given priority over 1 Cor 15:56 in our theological models – in spite of them both appearing to propose quite strong causal relationships between these two things (sin&death).

  • Amos Paul

    Wow, I was in a rush in that last paragraph there, . Pertinent typos:

    *I wouldn’t agree that immortality is a specific ‘gift’.
    *God, metaphorically represented by morality and healthy living.
    *eternal and perpetual life is an actually eternal process of growth and development.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com/ Peter G.

    If the death in 1 Cor 15 is not physical, then a physical resurrection has no relevance. “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man” (1 Cor 15.21). If the death that came through Adam was only spiritual, then so to is the resurrection that came through Christ. If immortality is part of God’s good creation then why the resurrection? And if death is natural why is it feared (cf. Heb 2:15)?

  • phil_style

    PeterG, 1 Cor 15 is (prima facie) very confusing to me. One minute, St. Paul seems to insinuate with “death came through a man” that prior to an individual called adam, there was no “death”. Yet, only a few verses later, he goes on a long explanation about how it IS natural for human bodies to be subject to decay/death etc. And that Adam (and all pre-resurrection bodies) had a “natural seed” (natural body) that DID NOT exhibit the characteristics of the spiritual body. Natural bodies ARE perishable in St. Paul’s thinking – by their very nature, and adam had such a natural body. St. Paul seems to be very claar about this in 1 Corinthians 15.

    ….. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; (43) it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; (44) it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

    If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (45) So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”[f]; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. (46) The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.(47) The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. (48) As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. (49) And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we[g] bear the image of the heavenly man”

    I think that, in light of the rest of this significant section of St. Paul – we MUST read that Adam’s body was mortal. The reason death comes to us all, is because we are all from the same humanity – we are all from the same stock. We are all natural. St. Paul is saying that because we all inherit natural death by our natural ancestry – we can inherit spiritual life through our spiritual ancestry – that’s what the “one-man thing” is all about.

  • Robert

    Without death, there’s no life as we know it. Without the decayng remains of living organisms, there would be no soil capable of supporting plant life, and no animals, since we’re dependent on plants. All you’d find would be a few very basic organisms utilising whatever organic substances were produced by inorganic processes. Even the universe isn’t eternal, so does eternal life imply surviving the heat death of the universe? On any sort of scientific level, it’s nonsense.

    Either we throw the whole of modern science away – not just selected bits like the Theory of Evolution, but the whole caboodle – or we have to abandon a literalistic interpretation of these ideas. Death is built into the structure of the universe, so our latter-day sins (we’re a latecomer on the evolutionary scene) can’t be the origin of physical death. They do bring about tdeath, however; the deaths of communities, species, potentially that of the entire global ecosystem. So it’s not nonsense to suppose that in some sense something so destructive brings about personal death either.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I may have a scenario that successfully deals with this.

    Pre-fall, there was an innocence about the humans. Without the knowledge of good and evil they lived in a state of oneness with god and creation. Clearly, they did not have the self awareness we have now as evidenced by the nakedness playing out as it did.

    Without the self awareness I think it would be fair to assume that the people really did not consider that they would ever die. There was no death as far as they were concerned because of the faith (-fullness) in God. The trusted God and were faithful to him and he in them.

    Now God, he did have self awareness and he knew that these people were faithful to him. He knew that, in their innocent state of trust, they would not really ever consider their lives to be finite. When they die the people do not know what happens or where they go. So it was always God’s plan to have a resurrection. The people will live and die and he will resurrect them. He will be faithful to them as they are faithful to him.

    But after the people became self aware, they realized their own mortality. The wages of sin is death. Not that they would not die before, but now that they can sin and are no longer in the innocent state like they were they will realize their mortality. This realization of mortality is how they will surely die. They sin against God because they lose their faithfulness in him and now doubt and that doubt brings their realization of death, which drastically alters our view of the world.

    But God always planned on a resurrection, but the faithlessness of the people led to the falling away.

    Eventually God needed to restore the faith and confidence of the fallen (doubtful) world. He sent his son, who showed that you could still be faithful to the Father and that the Father will be faithful to us. He showed that indeed there is a resurrection of the dead, and that we can live our lives freely giving to others without fear of us wasting our lives. We will never die.

  • dopderbeck

    Excellent post.

    Just a couple of thoughts.

    First, re: the Tradition: some of the Fathers held that Adam sinned just about instantaneously with his creation. Freedom from death, then, was a completely unrealized possibility for Adam. Some of the Fathers also held that “Eden” was trans-temporal — it was “in heaven.” Irenaeus held a “conditional immortality” view similar to what RJS suggests.

    Second: it has long been recognized that there is a “proleptic” element to the Gen. 2 narrative. That is, they illustrate both “what could have been” and “what will be.” There is something in the narrative that is latent and not fully realized.

    Third: the cherubim with the flaming sword that bar the way back to Eden (Gen. 3:24) demonstrates that whatever realities and possibilities Gen. 2 suggests, they are utterly inaccessible to us now (until we see the New Jerusalem in the NT, made possible by Christ).

    To me, all of this suggests that, as RJS argues, the freedom from death and so on in “Eden” was a mystical, trans-temporal, non-empirical reality. By “non-empirical” here I mean “not measurable through ordinary observation.” But note carefully: what is “real” is far more than what is “empirical.” If we can get past our modern idolatry of empiricism, we can make some progress in seeing the mystery of Eden and the Fall.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Peter12 and phil13, in my model, Adam’s sin resulted in the awareness of death, and Jesus resurrection results in the awareness of eternal life.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    to complete that thought, so then just as in Adam all die, and through Adam death came into the world, so too if you are in Christ and through Jesus life came into the world. And that also is why Paul can talk about physical death being a reality even after talking about Adam.

  • Adam

    @dopderbeck #16

    I am interested in this statement:

    “If we can get past our modern idolatry of empiricism, we can make some progress in seeing the mystery of Eden and the Fall.”

    I find that we need more empiricism. It seems to me that a literal interpretation of Genesis is at odds with empirical data.

  • PaulE

    A lot of food for thought here. I’m still working on the first sentence. I believe life is a gift from God, so by extension immortality is as well. Is death natural, though?

    On the one hand God is the sustainer of all things. If he does not uphold the world each moment by his powerful world, it will disappear like a vapor. We do no exist a se, so life is not natural to us. And yet, it is God who, again by his powerful word, turns people back to dust, saying “Return to dust, you mortals.” So, I wouldn’t say death is any more natural either.

    Isaiah 11:6-9 gives me the impression that the harm and destruction done by wolves, leopards and lions to other animals even is less than worthy of God’s holy mountain. Is it evil?

