Okay, let me offer a disclaimer from jump. I am a Christian, and I do believe that God is sovereign and all powerful, and His Will irresistible.
…if He takes it upon Himself to BE irresistible, which I don’t think is always the case. Simply the fact that things happen AGAINST His Will is proof to me that God must permit resistance to His Will.
On my way home from work this morning, I was listening to my podcasts — in this case, Ask Away, put out by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries — and the speaker was talking about “natural evil”, and about how death and disaster and suffering are not how our Earth was made to run. Now, I know this is a popular concept, and that there may even be support for it in scripture (though I’d say that interpretation is hardly conclusive), but it makes very little sense to me, scripturally or logically.
Starting with scripture, the very first verse that comes to mind is “The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”. Note here that the very INSTANT that God created the universe (whether you believe in the Big Bang or, like me, adhere to the Young Earth Creation theory), He created it with Christ’s death on the Cross as an inevitable reality. That’s not to say that God “intended” for Christ to go to the Cross, but that when God created the universe, He intentionally did so in such a way that Christ’s sacrifice would be an unavoidable consequence. Christ’s death, though unwanted, was nevertheless NECESSARY to God’s creation because God wanted Creation to be governed by certain rules (man’s freedom to reject God, and God’s mercy to redeem man, among others), and Christ’s death was a necessary outcome of those rules.
So death was a part of reality “from the foundation of the world”. What does scripture say about death AT the foundation of the world?
Well, go to the descriptions in Genesis. “The evening and the morning were the first day” speaks of the passage of time, and its effects on reality. Even before God created the sun to produce this light, the light moving to darkness moving back to light itself embodied change.
Day Two — the water cycle. This is the basis of all life, the movement of water from liquid to gas to liquid, and the movement of water from one place to another. When a quantity of liquid becomes gas, that quantity of liquid has ceased to exist as it was. Death.
Day Three — plants. God creates them to cover the dry land… but how to plants subsist? They draw nutrients up from the soil, nutrients that, if they are to be self-sustaining, necessarily come from things in various stages of decomposition. Death.
Day Four — the sun itself. It is ultimately a huge nuclear reactor, CONSUMING elements and producing heat and light in the process. The elements that it consumes are effectively dead, changed from what they were into something else entirely. Death.
Day Five — sea life and birds. What does God design them to do? Multiply, which necessitates the acquisition and use of resources. In order to produce MORE of themselves, they must add more matter TO themselves. They must consume, whether it be plant or animal matter. The matter that they consume? Now dead.
Day Six — land animals and mankind. Again, God designs them to multiply (which necessitates consumption, which necessitates death). Further, God commands man to SUBDUE the world, to bring it under his dominion. That doesn’t necessarily mean to “conquer” it, but to do as God Himself eventually does in His creation of Eden, which I’ll speak to in a moment.
So in the very creation of the Earth, it’s pretty evident to me that God created the world to be self-sustaining, with death not an “unfortunate” part of life but as an impartial, dispassionate, driving force. The solar cycle drives the water cycle, which in turn replenishes the plant and animal cycles. And all of these cycles necessitate death as a source for new life — the resources of the past, broken down and feeding the present, such that they can be repurposed as the building blocks of the future.
What gives this theory credibility, to me, is the intentional creation of Eden. Note how Genesis describes Eden as a GARDEN. Consider that every garden grows something that is (or at one time was) found out in the wild. The purpose of a garden is NOT to give space for something wild to grow, but to INTENTIONALLY grow it. A garden is where naturally occurring things are intentionally ORDERED, grown for efficiency and purpose to serve the grower, rather than left to happenstance to serve itself. This in itself is a death of sorts — the death of the wild, the feral, the self-living, at the hands of order.
Now, the scripture doesn’t speak to whether or not the plants of the Garden could have been found elsewhere in the world, but I think it’s reasonable to assume that the plantlife here was common. Rather, what set the Garden apart is the fact that it WAS set apart, intentionally compartmentalized from the rest of the world for the purpose of ordering it, and with Adam and Eve placed there (intentionally) to tend it (intentionally).
To me, this speaks to God’s intentions toward Adam and Eve, and through them, toward mankind at large. Far from death (and by extension, suffering and all other forms of “natural evil”) being an imperfection in the machinery of Creation, it suggests to me that death was ALWAYS a part of God’s Creation, as a driver rather than a destroyer. This does not undermine the tragedy of death as we now see it, but rather the tragedy of it demonstrates how we recognize, even in our rejection of God, that God intended us to be MORE than self-sustaining, MORE than the physical nature that He built within us.
See, quite like the Garden was an example of God’s self-sustaining Creation being INTENTIONALLY sustained, God created mankind with the physical nature to be self-sustaining but with the purpose of being intentionally sustained. So when we see death or suffering or what have you, I can’t see that as God’s plan going awry. To the contrary, I see that as God’s design in full effect — a self-sustaining world — which makes the choice in Eden so much more profound: between remaining in relationship with Him and being intentionally sustained by Him, or choosing to reject that relationship and assuming the responsibility and consequences of sustaining ourselves.