Another Look: Surd Evil, Serpents, and the Cosmic Battle

By Chaplain Mike

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.

• Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking

I had not planned on re-running this post, but I think our discussion on death before the Fall demands that we review it.

A common Christian viewpoint attributes all the world’s disharmony, chaos, trouble, evil and its consequences to Adam’s sin. I have come to think the Bible does not teach that. True, Romans 5:12 says, “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…” However, this text only says that human death is the consequence of our forefather’s transgression. Furthermore, it is possible that it is speaking only of human death of a certain kind (more on that in posts to come).

You find nothing in this text about earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, accidents, plant and animal death, disease, or any other “natural” forms of “evil” in the world. You won’t find them explicitly in Genesis either. Is it possible that the chaotic and destructive aspects of life in creation, elements that we would have a difficult time defining as “good” (as in Genesis 1) find their source somewhere else?

The article I wrote last year discusses this. It suggests that the world Adam entered was not the “paradise” we imagine. The Garden in which he and Eve lived may have been an enclave protected from a harsher world around them. You can read it after the jump, but I also want to recommend a blog post on the same subject — “Death and Evil existed before the Fall” at Austin’s Blog. Both of us base our material on the teaching of Bruce Waltke, whose Genesis commentary and OT Theology cover this subject.

Originally posted July 3, 2010

A number of commenters to IM this week have struggled with our interpretation that the story of the fall and its consequences does not indicate a radical change in the nature of creation itself as the result of human sin.

If, BEFORE THE FALL, plants and organisms decayed, if carnivorous animals ate other animals, if earthquakes shook the land, if meteors crashed onto the earth’s surface, if entire species died out and became extinct, if bacteria and viruses caused illnesses and suffering, if accidents occurred, causing injury and pain, if ancestors of humanity and perhaps even other human beings on the earth before Adam and Eve lived and experienced the vicissitudes of life and then died, if as Tennyson famously wrote, nature was “red in tooth and claw,” even at the beginning, then doesn’t that undermine the teaching of Scripture that all these evils are to be attributed to the fall of humankind and the entrance of sin into the world?

I don’t think so.

Chaos at the Beginning
The first indication that all is not right in God’s creation is not in Genesis 3, but in Genesis 1:2 — “The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep.”

The story of the six days of “creation” begins with the world already present, covered in darkness and watery chaos. This negative state is hostile to life. The Hebrew words tohu wabohu (formless and void) indicate a trackless wilderness, an inhospitable environment incapable of sustaining a “good” existence.

In his commentary on Genesis, Bruce Waltke elucidates the theological implications of this. This negative state at the beginning of creation indicates the presence of “surd evil” — evil that is incapable of rational explanation on our part. The origin of this evil has not been revealed to us. It is not dualistic, eternally existing and co-equal with God, for the Bible makes clear that it operates only under his sovereign control. Nevertheless, we see it operating in the world before human sin.

The precreated state of the earth with darkness and chaos suggests that everything hostile to life is not a result of sin. This is Job’s discovery (Job 38-41). Job is mystified by his whole experience of suffering. God’s response is to make clear that everything negative in creation from the human perspective is not a result of human sin. The chaotic forces — sea, darkness, and the like — are a mystery to human beings. Although these forces seem, for the moment, hostile to life, human beings can still trust the benevolence of the Creator because the malevolent forces of creation operate only within his constraints. (p. 68f)

One main point of the creation account in Genesis 1 is to show how God brought order to a chaotic earth and made it habitable for his creatures and humans. He turned tohu into tob (good). “All is bounded by God’s control” (Waltke, p. 69).

Surd evil was present before human sin, and continues in the world under the providential oversight of God until the day it too will be swallowed up in new creation.