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Tangential to this, but god is telling me to post this (Krugman):

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/29/opinion/republicans-against-science.html

    This quote is wonderful:

    According to Public Policy Polling, only 21 percent of Republican voters in Iowa believe in global warming (and only 35 percent believe in evolution). Within the G.O.P., willful ignorance has become a litmus test for candidates, one that Mr. Romney is determined to pass at all costs.

    So it’s now highly likely that the presidential candidate of one of our two major political parties will either be a man who believes what he wants to believe, even in the teeth of scientific evidence, or a man who pretends to believe whatever he thinks the party’s base wants him to believe.

    And the deepening anti-intellectualism of the political right, both within and beyond the G.O.P., extends far beyond the issue of climate change.

  • PaulE

    I would argue that in Genesis 2-3, Romans 5, and 1 Cor. 15 both physical and spiritual death are in view.

    In Genesis, chapters 4-5 illustrate the immediate consequences of the fall. First we see the spiritual death in Cain and his line. Then we see the consequences to the line of Seth with the repeated refrain “and then he died.”

    In Romans 5, I think the spiritual aspect is most obvious in verse 21 where grace reigning through righteousness is contrasted with sin reigning in death. The physical aspect is easier to find. Verse 14 is clearly discussing those who physically lived and died between the time of Adam and Moses. In verse 13, Paul writes that sin is not taken into account when there is no law. If the penalty for sin is spiritual death, not physical death, this makes no sense. Spiritual death occurs as a natural penalty to sin even when there is no law.

    I won’t repeat Peter G’s argument in #12 for 1 Cor. 15.

  • R Hampton

    If we understand Moral Evil to be acts contrary to God’s intention, then only Angels and Mankind have a capacity for evil. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church – Providence and the scandal of evil:

    311 Angels and men, as intelligent and free creatures, have to journey toward their ultimate destinies by their free choice and preferential love. They can therefore go astray. Indeed, they have sinned. Thus has moral evil, incommensurably more harmful than physical evil, entered the world. God is in no way, directly or indirectly, the cause of moral evil…

    Yet it’s the less evil, the Physical, that seems to cause theological queeziness. How can it be justified?

    311 (continued) …He permits it, however, because he respects the freedom of his creatures and, mysteriously, knows how to derive good from it: “For almighty God…, because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself.” (St. Augustine, Enchiridion 3,11: PL 40,236)

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com ChrisB

    The creation was subjected to decay because of Man, but it doesn’t say when. Could God, knowing what would come, have created a world suitable for the coming of fallen humans?

    If the hardships of the world already existed, Adam and Eve (yeah, I know, whatever) could have been protected in the garden until they were expelled. Then it wasn’t that the earth began to produce thorns and thistles as much as they now had to work the ground with thorns and thistles.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com/ Peter G.

    Phil (#13), don’t give up too easily with 1 Cor 15. A good commentary will help sort out your frustrations with what “natural” means for Paul. And since he just passed away, might I suggest C.K. Barrett’s excellent commentary. But perhaps this will get you started: what’s the antithesis of natural in 1 Cor 15? Is it unnatural or is spiritual?

    Another question to ponder is whether Paul is thinking of Adam in his pre-fall condition or post-fall condition.

    One of the problems in this discussion is that “natural” can mean “the way things are” or “the way things ought to be.” Too often the former is identified with the latter creating some devastating effects to the Biblical storyline.

    Keep reading!

  • http://seguewm.blogspot.com/ Wm

    When I picture a parent, thousands of years ago, trying to explain to their child why a bad thing happened to someone they loved, I imagine the creation myth that personified good and evil. But, we are no longer children. We have so much more information about our world and the universe. We no longer need to personify that which feels ‘good’ or ‘bad’ to us. It just ‘is’. It seems, rather, the ‘God’ permitted the universe to unfold naturally and began speaking to humans at the point of their intelligent evolution. As in the incarnation, God met man in man’s myths, leveraging them to lead man to think beyond his simple myths. Unfortunately, we have made the myths sacred as if they actually came from God as facts. God is speaking to intelligent man, calling us to move beyond our natures and to love one another. Rather than being about a fall or sin or eternal consequences, it is simply about God loving us to enhance the quality of the existence we have for our best ‘good’ – even showing us how through becoming one with us in Christ.

  • normbv

    Physical resurrection comes through the gift of immortality. The scriptures seem quite clear that the “Death” spoken of in Genesis and by Paul is estrangement from God.

    I like the way Daniel Harlow frames the discussion in his Article “After Adam: Reading Genesis in an Age of Evolutionary Science”

    “What the man and woman experience on the day of their eating the fruit is not physical death but a kind of living death- an estrangement from God, …”

    “Death is not the punishment but “only the mode in which the final stage of the punishment works out.” Their expulsion from the garden denies the man and woman access to the tree of life, which would have granted them immortality. According to Genesis, then, human death was a natural part of God’s created world, not part of the fallout of a fall.”

    http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2010/PSCF9-10Harlow.pdf

    More from Harlow

    “More than this, the Adam and Eve story does not have as its main themes sin and death but knowledge and immortality.”

    “What kind of death does Paul think entered the world through Adam? … Since Paul goes on in Romans 59verse 21) to contrast death with eternal life, he is probably thinking in verse 12 not of physical death, but of spiritual death- the estrangement from God that results from sin. In Paul’s thought, though, spiritual death and physical death are ultimately related: sin leads to spiritual death and spiritual death finally includes biological death. “

    It looks like RJS is edging closer to Harlow’s viewpoint which I believe is sound and contrary to how Denis Lamoureux views Genesis and Paul in which he believes they understood it as physical death.

    Harlow’s recognitions are essentially similar to those that I have been putting forth that seem to confuse some on this site.

    Very sound questions and investigations here RJS, maybe we are not as far apart as you suppose. ;-)

  • dopderbeck

    Adam (#19) — by “empiricism” I mean the belief that only what is empirically verifiable counts as real and true. I agree that any comprehensive theory must account for what is empirically verifiable. E.g., we cannot maintain a doctrine of the Fall that obviously contradicts well-established observed truths — such as the age of the earth, predation before the emergence of humans, and so-on. But neither can we reduce all of what is true and real to those empirically observed truths.

  • Edward Vos

    This is an awesome post I have been wondering about this concept for a long time. In our Christian culture and reading of scripture death has always been considered evil. Yet in the science fiction story by CS Lewis called “Out of the Silent Planet, the inhabitance of Mars see death as a wedding feast that brings them closer to their creator.

    I think death in nature is natural, and not evil. Our bodies were designed to process food and our cellular structure processes the food and discards the waste. This brake down of nutrients and chemicals that enrich our bodies goes on everyday. Cells die and multiply as needed, and some mutate as well, it is natures way, God’s way and not evil. What may be considered evil is all that we do that is not God’s will.

