September 16, 2011

Theological Implications of Animal Death Before the Fall

(Warning: This is a somewhat disorganized ramble.)

Much ado has been made over animal death existing before the Fall. Some young-earth creationists (YECs) have even gone to the extreme of saying that God could not be a loving and good God if He allowed pain and death to exist before sin entered the world. Where are they getting this from in the Bible? (I have discussed this topic somewhat in a previous post [1]. Please refer back to this post for other thoughts about the topic of sin and death before the Fall.)

The Bible actually says nothing about there being no animal death before the Fall. The closest you can come to finding that thought is in the phrase, “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). However, the description “very good” is purely subjective. What about the creation was “very good”? There are two places in the Old Testament where the current state of creation, which includes plenty of death and pain, is deemed “beautiful” or spoken of in connection with “good” (Ecc. 3:11; Psalm 104:28). The current condition of the world definitely has much good in it, whether or not it is merely a shadow of its former beauty. It is not logically sound to assume that God would not have called the current state of the world “very good,” since there are many ways in which the current world is indeed good. Is it impossible that God would have called the world “very good” when there was animal death? I think not. It is mostly our emotional bias that hesitates to think that God would consider this current state of the animal kingdom to be good.

Romans 8 is a good place to go to see how God views the pain and death and futility of the whole of the world. If you read this chapter, you will see plainly that the earth was subjected to futility by God because He wanted to build anticipation for a future perfect world. There is no indication in the passage that the “birth pangs”—the sorrow and futility—of the world in general were caused by sin, namely the fall of Adam. Yes, human suffering and death are from sin and the Fall, and that is important to understand theologically, but the rest of creation was subjected to unpleasantness because of God’s mysterious eternal plans. The Creation is as a woman that is about to give birth. There is pain associated with the birth process, but something beautiful is happening. The birth of the child pictures the New Creation to come that is perfect. Such a perfect state has not been born yet, and it has never existed. Before the Fall, it was not perfect, just “very good” using some measure.

So, is there a problem with animal death before Adam? If there was animal death before Adam, should we feel sorry for the poor animals and shake our fists at God and say, “You are not just and good”? There have been some who have abandoned the Faith because of the cruelty of life. How could God be so good and loving and just but have created a world filled with violence and pain and death? The YEC answers this by trying to shift all the blame to human sin, and more specifically the Fall of Adam. But, does the Bible justify that blame, and does that answer our concerns about suffering and futility of all of Creation?

The objection that YECs raise concerning death before Adam is fundamentally flawed in three ways. First, there is no Biblical passage that indicates that animal suffering and death began because of the Fall of Adam. YECs, in my opinion, abuse Romans 5, Romans 8, and 1 Corinthians 15 severely. These passages do not in any way directly tie animal death with Adam’s Fall. That is important to note. If we are trying to say that Adam’s sin caused all the “woes” of the world, then the Bible should say something to that effect. It does not. The Fall caused all human woes but not necessarily any other problems. If the Fall caused all problems in the world, then you would expect that to be pointed out somewhere in the Bible. Surely the Curse detailed in Genesis 3 should have said something about animals suddenly having pain and suffering and dying! But, no, God does not say to Adam and Eve that the animals would suffer in that way because of their sin.

Second, the YECs use bad logic to suggest that if animal death existed before the Fall, then God subjected the animal kingdom to unjust punishment—i.e., punishment not the result of any sin. This is flawed logic on at least two accounts. For one thing, animals are amoral and never commit sin making them worthy of punishment. There is no reason why Adam’s sin should have been imputed to innocent animals in the first place. Adam’s guilt did not make the animals guilty and worthy of punishment. Animals are worthy of neither paradise nor painful futility. God can do with them as He pleases. Soulful animals are devoid of knowledge of God and receive the rewards of their ignorance and vanity. They act in ignorance and so receive the fruits of ignorance: futility, pain, and death. Only knowing and serving God brings unending life. The animals were never inherently worthy of unending life.

For another thing, even if we did believe that all the “woes” of the world need to be connected with the Fall, God knows the future and could just as easily have placed the curse upon all Creation before the Fall as after it. Logically, there is no reason why God would need to wait until after Adam sinned to place the curse on Creation. Take redemption in Christ as an example. People before the Cross of Christ were able to have Christ’s perfect blood applied to them long before He shed His blood, because God knew the future and knew that Jesus Christ would come and make atonement for people. It is perfectly fair for God to act in the past based upon knowledge of the future. It would be perfectly fair for God to place a curse of futility on all animals long before the Fall precisely because of the Fall, knowing that it was going to happen. Logically this is a possibility, even if it is not what God was doing.

There is no reason why animal suffering and death necessitates injustice to them. Even if amoral animals were somehow deserving of a lifetime free from pain, there is no logical reason to believe that God could not somehow balance out the pains with pleasures. There is no reason to believe that God could not ensure justice for the animals, since He governs every ‘random’ event in nature. Animals receive the undeserved gift of life and pleasure in it. They have their rewards. Justice demands nothing more than a “net zero”—a tooth for a tooth. There is no saying that animals that do harm to other innocent animals do not receive punishments in life making for justice. There is nothing, in purely logical terms, as farfetched as it may be, for God to also make for perfect justice for the animals at the point of their death. The point here is that there are possibilities that may be beyond our limited notions of what God could do to ensure perfect justice throughout the animal kingdom, regardless of there being pain and suffering and death. All of this, once again, is under the presumption that animals somehow deserve a higher justice. I am not convinced that they are worthy of anything.