Eve Tempted (Paradise Lost), Blake

A Dark Power in the World
Another indication that there is more to evil in the world than that which results from the fall is found in Genesis 3, before the account of human sin.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'” (3:1)

Before Adam and Eve take their first bite of forbidden fruit, the author introduces us to the serpent. I don’t think Moses had anything against snakes in particular, although forty years in the desert might have given him an aversion to them. The text suggests that there was a Dark Power behind this serpent. Animals don’t talk in the Bible unless some spiritual personage gets hold of them and makes use of their tongues.

From whence did this Dark Power come? Does not his very presence, his questioning of God’s character and words, his active role in tempting Adam and Eve to disobey God, testify to the fact that all was not right in the world even before human sin?

The Cosmic Battle
Although we commonly go to Genesis 1-2 to study the story of creation, there is more than one text discussing this subject in the Bible. A common theme in these passages is the “cosmic battle” by which God tamed the forces of chaos and established order in the world. This emphasis is also present, though muted, in Genesis 1. As Peter Enns writes:

One of the ways the Old Testament describes creation is through a conflict between Yahweh and the sea (or “waters” or one of the sea monsters, Leviathan or Rahab). Sea is a symbol of chaos, and so Yahweh’s victory in the conflict establishes order. He is the creator, the supreme power. Israel’s proper response is awe and praise.

Some examples:

Psalm 104:5-7
He established the earth upon its foundations,
So that it will not totter forever and ever.
You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
The waters were standing above the mountains.
At Your rebuke they fled,
At the sound of Your thunder they hurried away.

God did not just “separate” the waters, he rebuked them and they fled to their appointed locations. This pictures God and “the waters” in conflict with one another, and God putting them in their place.

Psalm 89:8-11
O LORD God of hosts, who is like You, O mighty LORD?
Your faithfulness also surrounds You.
You rule the swelling of the sea;
When its waves rise, You still them.
You Yourself crushed Rahab like one who is slain;
You scattered Your enemies with Your mighty arm.
The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours;
The world and all it contains, You have founded them.

Our Creator is the one who rules over the seas, stilling them, and crushing the enemy forces of chaos that exists within them, here called Rahab, the great sea monster.

Psalm 74:12-17
Yet God is my king from of old,
Who works deeds of deliverance in the midst of the earth.
You divided the sea by Your strength;
You broke the heads of the sea monsters in the waters.
You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
You gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
You broke open springs and torrents;
You dried up ever-flowing streams.
Yours is the day, Yours also is the night;
You have prepared the light and the sun.
You have established all the boundaries of the earth;
You have made summer and winter.

Note how God’s creation acts are described as “deeds of salvation (deliverance)”! It took his “strength” to divide the waters, which involved breaking“the heads of the sea monsters in the waters” and crushing “the heads of Leviathan.” Note also how the emphasis of the text is bring order out of chaos, of “establishing boundaries,” thus organizing his creation so that it is “good” for his creatures.

God answering Job, Blake

Job 38:4-11
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements — surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Or who shut in the sea with doors

when it burst out from the womb,
when I made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors,
and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed”?

See also Job 41, where God graphically describes the power of Leviathian: “Who can confront it and be safe? Under the whole heaven, who?” (Job 41:11). God the almighty Creator, that’s who! He and he alone is able to thwart the forces of chaos, command the raging sea into its place, and tame the wild beasts of the sea that foment disarray and destruction.

One evidence of God’s final victory in this cosmic battle is Revelation 21:1 — “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”

Is this “cosmic battle” emphasis seen in Genesis 1, the foundational account of creation? Yes, there are at least a few indications that this”œcosmic battle” against the sea and Leviathan inform Genesis 1 in one way or another.

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. (1:2)

And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. (1:20-21)

We’ve already discussed how the negative state described in 1:2 suggests a creation in which surd evil is present even before the fall. In fact, the word “deep” in Hebrew is very close to the name of the Babylonian god “Tiamat,” the power of the ocean. In their creation epic, the god Marduk kills her, splitting her in half, and uses her body parts to make heaven and earth. Genesis 1 may be making a subtle allusion to this myth as it portrays God taming the darkness and the deep.