    In light of this critical issue is Enoch a fictitious character in the Old Testament? He knew God so well that God took him without dyeing. How does this work in our theology of death and natural death?

    I think real death is when our spirit no longer has a vessel to live in. We through our fallen nature have chosen potentially not to want a restored body given to us by faith or by God’s gift to us. This is the real death that the Bible speaks of and what we dare not take for granted. In the world of Adam & Eve there was no knowledge of a spirit without a body until they fell and learned that God may not wish to continue having their spirit inhabit their body. Our true fall was when thought we could live without our Creator only to find out that life does not exist without Him, and there in lies the true meaning of death, the absence of God and a soul with no vessel to contain it.

    The New Testament continually speaks of a new heaven and a new earth, could this be a place where we may have bodies that don’t require nourishment only the presents of God and our spirit in communion with Him to give us immortality? Will our new bodies decay or be filled with a life giving cellular structure that reproduces cells in prefect relationship with each other, and God?

  • Bev Mitchell

    Great post and discussion. The following relates to what several people have said – hopefully it helps.

    Creation seen as the beginning of God’s great restoration project

    In a world of limited resources death is the necessary corollary of birth. Only death can make way for more birth. Should we want to have birth without death, given the present arrangement of living things, the amount of carbon would have to increase markedly and living things would soon cover the earth. Plants would have less and less space to grow, water would soon become limiting and a total collapse of the system would ensue. Recycling, with its cousin death, is the way of life on this planet.

    Why arrange things in this way? Our God is a God of abundance, he hates poverty and want. If we agree with Athenagoras and others, Satan was given authority over matter before life appeared on earth, then he rebelled. In addition to being a miser with the matter he supervised, Satan loves disorder, and probably didn’t want life of any kind. He wants matter in as disorganized a state as possible. God then began to rescue the matter he had created, operating within the limits set by the free will of his rebellious prince of this earth. God said “No!” to disorder and darkness, or in Biblical words “Let there be light!” God set out to redeem matter (creation) and to show that his love was sufficient to bring beautiful order in the face of Satan’s worst efforts. This was accomplished even given the fact that death and violence had to be allowed – for a time, due to limited resources, death is natural. The evil limitation placed on matter/energy was overcome by a recycling solution to yield some of the abundance and beauty that God wanted to display (it was good). Disorder was overcome by God’s continuous supervision of his world (physically we see an aspect of this in the sun’s energy which keeps life going on this planet). Death was finally defeated at the resurrection by recreating the body of Jesus using matter the way God originally intended. The same victory will be displayed at the restoration of all matter/energy.

    The disorder and meanness of Satan extended beyond the material into the spiritual, leading to our own rebellion. Through the cross and the resurrection, God has shown that evil’s time is up on the spiritual front. If we recognize and repent from our rebellion and choose to cooperate with the Holy Spirit as Jesus did in his physical life, even now humans can participate in a spiritual restoration and limited physical restoration via miracles. However, Satan’s authority over the world is still allowed to give humans a situation in which they can exercise their free will and choose to become children of God through Christ and participate in the building of God’s Kingdom. Of course, in the new heaven and new earth, limits to what God wants to do will not exist.

  • http://www.stpaulsnitro.org Mark E. Smith

    I couldn’t find myself in anymore complete disagreement. Death is a natural part of life after the Fall, and was not a part of the creation that God called “good” and “very good.” Death is an enemy over which Jesus gives us victory.

    Disaster and decay are expressions of creation as subject to the power of sin. I don’t believe God intended anything to die or decay.

    The entire creation is moving toward the original creation, where there will be no more death and decay.

    Your comments on the subject seem to place you outside of traditional orthodox Christianity.

  • Graham Irvine

    I find it interesting that a number of posts e.g. 2, 9, 15, 29 seem to indicate a very Platonic view of humans, one that sees mankind as an immortal soul living in a body. For the Hebrews, and for the New Testament writers there is no such view. Mankind is seen as a whole, not a two or three part being who’s ‘soul’ is alive apart from the body. Jesus indicated that immortality is a gift from God to those who believe in him, John 5:24. Surely if God needs to give us this gift then it is not something that we have in and of ourselves. This view of course would be sustained by the idea of Adam and Eve having access to the ‘Tree of Life’ which sustained them. Death then becomes a natural result of their separation from God and hence from the Tree of Life.
    On the whole discussion of immortality I find Tom Wright’s ‘Surprised by Hope’ to be excellent, including his commentary on 1 Corinthians 15.
    If evil corresponds to pain then Gen 3:16 would indicate that evil existed in the pre fall world as Eve’s pain in childbirth was to be multiplied clearly suggesting that she would have had pain in childbirth before the fall. However if evil has a moral component and pain equals evil then anything that causes pain is evil. Childbirth is evil? Not in my book. So then pain and evil do not necessarily correspond. This would then remove the moral dimension of death before the Fall.

  • Brian Considine

    “When, where, how, and who – this is lost in the mists of antiquity. We don’t need to know. Whether you hold that is was a unique couple, a community, or a representative pair just plain doesn’t matter.”

    Amen, Sista! But why then spend so much time discussing the irrelevant and asking questions that can’t be anwered, getting people all twisted up in mental gymnastics? As you say it “just plain doesn’t matter.” But your planning a whole series that doesn’t matter. The question is what are we doing to do with Jesus today? Maybe we just need to live for Jesus today, share Him with others and not worry about how He got us here.

    “The questions of Adam and evolution are secondary because they do not change the essential Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are not returning to the beginning but moving on to the goal – and the goal did not change because of sin.”

    And, again I say amen! God’s gift is eternal life through Jesus Christ. That’s all that we need to know. So I guess you can retire your science oriented posts now and live for Jesus. :-) Awesome!

  • rjs

    Mark (#31)

    My comments certainly place me outside of ideas some hold dear – but not outside of Christian orthodoxy.

    I shortened my original post – it was way too long, but one of the things I took out was a quote from John Calvin.

    For dust thou art. Since what God here declares belongs to man’s nature, not to his crime or fault, it might seem that death was not superadded as adventitious to him. And therefore some understand what was before said, ‘Thou shalt die,’ in a spiritual sense; thinking that, even if Adam had not sinned, his body must still have been separated from his soul. But, since the declaration of Paul is clear, that ‘all die in Adam as they shall rise again in Christ,’ (1 Corinthians 15:22,) this wound also was inflicted by sin. Nor truly is the solution of the question difficult, — ‘Why God should pronounce, that he who was taken from the dust should return to it.’ For as soon as he had been raised to a dignity so great, that the glory of the Divine Image shone in him, the terrestrial origin of his body was almost obliterated. Now, however, after he had been despoiled of his divine and heavenly excellence, what remains but that by his very departure out of life, he should recognize himself to be earth? Hence it is that we dread death, because dissolution, which is contrary to nature, cannot naturally be desired. Truly the first man would have passed to a better life, had he remained upright; but there would have been no separation of the soul from the body, no corruption, no kind of destruction, and, in short, no violent change. (Gen 3:19 from Commentary on Genesis – Vol. 1)

    The first thing to note here is that Calvin (b. 1509- d.1564) finds it necessary to respond to those who claim that “thou shalt die” meant spiritual death only – this idea is not a new development of the 19th and 20th centuries. Calvin considers this human death to be both bodily and spiritual – not just spiritual, and I agree with him here.