A very important point is that if animals deserve no pain in life, we should not be allowed to kill them. Killing animals involves some measure of pain for them. God would never have required animal sacrifices if animals are so innocent as to be worthy of paradise. Clearly, pain and death of animals is not always an injustice to them. The Fall of mankind didn’t magically make animals suddenly deserving of pain. If animals do not now deserve a painless life that never ends, then they never deserved it, not even before the Fall.

Third, the YECs pretend to solve the dilemma of general problems in the world by placing all the blame at Adam’s feet (and all mankind, since all people were in Adam), even though justice doesn’t work that way. Just imagine if I robbed someone and a judge said that he was going to fine me $100 and also kill all my neighbor’s pets as my punishment. How is it just for my neighbor’s poor pets to be killed because of my transgression? It is not! Justice, in general, only applies to the one offending and the one offended. To somehow try to make animal suffering about justice pertaining to Adam’s sin would be absurd, in my opinion. The animals did not deserve to be punished for Adam’s sin. The most we could say is that the world has been subjected to futility to teach man about his sin. If that is why God put the world under futility, then it is even more obvious that God could have prepared the world far in advance for this lesson for humanity. Again, God did not need to wait for Adam to Fall, even if the world is primarily suitable for after the Fall. I hope that is clear. YECs ultimately solve nothing by tying animal woes to man’s sin, I believe; and, YECs prove nothing by assuming that all death must be the result of the Fall. Any way you look at it, God would be perfectly just and fair to subject the world to decay and death before man arrived on the scene.

The problems in nature could have served as a lesson to Adam before the Fall. It would have shown him that life apart from God is vain and futile. It would have amplified his sin if he could see what death was all about. It would have made him appreciate the life he had with the Lord even more! Is that not consistent with how that in eternity there will be those who are lost, and we will forever be fully aware of what we’ve been saved from? If Adam and Eve lived in a less than perfect world, doesn’t that make the importance of knowing God all that much more evident?

So, is there anything we can say about the nature of God if problems existed in nature before Adam sinned? Yes, I believe there are some possible implications. God would then appear to be One who is planning far in advance, who enjoys building anticipation, who makes things better and better in time, who gives people no excuse of ignorance (not even Adam and Eve), who consistently shows that ignorance of Him is not bliss, who rewards only those who seek Him (animals don’t seek Him), whose plans and counsels stand without fail, and who does not punish others (even animals) for someone else’s sin. I don’t see how any of this is inconsistent with God’s nature as revealed in the Bible. The theological implications could be worse, I think, if you believe that futility did not exist before the Fall.

What about God’s goodness? There are two possible answers, to reiterate what’s above. Animals may be under bondage because of Adam’s sin, even if that bondage preexisted the Fall. More likely, animals generally receive God’s goodness in life, and their suffering is more the result of their own ignorance of Him and His holiness. Just as God says that He is good to all, since He sends the sunshine and rain on all people (Matt. 5:45), He is good likewise in sending the rain and sunshine on all animals. The animals enjoy good things in life. Their suffering, by the way, is less than for humans, since they have a much lower degree of awareness. God is, and always has been, good to the animals.

It is true that many animals need—and are designed—to kill other animals, but they are mostly ignorant of what they are doing. God says that lions are “filled with good” when they go out and kill other animals (Psalm 104:28). At the same time that a gazelle receives pain, a lion is being rewarded with a good thing in life. However, most gazelles, if they could live and talk after death, would tell us that life was worth it, even if they did get eaten by a lion. So, even the sad fight for survival in the animal kingdom does not nullify the goodness of God in life. (By the way, there are plenty of creatures that die of old age and escape being killed by other animals. Generally those animals with less awareness are lower down on the food chain—like insects—and hardly care if they’re eaten.)

I’m not saying that this isn’t a difficult and emotional topic to navigate through. I do empathize for the poor animals. But, I think if we carefully consider this topic, we’ll understand the goodness of God. We’ll understand that He has a higher purpose for subjecting the world to futility. We’ll understand that animals generally receive more good than evil in their lifetimes. This topic reveals more about us than God. Are we optimists or pessimists? Do we understand true justice? Do we limit God and assume to much about what He can or cannot do? Do we think God’s goodness is a gift or inherently deserved?

How was the world “very good”? It was very well designed. It was filled with beauty and complexity and intricacy. It was perfectly suited for the future unfolding story of redemption. It was very well planned. It was filled with good things, from foods to rainbows to sunsets to mountains to kinship to unfailing laws. The whole of nature is very well organized. Order fills Creation. We could perfectly truthfully say, “Creation is very good in its design, but yet filled with futility and suffering for God has subject it in hope of a better world.” Should it astonish us that Genesis 1 and 2 focus on the goodness of Creation and ignore the problems in it? The lesson to take away from that is that when a person is walking in a pure and undefiled relationship with God even the problems of life can’t get them depressed. A perfect relationship with God makes life so much more beautiful. Adam and Eve were so grateful and impressed at the goodness and wisdom of God. They had no reason to let the problems among the animal kingdom get them down. Just think of the implications this has for our own happiness in this imperfect world! “Know God, know peace; no God, no peace.”


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