In verses 20-21, note now God mentions only one specific creature in sky and seas: the great sea creatures. This may be read as a subtle polemic against Babylonian myths representing these sea monsters as great powers that the Babylonian gods had to defeat in order to achieve victory. In contrast, the one living and true God, creator of land, sea, and skies, simply brought forth these creatures and populated the seas with them. They are mere works of his hand.

What does this “cosmic battle” emphasis say to our subject? It says that the Bible portrays the presence of forces and powers opposed to God active in the universe and in the world before the first act of human sin. God had to perform “acts of salvation” (Ps 74:12) even to create the world! In creation, he delivered the world from conditions of chaos and disorder, bringing order and “goodness” to it, so that his creatures could live in his blessing. Those forces are still present, but they are kept within the boundaries that God’s sovereign, providential rule has established.

What about Romans 8?
Paul seems to infer that creation is “groaning” because God subjected it to the curse delineated in Genesis 3. Here is Romans 8:18-25 (NASB:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly 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 also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

C. John Collins suggests that the key term in Rom. 8 is “slavery to corruption”. In the LXX of Genesis this term “corruption” is used, not in Genesis 3, but in Genesis 6:11-13, where it says that the world became corrupt in God’s sight because “all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.” Collins writes,

Seen this way, the creation is “in bondage to decay,” not because of changes in the way it works but because of the “decay” (or corruption) of mankind, and in response to man’s “decay” God “brings decay to” (or “destroys”) the earth to chastise man. The creation is “subjected to futility” because it has sinful mankind in it, and thus it is the arena in which mankind expresses its sin and experiences God’s judgments. No wonder it “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God,” for then the sons of God will be perfect in holiness, and sin will be no more. (Genesis 1-4, p. 184)

Human sin did not introduce all forms of evil and chaos into the world, but it did intensify them. Human beings, who were called to exercise dominion over the world, have become corrupted, and under their rule the world sinks even deeper into chaos. Acting out in a world where surd evil often rears its ugly head, voluntarily in league with the Evil One who first tempted them to sin, aligning themselves and cooperating with the cosmic forces opposed to God’s rule and righteousness, sinful human beings threaten to turn tob (good) back into tohu wabohu (an uninhabitable wasteland).

This effort shall not prevail. Our hope is in God, who in Jesus is making a new creation. In the new heavens and new earth, all forms of evil and chaos shall be destroyed, and everything in heaven and on earth reconciled to God through Christ.

With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Eph 1:8-9, NRSV)

47 thoughts on “Another Look: Surd Evil, Serpents, and the Cosmic Battle

  1. Ned…I do find open theism intriguing. If I can reoslve a host of issues that could get me around the problem of evil whihc deeply bothers me.


  2. I like the idea of the world starting with God pushing back darkness. I picture a large ball of play-dough being squeezed in a hand. The harder you squeeze, the more little bits of play-dough will press from between the fingers. Those parts of Surd evil that squeeze out still show up, trust me i see them on a daily basis, but i also see the fingers.

    I also like that this squeezing, this creation, began with light. I have been reading John lately, and have been reminded time and time again how important light is in our story. Speaking light into that darkness to create is a wonderful thing.


  3. I would say that the evil forces must be human (original) sin, anything else gives far too much power to Satan. In fact, it makes God’s command for Adam to have dominion into a cruel hoax.


  4. Isn’t the internet for butting into conversations? Good… 🙂

    The difference would be that a human wills animal fighting, where the Scriptures are clear that God does not will evil, but that the creation was subject to evil forces. It also doesn’t explain where these evil forces originated from.


  5. Patricia,

    this is a very intriguing idea. Is it yours alone, or are you drawing on someone else’s thoughts?