    The second thing to note is that Calvin attributes the lack of death in humans to be a result of the glory of the divine image – something that animals do not and did not possess. There would have been biological death – just not human death. The idea that animals would have returned to the dust of the earth even without the sin of Adam is not troubling.

    Finally, the third thing to note is that even without sin there was a mission for mankind on earth. They were to be fruitful and multiply – and eventually to pass to a “better” life. John Calvin did not see that the garden was intended as a permanent home for immortal beings.

    Certainly Calvin taught a young earth, he also taught that the sin of Adam had cosmological consequences including earthquakes and bad weather, but he did not find the biological death of animals without the sin of Adam to be a theological problem. And he didn’t see the consummation as a return to the garden. I doubt if many people think his ideas here are outside the realm of Christian orthodoxy.

    I am going to come back to the Romans 8 in a week or so – and no doubt you’ll disagree with my conclusions there as well, but we should be able to discuss why and where.

  • Graham Irvine

    The challenge Brian is that many people will not even consider Jesus when they meet Christians who are not able to give them some sort of answer to the questions that they have. Faith is never ‘blind faith’ but faith with reasonable answers, one of which is ‘we don’t know’. 1 Peter 3:15 admonishes us to have an answer for our faith.
    Another challenge is that what we hold for one area of scripture may have significant influence on other areas. If the ‘fall’ is just a metaphor for people doing ‘bad’ things then is it just as correct to believe that the cross and resurrection of Jesus are just metaphors to encourage us to do ‘good’ things?

  • Drew

    Rjs, I would highly recommend you check out my friend’s blog, especially since his latest post addresses immortality as a divine gift (pointing to Eastern Orthodoxy). http://undeception.com/why-most-protestants-need-adam-and-eve-to-be-historical/

  • Amos Paul

    @32,

    I think you’d have quite a hard time drafting up Platonic vs Non-Platonic views concerning the immortality or not of one’s soul if we agree that there is going to be a resurrection. For instance, I specifically choose Aristotelian/Thomistic terms to describe souls, or, the realization of one’s life (no such terms were necessary due to the content of my post). But whatever terms you use to conceptualize the process, most of us believe that there is some essence which constitutes ourselves that is embodied here and now, yet will continue to have experiences and exist beyond the decay and degradation of this particular body. The Scriptures, indeed, are filled with much imagery describing experiences beyond the here and now–both concerning believers and non-believers.

    Nevertheless, on a completely tangential note, am I the only one here that keeps hearing Queen every time I see the title of this post?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_r0bGGJnSY&t=1m5s

  • AHH

    What does it mean when we say that God will restore all creation in Romans 8?

    Maybe I’m missing something, but where does it say “restore” in Romans 8? I see wording like “set free” and “obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” but “restore” connotes something different.

    As some commenter above noted, part of the church’s problem is the widespread idea that the final Kingdom will be essentially a return to an original paradisal state, when I don’t see that taught anywhere in Scripture. Instead I see the new creation portrayed as something different from, and better than, the Garden.

  • phil_style

    Mark, ” I don’t believe God intended anything to die or decay.”

    This opinion is clearly contrary to even a historical-literal reading of the Genesis creation stories, in which God gives plants for the consumption of humans and animals. Were all human and animal stomachs really so different in that scenario that they could consume plant matter without it decaying?

    Decay is specifically included within the garden-of-eden/ creation story.

  • John W Frye

    Mark #31,
    See comment #39. Trees with seeds (after their kind) to produce more trees certainly requires death and decay. Eating fruit and eliminating waste includes death and decay. So, with Phil (#39), I couldn’t disagree with you more.

  • Tilly S

    Dear RJS,
    I appreciate your willingness to discuss controversial issues and to offer your opinion with a openess to to hear disagreement without resort to name calling! One idea I would like to address is that people hold beliefs about the earth & creation “in the face of scientific evidence…”. However, I would argue that science cannot give us evidence about creation. The cornerstone of scientific research, the scientific method, is based on observation. What science CAN offer are observed processes on which we can build & strengthen theories. However, science does not have the capibility to prove or disprove creation or evolution. Instead, we will filter the facts observed through whichever theoretical perspective to which we adhere.(In fact we oft see the same data used by both perspectives as “proof”)
    I agree that immortality is a gift from God. However, I would say physical death is also a gift from God. C.S. Lewis describes physical death as God way of giving humanity an escape plan (in the “Problem of Pain” I believe, help anyone?). If there were no physical death, we would be forever caught in the struggle of fulfilling our desires,wanting to please the god of self, & living the the wonderful will of Creator (see Rom. 7:14-21). Hence death serves as the complete liberation from our sinful natures. Before the Fall, Adam & Eve didn’t struggle with sin, so they had no need of physcial death.
    If death exsisted before the fall what purpose did it serve? If it is natural, was humanity given the gift of immortality only AFTER the fall?

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    Phil, you would agree, wouldn’t you, that there are some things that really are “so different” between life in the garden and life after the fall. If so, why shouldn’t stomachs be one of them? Honestly I find the question a little silly, but no more silly than drawing conclusions about life in the garden by looking at life now.

    John, what do you make of the fact that plants are given for food for “everything that has the breath of life” (Gen 1:30)? Does that imply that plants don’t have the breath of life? And if they don’t, how can something that has no life die?

    Thanks.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Graham Irvine#32, you say my #15 is platonic. I suggest it is not expressing a duality rather a total lack of thought in the pre-aware human mind. It’s not they thought they would live apart from the body, its that they did not consider it.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Tilly S#41, while rjs can certainly answer for herself, I will give my shot at an answer, just for fun.

    I think you are attempting to use a tactic that I have seen apologists use with some frequency. They get all hung up on the fact that in matters such as this science cannot prove anything. What you fail to say, and, perhaps, fail to see, is that science does make strong statements around the support of various theories. And in this case (old earth and billions of years for creation and common descent), science makes a very strong case in favor of supporting these views. You acknowledge this, but then somehow still think this supplies no evidence about creation. It does. If I show a fossil is 1 million years old then that absolutely provides evidence that a 6,000 year old creation is not right.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Peter G. #42, you are calling people silly for being reasonable and logical. You premise that they are silly, is silly.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com/ Peter G.

