Were there mushrooms in Eden?

Were there mushrooms in Eden? January 23, 2014

There are few things that make me smack my head more than the idea that Adam and Eve’s bite into an apple caused all of the decay and disease that exists in the world. I’ve written before that I believe the “death” that came to Adam and Eve (who are allegorical characters representing the human race) which Paul describes in Romans 5:12-13 is the death of innocence, not physical death as such. If you’re going to say that physical death didn’t happen until after the apple bite, then what you’re saying is that mushrooms and bacteria and viruses weren’t created by God until after Eden, which would mean that there wasn’t a real ecosystem and biological existence as such is dependent on sin.

See the problem is that every creature in our ecosystem depends upon the harmonic balance created by the cycle of life and death, growth and decay among its parts. Mushrooms can’t exist unless there’s something dead for them to feed on. And they’re not the only creatures dependent upon the constant mishmash of death and life in something like a forest. Imagine if there were no death in the forest. If that were the case, the trees would saturate the space completely and deplete the soil of all of its nutrients. The death of trees is what gives the soil its nutrients, particularly when it’s caused by lightning and small forest fires because the ashes are rich in nitrogen.

What happened whenever humanity lost its innocence as represented allegorically in the Eden story is not that biological existence began, but that the harmonic balance of the food chain started to be skewed. When humans weren’t content to run around naked in the jungle grabbing fruits and nuts to eat, we cut down trees to clear space for agricultural land. Then we cut down more trees for firewood to cook with. We hunted species out of existence. We turned the Mesopotamian fertile crescent into a desert. The cost of human self-consciousness to the ecosystem has been enormous and creation has responded wrathfully to the ways that we’ve abused it (climate change isn’t God’s wrath against the homosexuals and abortionists; it is God’s wrath against pollution).

Creation is “fallen” not because the plants or animals have become “sinful,” but because humanity looks at the world as a plantation of commodities instead of a garden of sacraments. I think the reason some people cling to the idea that the biological processes causing death and decay are the result of humanity’s sin is in order to protect God from being implicated when friends and loved ones get cancer or other illnesses. It’s a cheap and superficial cop-out. God created a world where life and growth depend upon death and decay. He isn’t happy when any of us get cancer, and sometimes He heals people of it miraculously. I don’t know why some people get healed and others don’t. But I will praise God when it happens.

What’s despicably cruel is when Christians try to say that people who have bodies created differently than the norm of humanity are the product of “fallen nature.” 90% or so of people are born completely heterosexual and completely one gender or the other. The other 10% are a mystery. Sometimes people are born with both reproductive organs. Other times they are born with unique hormonal combinations that make them “boy-ish” girls or “girl-ish” boys. Sometimes they’re wired with attraction to people who have the same reproductive organs they have. People born outside of the norm go through tremendous suffering when they are judged moralistically for not fitting into the boxes that 90% of us fit into. Adam and Eve’s sin didn’t create them. God did for a beautiful purpose.

Someone will ask, what about what Paul says in Romans 8:19-23? “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”

I think it’s dishonest to pretend that this passage has a clear and straightforward meaning. What do “subjected to futility” or “bondage to decay” really mean? Was God the “one who subjected” creation to futility and what was His purpose in doing so? I don’t know what the resurrection will look like. I’m not going to speculate about how an eternity without death is structured. I just know that Adam and Eve’s curse is undone by Jesus. The world becomes a garden again when we stop seeing ourselves as self-reliant gods and accept our nature as dependent, wonderfully blessed creatures. Will there be mushrooms in heaven? I hope so, because I happen to like the taste of portobello.

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  • Grazer #E2H

    Love this 🙂 I asked a similar question regarding hurricanes


    • Grazer #E2H

      Ok I posted that then deleted it, not sure why it’s still showing……

    • Grazer #E2H

      Ok, I posted this then deleted it, not sure why it’s showing as posted by a guest……

      • MorganGuyton

        Sorry about that. My blog’s been acting funny.

        • Grazer #E2H

          No worries; do love your article though, raises some great questions and challenges 🙂

  • Pastor Melissa


  • Kent Hamaker

    I like this a lot, Morgan. I just posted yet another view of Eden yesterday here: http://shiningstranger.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/death-its-all-volvoxs-fault/

  • David Pitchford

    I’m not satisfied with how you seem to dismiss Rom 8:19-23 as obscure. Interestingly, though. the word for “futility” used here also means “vanity” in Ecclesiastes (in the LXX). Do you think Paul believed that creation “fell” along with Adam and Eve?

    • maguyton@gmail.com

      I don’t think Romans 5 or Romans 8 are enough to establish that germs and fungus were created by sin.