  6. In case it’s not clear, that is reductio ad absurdum. What I mean, is that God can create whatever He wants (or He is not God). Death is not necessary for life, because God is life, and without any hint of death. The eternal state is life without death.

    If God creates suffering (without the influence of sin), it is because God is pleased with suffering.


  7. But I HAVE given such arguments! Several times in this thread, in fact. The cycle of hunter and prey maintains population balance in nature. Wildfires in natural forests are part of maintaining the population balance of the flora. Hurricanes and floods help the flora and fauna reproduce by clearing out some things and providing germination for others. Would you have lions become vegetarians? It’s not a sin for a lion to kill and eat a gazelle. In nature, death is necessary for life. You’re equating death with suffering. That’s not necessarily so. Predatory animals don’t torture their prey. They kill it and eat it. Done and done.

    In the case of humans torturing creatures, we are inflicting pain for the sake of seeing suffering. Motivation is a major part of it. As is the intentional prolonging of the creature’s pain.

    Can you really not see a difference?


  8. Ok, Isaac, but you have to give some argument as to how that is different.

    If animals being eaten alive or crushed by natural disasters is not “suffering” for them, then it is not suffering for us to torture them either – right?


  9. We are sidetracked here somewhat.

    What I am saying, is that there is an inconsistency on the part of OE/TEs. They should be against the ASPCA. They should bring back bear baiting, and sponsor bull fights. Because these these glorify God.

    Actually, I think the sidetrack really is the point. You are saying that natural animal & plant death and various violent forces of nature are the moral equivalent of bear baiting and bull fights unless they are a product of the fall. I’m saying there’s a serious logical leap there equating the violence of nature with cruelty or suffering. It seems to me that humans exploiting the natural tendencies of animals into blood sport is not the moral equivalent the animals doing what they are designed to do in terms of hunting, protecting themselves and their young, etc.


  10. The purpose of all things is to glorify God – that’s not mine, that is the summary of many Protestant confessions. If there is another valid one, I’m open to hearing it.


  11. Why all this about the glory of God? I don’t think God does anything for his own glory. That is projecting our human wants onto God. If God wanted to glorify himself, he would have done something different than this sloppy world. The point of our existence is not to provide God with a really cool toy that makes Him look good to, I guess, the competing Gods out there. Maybe all the Gods get together and brag about their different creations, like people do their cars. I tend to put God on a higher plane than a vintage auto collector.

    And why is death a punishment? Death might be a good thing as we move from this veil of sin and suffering into a better world. It is again because of our human wants and selfishness that we perceive it to be bad. We are sad when someone dies, so we think it is bad, but I suspect checking with the folks that have moved on might produce a different answer.


  12. It’s not like that. God permits evil. We know that, and agree there. The alternative is that God is unaware of evil (Open Theism).


  13. Calvinism is basically Predestination Uber Alles; God’s Soverignity and God’s Will stressed to the point they crowd out everything else. In such a case, it ends up resolving the paradox of Evil by putting God beyond Good and Evil; God CAN will Evil, and it’s not Evil because it’s God’s Will. (And eventually, you are the one who is Evil because you call it Evil.) You end up with (Christian Monist’s words) “a God who is Omnipotent but not benevolent.”

    Islam has had a similar view of God throughout its history, and has often encountered the same problem. And the same side effects and collateral damage.


  14. Is it me or is Calvinism very spiritual abusive? I read somewhere, I think it was on IM, where someone who heard John Piper preach at a Passion Conference said that God ordained evil. That makes me feel sick. I wonder how that raped child you referenced Allen would feel…to be taught that she/he was sexually molested for a greater good. That makes me want to vomit. How can people say such a thing, and in an indirect way doesn’t that support and encourage such evil?


  15. We are sidetracked here somewhat.

    What I am saying, is that there is an inconsistency on the part of OE/TEs. They should be against the ASPCA. They should bring back bear baiting, and sponsor bull fights. Because these these glorify God.

    Yet they don’t. Why is that?