    DRT, it’s not a premise. And I wasn’t intending to call anyone names.

  • Steph

    I was tempted to venture a guess that perhaps the fact that Adam and Eve were in a garden, from which they were later barred after the fall, hints at the fact that things operated very differently in this garden than elsewhere on earth. Why else would Adam and Eve need to be placed in a garden in the first place and need to be kept from re-entering it? So, if that is true in any way, then certainly it seems possible to read Genesis 2 and 3 and see immortality as something offered to Adam and Eve and then withheld after the fall, to see it as a gift, and not the way things were in general. Death could conceivably have been the way of things all around outside the garden, but for “Adam and Eve,” the possibility of immortality genuinely existed. So at this point in my thinking, I had no problem with “Death is natural. Immortality is a divine gift.”

    However, there is also the Genesis 1 account, which muddied things considerably for me when it comes to this question: “Is death an alien intruder in God’s good creation?” Many commenters have been talking about the words “good” and “very good,” but we have much more specific language than that to take a look at. In Genesis 1, mankind is given “seed-bearing plants” and animals are given “green plants” to eat. No carnivores? That’s not the same as no death, since plants die, but it seems significant. No death for animals, at least not by way of becoming food either for humans or for other animals….. No predators. A very different looking food chain, and thus a less violent world, creature upon creature. The text of Genesis 1 seems to deliberately paint a picture in which death of the kind that tends to matter to us (involving blood, conscious suffering, violence — not just plant decay) is absent. If that kind of death is a later intruder, perhaps all death is. Of course if that is so, that idyllic time in which no animals preyed upon each other is far, far beyond the reach of our fossil record, which reaches back pretty far.

    Darn. My attempt at answering the question is frustrated. We have two accounts to examine. And many more questions raised.

    Note that if humans have the “breath of life” Gen. 2:7, animals have it too Gen. 1:30. Along with the fact that animals were not a food source, the fact that they, like humans, had the “breath of life” elevates animals to the point that they should be included in a discussion of death as the result of the fall. It’s now a lot harder to say that death came to “Adam and Eve” and their descendants as a result of the fall but it already existed for the animals (and plants). The text seems to say (at least the two creation accounts taken together) that things changed radically for animals at some point, presumably after the fall. If animals were not preyed upon and that kind of violence and suffering did not exist in Genesis 1, it seems odd to think that death by illness would have existed, and only a little less odd to think that death by old age, a slow wearing out, would have existed….. I’m making assumptions, but …. I kind of have to. Don’t we all, here?

    A thought-provoking question you’ve offered here. A world without creature preying on creature, a world without that kind of violence, is as strange to us and as strange to the evolutionary record as a world without death.

    So I wonder, did other ANE civilizations posit a world without violence and death at some point, and a fall, and then violence and death, or is that something peculiar to Genesis? Really interesting….

  • Steph

    About my comments in #47 regarding the “breath of life”: That was to show that animal death matters very much to this conversation, as opposed to plant life. Yes, plant life was destroyed, digested, died. But dealing with animal death increases the complexity of the conversation. Animals are not made in the image of God, true. I guess I was just showing that fact doesn’t necessarily make their deaths pre-fall unproblematic since the text seems to consider at least a certain type of animal death (death as prey) to be problematic.

    FYI, I am not prepared to fall on my sword, so to speak, for a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3. But obviously, I think we have to start there.

  • rjs

    Steph,

    I think you (and others) are reading into the text when you leap to the conclusion that Genesis 1 teaches vegetarian animals – including lions and tigers, snakes and foxes. This basically means that every last bit of biology changed on account of the fall. The giving of plants for food doesn’t mean that this is the whole story.

  • phil_style

    Peter G: “Phil, you would agree, wouldn’t you, that there are some things that really are “so different” between life in the garden and life after the fall. If so, why shouldn’t stomachs be one of them?”

    Peter, I might be able to concede (logically perhaps – depending on how far we are wiling to stretch our understanding of logical possibilities, but empirically definitely not) a special specific location on this planet, within our historical timeline where the functions of all biology, chemistry and physics were somehow suspended (as absurd as that sounds)…but all we’ve done is succeeded in pushing the absence of decay to a tiny corner of creation. What about everything else outside of the garden – we need to address that too in order for our blanket assertions about “very good = no decay” to be consistent. All we’ve done is provide an imaginative solution for a small forested area – the rest of the universe is excluded…

  • phil_style

    @DRT #45:
    With due respect Peter did not say that “I” was silly, but rather that the “question” was silly. I don’t consider that to be an attack on me, but rather it was an attack on the argument presented, which is a position I can respect i principle.

    However, the above notwithstanding, Peter’s assessment is wrong – the question is far from silly, as you well know if we spend some time considering just how far the implications of the “no decay” assertion would be felt. This whole issue does not hinge on my need for digestive consistent.

  • Edward Vos

    I understand that John Calvin had no issues with the death of animals prior to death happening to mankind. This may explain how the serpent said you will not surely die. Adam & Eve must therefore have known what death is or had a vague knowledge of it for the serpent to tell them not to be afraid of death.

    If there was no historic Adam and Eve which group of humans committed the sin that caused all of mankind to be marked for mortality? How do we reconcile animal death and earthly natural destruction with a time when man was immortal?

    This post is awesome and I can’t wait for further insights to these crucial theological concepts

  • Amos Paul

    RJS,

    I, similarly, think you’re reading into Steph’s interpretation too much when you claim that the fundamentals of biology changed so drastically after the fall that the food required for life in several animals changed.

    For instance, a completely *literalist* interpretation of Genesis accepts two trees (Life and Knowledge) that grew some wildly different food than the trees we have today. A completely *literalist* interpretation could, also, posit that there were all kinds of other plants in this fantastic “garden” that we no longer have today. For example, something that would feed carnivores.

  • rjs

    Amos,

    So God created animals with all of the tools to be carnivores or parasites or … and gave them food appropriate. After the fall they became the carnivores they were designed to be?

    I can’t go into all the biology here, but this isn’t a small easily reconciled issue.

  • phil_style

    RJS #54 “I can’t go into all the biology here, but this isn’t a small easily reconciled issue”

    I agree, we have to produce so many the amount bolt-ons just to fill all the process gaps in the Garden-of-Eden story.