  • Thanks for this post, Morgan. Really appreciate it and think you made some great points. I generally think Paul is discussing spiritual death in Romans 5 — the severing of one’s spirit from its source of life, which is God — but the “death” of innocence is an intriguing possibility as well. What I like to point out to those who believe Romans 5 is talking about physical death is the part of Romans 5:12 that says “and so death spread to all people because all sinned“. Which, under their view, would seem to imply that we should be functionally immortal until we begin sinning, and that animals — which are incapable of sin — should also be incapable of death.

    • maguyton@gmail.com

      Yeah I would probably end up making death of innocence and spiritual death mean the same thing. We need to be made alive by Jesus regardless.

    • MorganGuyton

      Great point about Romans 5:12!

  • Wonderful.

  • Kelley Whitmer

    I just started seminary coursework this month. As a scientist and physician, I also find the idea that all death and decay are because of God’s curse on Creation because of Adam’s sin (although that is how my seminary professors explain it) to be a less-than-thoughtful explanation. I think that preserving the mystery of the New Earth is best. To have glimpsed the Kingdom and to know that we will be “with God” after the Resurrection is enough.

    • MorganGuyton

      I agree!

  • Sergius Martin-George

    “What happened whenever humanity lost its innocence…”
    Wait — how many times did humanity lose its innocence? Can’t that only happen once?

    • MorganGuyton

      “Whenever” doesn’t mean plural in this case.

  • Anton Johnsson

    Could there possibly be a mystery to the “old world” without death in the same way as the New Creation without death is a mystery?

    • MorganGuyton

      But there doesn’t need to be. The Augustinian “fallen creation” concept is extra-Biblical. Resurrection and new creation has a whole lot more Biblical weight. The Fall rests on a very particular interpretation of some verses in Genesis 3 and Romans 5. Romans 8 is about resurrection; it doesn’t say anything about creation groaning to be restored to some kind of unbiological origin.

      • Anton Johnsson

        Thank you for replying! I agree that it’s not a necessity to interpret these text in the way that much of tradition has. I found this post very stimulating by the way. But it seems to me that the new creation-texts echos the idea of some primordial paradise in which death was at least not as nasty (I mean insects eating each other from within!) as today (e.g. Isaiah 65:17-25). ) That makes me wonder if it’s possible that nature actually is, to some extent, fallen from it’s original peace. Also as I see it the world ends in a giant mystery, it would make a fitting inclusio if it began in a giant mystery =)

        • MorganGuyton

          Maybe so. But I’m unwilling to say that human nature is totally depraved which is the logical conclusion of a “fallen nature” doctrine. I just don’t see the Bible really saying that. We are born into a corrupt world and take on its corruption, but we are not born corrupt.

          • Anton Johnsson

            I’m not a big fan of total depravity either. One problem though is that if there was no fall of creation our talk about the primacy of peace will become absolute nonsense. Fierce competition and killing will be the natural state of things unless there was some kind of fall which entailed all of creation. That doesn’t necessarily mean a fall from a death-less past. The interpretation you sketch above is interesting but I don’t know if it answers these questions..

  • Steve

    I agree with your analysis of spiritual death rather than physical death being a consequence of sin. My reasoning entails a little thought experiment:

    If Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned, and humanity continued on with a perfect relationship with God from the very beginning and therefore no physical death occurred, then all created things on Earth would be exponentially reproducing with no death rate to counteract the growth. This would lead to the logical deduction that, after a given point in time, all living things would crowd each other out. Not talking about resources here; I’m just talking about actual *space to stand and move around*. We would reach a point where even standing and moving would be physically impossible, which by accounts, is absurd.

    This thought experiment leads to one of two conclusions:
    A) If physical death is a consequence of sin, then God planned for us to sin in order to make populations sustainable on a planet the size of Earth,
    B) If spiritual death is a consequence of sin, then physical death was always intended and God made the Earth the size it is to accommodate fully-intended growth and death rates.

    Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but to me, the phrase “God planned for us to sin” seems to be incompatible with Christianity, since its basic interpretation is “God’s plan was for us to damn ourselves” which goes against things like “For God so loved the world” and “God is not willing that any should perish”.

    Final deduction: if option A is out, that only leaves option B.

    • MorganGuyton

      B makes a lot more sense to me. God wanted and continues to want equilibrium. We’ve created ecological disaster.

      • Steve

        A corollary of the thought experiment: if in a sinless world there was only growth and no death, then our bodies, due to cellular reproduction, would basically be giant walking tumours. That God intended us to be giant walking tumours is also absurd.

    • Alex Churchill

      There are plenty of other options. Including the possibility that as sinless humanity discovered God’s creation, they’d learn peaceful applications of technology much faster than humanity obsessed with dominating each other, and start building space stations and Mars colonies long before the Earth suffered overpopulation 🙂