  • Amos Paul

    RJS,

    The fact of the matter is–I don’t know. Nor am I arguing that Steph’s interpretation is right or wrong. But that is the story I’ve heard from your average YEC or whatever. That animals ate plants, even the carnivorous ones–and after the fall death and the instinct to kill were introduced both biologically and spiritually

    This perspective would likely go on to say that we *don’t know* what original purposes those animals’ biological implements equipped them for in the garden. Also, even the YECs accept evolution as the development of species and would probably argue that the carnivores now are quite different than the ones then.

  • Amos Paul

    Addendum: And more on my own view. Whether or not you accept the message of carnivorous creatures eating plants as simply spiritual or physical in some way as well, such a picture *is* painted in Genesis and the prophets as part of the promised, blissful state that God is leading his people into.

    Isaiah 65:25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.

    Isaiah 11:6 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com/ Peter G.

    Thanks, Phil. I appreciate the response.

    What kind of discontinuity is there between life outside the garden and life in the garden? And more importantly, how would you know what it is?

    Any consideration of “just how far the implications of the ‘no decay’ assertion would be felt” is going to depend on judging pre-fall conditions by post-fall conditions, is it not?

    But why should we assume that life required the same set of variables pre-fall (whether in-garden or out) that it required post-fall?

    If decay is inside the parameters of what’s “very good” (and remember that applies to all that was created) then it would be “very bad” for decay to be absent from the new creation. Would you agree with this? Or is there some line of discontinuity between original and new creation that changes the goodness of decay?

    Thanks.

  • phil_style

    Peter,

    “If decay is inside the parameters of what’s “very good” (and remember that applies to all that was created) then it would be “very bad” for decay to be absent from the new creation. Would you agree with this? Or is there some line of discontinuity between original and new creation that changes the goodness of decay?”
    This is an interesting linguistic turn here. If one is going to view “very good” as a parameter by which everything must meet, at a minimum to fall within the “set” then you’re right “decay” must be, also “very good” if one is to include decay within God’s categorising of creation – as described by whoever wrote these ancient texts.

    However, if we approach the categorisation of “very good” as a cumulative statement about the value of the whole, then any number of less than “very goods” could be operating within that description at any time.

    How do we deal with the explicitly stated “not good” that God includes in His creation in Gen 2 “it is not good for man to be alone”? In this creation account, man is present prior to woman AND god has to rectify this “not good” by firstly presenting all the other creatures to Adam before deciding on a like-imaged creature for his “helper”. Now, we can imagine that all this happened before the end of the day 6 events (in order to preserve any contradiction with “very good”), but that still leaves us in the position where we HAVE to accept that God and DID create things that were, even by his OWN admission “not good” – albeit that he later rectifies this situation. The logical conclusion remains.

    “why should we assume that life required the same set of variables pre-fall (whether in-garden or out) that it required post-fall?”
    well, empirically is one reason. But we have more clues. Birds flew right.. not cats, not humans – that says something about gravity being present. and aerodynamics. Fish swam right? that tells us that there was water, that hydro-dynamic forces operated. There was plants produced from “land” with seeds for producing more plants – so we know that the process of vegetative regeneration required fruits to fall from trees and expose their seeds (germination). Gen 2 insists that without water plants could not grow, so we know that vegetation was dependent on hydration.

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    C. John Collins takes the creation of the woman from the man in Genesis 2 to be an expansion of God’s creative activity on the 6th day. I agree with your point that creation up to that point was not yet “very” good, but merely good. But we should note that, by the end of creation, in Genesis 1:31, God saw everything that He had made and it was very good. It was only after Adam disobeyed God that conditions ceased to be “very good.” Adam was banished and the land was cursed because of him.

    Paul tells us that sin entered the world through one man (from context, that one man is Adam). He also tells us that death entered the world through sin. IOW, in Paul’s view, death was not something that was part of the “very good” of God’s creation, nor something natural, but something that came into the world because of Adam’s disobedience.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com/ Peter G.

    Thanks, Phil. That’s a great question about Eve. I hadn’t thought about it that way. I would, however, note that it is the absence of a suitable helper that is not good. In other words, what’s “not good” is what’s missing, not what’s present. To include the presence of something created (decay) in the same category as the absence of something not-yet-created (a suitable helper) strikes me as a touch illegitimate. So I don’t really see a real serious logical problem at work here. But even if you do, your scheme sets up the expectation that God ties up his loose ends, doesn’t it? The only explicitly “not good” thing gets rectified. So your own interpretation would lead us to think that if decay was also “not good” then God would have rectified this too.

    Finally, the empirical reason is precisely the one I find so out-of-place in this discussion. Have you ever sensed a world without death? If not, what does empiricism have to offer us? Whether seeds worked then like they do now (and how would we know this?) is not really enough to go on.

    I’m certainly in agreement that there is continuity between pre- and post-fall life. What I have yet to see is a compelling reason why we should think that decay is part of that continuity. What I do see, especially as the Bible’s storyline unfolds, is some very good reasons for thinking that decay is a massive part of the discontinuity.

    Thanks again.

  • Amos Paul

    Peter,

    Have you ever experienced death? Empiricism is a slippery slope my friend. We’ve witnessed many unique events with a great degree of mystery to them. We have, thus, painted the category ‘death’ over them upon empirical grounds. We can’t verify it, though. All we have are correlations and inductive hypotheses. This is empiricism taken to its logical end.

  • Tilly S

    DRT #44
    Thanks for the comment. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in my line of reasoning. Actually I would say your comment could serve to reaffirm rather than refute my statement. In regards to the theoretical bone, what science can tell us is the bone’s length, weight, in which stratum it was found, the amount of the cabon 14 isotope (which carbon dating becomes grossly inaccurate after a couple of thousands years) it contains, ect. Then one makes an age estimate based on that data AND their preconceived notions of the earth’s age.
    Although, in the grand scheme of things a bone’s age is a moot point. I believe science is being misused & abused when it is diametricly placed from the Bible. Science gives us data; what we do with that data is up to us.

  • phil_style

    Peter, “I would, however, note that it is the absence of a suitable helper that is not good. In other words, what’s “not good” is what’s missing, not what’s present”
    I must admit I’m not convinced by this. Seems too much to me like we are playing sematics. God said the current circumstance was not good. God had been until that point, responsible for all circumstances.

  • phil_style

    PeterG: Sorry one more point:
    But even if you do, your scheme sets up the expectation that God ties up his loose ends, doesn’t it? The only explicitly “not good” thing gets rectified. So your own interpretation would lead us to think that if decay was also “not good” then God would have rectified this too

    indeed, and he has rectified that.. isn’t that one of the fundamental creeds of Christianity?

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    phil,

    Gen 2:18 says “And the Lord God said,’It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.’” It was not good because something was missing — the man was alone. To rectify this, God made the woman. So Peter is not “playing semantics” when he says that the problem was about what was missing (a helper for the man so he would not be alone), not anything that was present. In view of the context, it would take semantical twisting to make the text read that the problem (what was “not good”) was anything other than the absence of woman to be a helper comparable to man.

    After this, the creation of man and woman, God saw everything He made, that it was “very good.”

  • Edward Vos

    I find it odd that we focus on the goodness of creation and not the obvious mistake that God made. When all the animals and plant life where designed to procreate, how could God have forgotten to do that for the human species?

    The issue is not about the goodness of creation the issue is that God as it is written saw that man was alone. I know what it means if I forgot something but I don’t understand how the creator of the universe who created all of nature could forget to create a female for man to procreate with. Especially when the rest of the world He created was designed to work in a procreative fashion. It doesn’t add up that God would forget such a major design flaw in His creation. Or relegate it to and after thought, let us create women so man is not alone! If creating women was an after thought could the salvation story also be an after thought to correct the mistaken trust in the human species?

    I think there is more to this then what we will ever know. To hold to an idea that God forgot that man needed a women seems woefully out of character for God the designer of the universe and all that lies within it.

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    Well, of course God didn’t *forget* to create a woman for the man, He was not yet finished creating. He did not slap His head and say “Oops!” or “I almost forgot.” There are a lot of things that can legitimately be said about the account of the creation of woman and what it means. “God forgot,” is not one of them. This account does not highlight any sort of “design flaw.” It does highlight that woman is every bit as important a part of creation as man is. Indeed, as Genesis 1 shows, it was not until God made man — male and female — in His own image and likeness that He saw that everything He had made was “very good.”

  • normbv

    I believe it is often overlooked that Genesis was written by Jews somewhere around the time of their exile to Babylon. It falls into the great multitude of metaphorical and allegorical writing detailing a frustration with their priesthood and leadership and the corruptness of the surrounding Nations influencing Israel negatively. I suggest reading something of a companion writing found in the book of Ezekiel whom illustrates the Garden, Tree, animal and death metaphors by defining their context. The Trees represent Nations or Kingdoms, and the animals represent the peoples living under the branches of those Godly established Kingdoms. Daniel uses the Tree as a Kingdom as well as does Christ who illustrates that the New Spiritual Kingdom will grow and become the largest of the Garden plants/trees in which the Birds of the Heaven will find their nest.

    In other words these metaphors are not in the least to be taken literally but tell the Jewish Story through their analogical medium. So much energy is given to deciphering a simple symbolic literature that is written more akin to an Aesop fable medium than anything else. Can you imagine people unearthing an Aesop fable 2000 years from now thinking it was meant literally and spend countless hours trying to unravel its mysteries. You will hear statements such as well we may never really know what this means. Yes we would if we paid closer attention to the literature that defines it for us. Ignoring the Jewish propensity for literature utilizing metaphor and symbolism when it stares one in the face entails some overly entrenched worldviews that are being held on to.

    Hosea 2:18 says that Israel and the animals will enter covenant together and lie down in peace. The same symbolic language is used in Isaiah 11 and 65 where the clean domesticated animals will lie down with the wild unclean animals. People this is animal metaphor imagery pointing to the day when the clean Jew and unclean Gentile will be at peace with each other in Gods new Kingdom. It has nothing to do with neutered animals created with weird stomachs past or future.

    Isa 65:25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith Jehovah.

    In other words the wild Gentile lion will eat the word of God or the plants given for food like the ox that represents typically a priest mediating upon the word of the Lord. The serpent eating dust represents those antiChrist/God types who do not receive the gift of eternal life or immortality. In other words they return to the mortal dust of inanimate beings. It’s a Jewish way of saying they have “no life eternal” who follow the lies of the serpent deceiver whom Christ and the apostles clearly defined as the apostate Jews. The story is really not as difficult as we try to make it out to be, but it may appear so to those who think it’s a literal representation.

  • phil_style

    Normbv, I like your comments.

    The “literal” analysis of Gen 1-3 relies on the assumption that Gen 1 and Gen 2 are integrated accounts (as I presume C. John Collins [refer comment #60] also relies on) that must/can be harmonised. If, in fact, Gen 1 and Gen 2 are different metaphors of the creation story, there is no need for “harmonising” them. For example: the activities described in Gen 2 8-23 cannot fit into a 24 hour period*. Attempts at harmonising the two accounts have been made, but I do not find them satisfactory.

    * The typical AiG explanations about re-reading the “all birds, all wild animals, all livestock” as only being a certain particular subset (i.e manipulating gen 2 to include the term “kinds” from gen 1, which is then interpreted as category that can then be used to reduce the number “all” (millions) to a suitable level required for a single 24 hour count (thousands)) is not in either of the two texts, and is an anachronism, one (or both) of the two texts must be butchered in order to save the other if they are both to be read a non-metaphor and integrated. However, if we give these songs their own space to breathe we don’t need to cross examine them and pull apart each little phrase.

  • John Mc

    Forgive me for being blunt, but this whole discussion of whether there was death and decay “pre-fall” is non-sense.

    Based on consistent information provided by the very senses which God gave us to perceive both good and bad, as well as the the evidence of life as described in Scripture, the life which we find in the world in which we live is utterly dependent on death and decay for survival. And life in this world always depended on death and decay for survival.

    I suppose that in another creation, in another world, a fantastical “pre-fall” world, death and decay may not be instrumental in the survival of the beings which live there, but not in this one, not these beings.

    Animals which were indisputably created “pre-fall” receive their nutrition from (dead) plants – the plants have to die and or decay. Alternatively animals and bacteria survive from the food provided by other (dead or decaying) animals. Plants survive from carbon dioxide exhausted by animals, both dead and alive. And plants regenerate from the seeds produced by their decaying fruit and/or their ripened and decaying progenitors.

    Even plants which do not die from season to season drop their leaves which in turn decay and nourish the life-forms in the ground of this earth.

    A significant portion of the anatomies of all animals is comprised of organs whose only function is to consume dead and decaying plants and animals for purposes of nurture and growth and survival. Adam was not given a stomach, intestines, kidneys, pancreas, and liver only after the fall – even for YEC’s these organs were part of the original creation – or the original creation was very different than the one we live in today (in which case the young earth/old earth dichotomy is irrelevant). And it cannot be suggested that these organs were added after the fall but this anatomical amendment was left out of the story as unimportant. Scripture says that Adam and Eve and all the animals ate food in the Garden.

    Nor can it be asserted that eating the food provided by dead and decaying life-forms in any way negative or indicative of sinfulness – Jesus loved food, to say nothing of fermented wine, and shared it with all whom he met. And he said you must eat my body and consume my blood – life from life – it is simply and incontestably part of God’s design for this world.

    To suggest that death and decay were not part of the original design of this world but merely a punishment tacked on when one species broke the rules is pure fantasy, and denies truth.

  • normbv

    I want to continue the discussion of the Dust of the earth, the animals as not fit helpers and Eve understood by Paul as the bride of Christ.

    Adam’s creation from the dust implies through Jewish symbolism that he was formed from a mortal nature just as Paul describes in 1 Cor 15. In other words he was given immortality in the Garden but failed to grasp it through his own natural strength and thus he returned to the “dust of the earth”. He lost the gift of immortality until he could be redeemed from his natural mortal attributes; this was accomplished through the last Adam who brings the faithful out of the “mortal” into the “immortal”.

    The animals likewise were formed from the ground implying their natural mortal nature as well and from them Adam could not find a suitable helper. This is because again the animal metaphor represents the Gentile world of peoples whom were not fit helpers. One must keep in mind that Adam represents the priestly lineage and Israel is his natural progeny so Adam represents Israel as a microcosmic story.

    Reflect upon Ezekiel 47 in which the one river that originally had been four in Genesis 2 becomes one and where it now flows the animal creatures will find life.
    Ezk 47:9 “And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes.”

    Eve represents the mother of all the “living”; not biological mind you but spiritual. That is why Paul quotes from Gen 2:24 in Eph 5:31-32 in which he says that I tell you a mystery, that this verse is talking about Christ and the Church. In other words, Eve represents the church from its inception when Adam and his progeny begin to call upon YHWH. Eve being taken from the side of Adam/Christ in its final episode means that the image of the faithful church is to be understood in the dynamics of marriage. Genesis was written with the understanding of marriage relationship and bonding already in place and utilizes that bonding to describe the eternal church of faithful. Genesis did not invent the marriage encounter but simply appropriates it’s imagery to describe the relationship of God’s people with Himself. Reflect upon the constant reminder in the OT and NT not to be an adulterous wife in regard to God and Christ.

    Consider Ecc 3:19 which depicts the Jewish idea of Israel as the prophetic true man of God and the animals.

    Ecc 3:19 “For what happens to the children of man/adam and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, an d to dust all return. Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?”

    Ecclesiastes is a Jewish lament about the futility of the “mortal” life without redemption and so their/Israel’s plight was no better off than the animals/gentiles. Except there was a prophecy that pointed to a redemption out of this separation of mortal death. That was the messianic hope of Israel as Paul likes to point out.

    Isaiah 25:8 “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth…”

  • Steph

    At RJS, #49, I need to read all the other new comments (looks fun!) but it’s possible I am reading too much into it. (I was raised thinking that the flood was global, and biology did change radically after the fall, or at least that it was possible to claim that. However, I don’t think it’s possible to claim that if you look at the evolutionary record. I don’t have answers. I have questions only at this point. But at this point I’d actually be more comfortable saying that’s exactly what the text literally suggests, that biology as it relates to the food chain changed radicaly post-fall, and of course that poses a huge problem in reconciling that to the presence of predators in the fossil record. I’d rather believe that I’ve misunderstood what Genesis 1-3 is rather than that the evolutionary record is wrong.)

    It’s possible that I’m not reading too much into it, but that the problem is that we don’t have an exact (literal) or historical account of what happened in Gen. 1, or 2, or 3 and that’s why the literal reading doesn’t work. I’m not well versed enough to discuss non-literal approaches to Genesis 1-3, but I’m really interested when others do.

    I didn’t mention this earlier b/c I didn’t want to go off on a tangent, but perhaps it’s more related than I thought. You look at Genesis 9:3 (post flood) and God says “‘Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.’” Sure sounds like the introduction of a meat diet (at least for humans), though that would suggest that the change didn’t happen post-fall but rather post-flood. Furthermore, when Noah comes out of the ark and builds an altar, God not only promises not to destroy the earth with a flood again but that “‘never again will I curse the ground because of man.’” That sure seems to harken back to the fall in the garden of eden: the curse on the ground. It seems both to lift it and promise no further curse. So perhaps what we have in Genesis 2-3 is not a meta-story about the fall of man but something else. (And if the curse on the ground is no longer, why is the curse on woman still in effect, hmmm?) So maybe Genesis is something else other than the story of mankind’s beginnings, but I am still looking at the theories of what that something else might be.

    In the meantime, at the least I am understanding the pitfalls of literalism better. Literalism is all I know to do; hence, I start there. I’m not so sure that the problem is that I have a faulty literal reading but that the literal approach is itself faulty.

  • Steph

    Normbv, #69, I like your comments too. But it’s very hard to leave an “entrenched worldview” without being educated in something new. In college, I had professors to introduce me to southern lit., or Victorian lit., or what not. Unfortunately, I need to be spoon fed, pointed the right way, at least initially, and then I’ll take off quite nicely from there.

  • normbv

    Steph,

    I apologize if I offend. My intention is to present some alternative understandings upon Genesis that are logically derived from extensive studies and examination of a broad biblical spectrum and related ancient literature. I too have resided in a less knowledgeable realm of biblical knowledge for the better part of my life. I was fortunate enough though to recently have about 6 years of extensive studies in which I immersed myself into these subjects, typically most faithful adults simply don’t have the time for that luxury. I therefore feel compelled to share some of these insights which are typically little parts here and there patched together from a broad spectrum of works by many differing individuals.

    You will generally not find anything I state unique except the systematic overview which I attempt to illustrate. However it is nigh next to impossible to recreate the scope of knowledge required to expertly judge issues without becoming somewhat qualified yourself so it’s kind of like which comes first; the chicken or the egg? There is no comfortable answer except to realize that in seeking knowledge it seems we never have enough. People have to make personal judgments upon their time investments and not everyone is able to pursue such matters. This gets us back to what are the biblical basics, which are faith in Jesus Christ and God and walking in the ways They have revealed for us. It’s simply “Love the Lord your God first and second is to love your neighbor”. A person doesn’t really have to have all knowledge because according to Paul it passes away and we are left with the purity of the Gospel which is Love manifesting itself.

    That being said, there are ramifications for societies whom tend for one reason or another, fail to acknowledge that the emperor has no clothes. All of us have a vested interest in continuing our education to help counterbalance remnants of outdated thinking. Generally that requires one person at a time being interested enough to move beyond what may have been comfortable at one time. That to me is a lifelong endeavor. I hope I sparked an interest in your exploring new ways of thinking that will prove fruitful for you. Other ideas are out there and can make much more sense but it’s like someone once said, knock and the doors will be opened to you, seek and you shall find. ;-)

    PS. My perceived jabs are at those who hear yet don’t have ears to hear because they harden their minds, not those who simply have not heard. Matt chapter 13.

  • Dick Carlson

    Any further musings as a follow up to the 8/31/11 article ,”Immortality is a Divine Gift”?