  16. Perhaps a better question is what makes those things bad or good in of themselves? Why would they have any moral implications even from God’s perspective? For example, If a deer is killed by a wolf pack for food, why is that suffering for the deer? A greater suffering for the deer herds is when they get overpopulated due to having no predators (there have been examples of this when humans have attempted to control the predators). And when prey is scarce, wolf breeding naturally trickles down as none of the wolf pairs but the alpha pair will breed. Similarly, natural wildfires clear out dead branches and help some species of flora to breed. Other of the more violent aspects of nature are also similarly necessary to the way the natural cycle of life works in those systems.

    How is this suffering? It’s just life. How is this a moral problem from God’s perspective?


  17. It is neutral to us because we do not cause it and have no control over it.

    It is not neutral to God, because you say He caused it and has control over it.


  18. I don’t recall if I’ve ever shared my thoughts on this subject on IM before, but I tend to think that God deliberately created a constantly churning world incorporating death and rebirth because he anticipated the fall of the humans he had in mind to ultimately inhabit it – and needed to create a world capable of sustaining them in their fallen state.

    Tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods destroy and cause death, but are a side effect of the weather we need to grow food. The ground cracks open and destroys things through earthquakes, but plate tectonics are necessary for life on earth because they release essential gases and elements into the environment, not to mention new soil for plant life. Fires burn and destroy things, but we need fire to cook food and keep warm. We have to kill animals for food, and animals kill each other and are re-absorbed back into the earth as nutrients for new life. In other words, in a static world without death and natural processes sometimes resulting in disasters, fallen humans would ironically be resigned to a hellish existence of starvation and quick extinction.

    Mind you, I don’t take this to mean that God set us up for the fall – but rather that he prepared for it in advance. We had things good in Eden, a slice of paradise, if you will; and we screwed up and got kicked out, throwing the contingency plan, so to speak, into effect. God doesn’t directly provide for humans like he did in Eden, so he set up a world that would allow people to feed and shelter themselves.

    Because people will be renewed in God’s new creation, so will the rest of the universe, and the pattern of decay, death, and rebirth will no longer be necessary in a universe without sinful mankind.


  19. This question is one always on my mind as someone who studies tornadoes and other severe weather for a living (and chases them for a hobby!). Over time, I have become increasingly convinced of a position very similar to the one you have outlined, Chaplain Mike. However, I would also point out that while I agree that when natural forces such as tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and the like intersect with human lives in such a way that produces death and suffering, that this could be called “surd evil”, there is also a dramatic beauty and even a goodness to these very phenomena. They indicate that nature is “working”, and in doing so, display God’s glory, power, and provision for a fully functioning creation. (Nature is indeed not “tame”, and neither is our God). Often such displays of nature don’t in fact cause human suffering (e.g., I’ve witnessed many a tornado that lived out its life entirely over open country, not hurting anybody). As a said in another recent comment, I strongly suspect that we cannot have the one (a fully functioning, dynamic, and complex Creation that allows for free will) without the other (the possibility and even inevitability of natural disasters). However, I’m perfectly willing to accept that such a state will not persist when the heavens and Earth are made new (though, I do hope there are still tornadoes to chase 😉 )>

    All this said, however, I would be the first to admit a gut-wrenching and sickening feeling whenever I see the destruction that these same tornadoes cause when they *do* impact human lives, such as in the Alabama outbreak, the recent Joplin, MO tornado, and the 24 May Oklahoma tornadoes. In fact, I would go so far to say that none of us understand how deadly these storms can be than the ones who have devoted our careers to learning about them. The latter was especially close to home, literally, as one of the tornadoes dissipated just before reaching the building that I and my wife work in, while my wife was in it (I was out with a team collecting data on the tornadoes with a mobile radar at the time; my wife would have been out there too if it weren’t for another important commitment!) In these times, we have to obey the call of Jesus, roll up our sleeves, and help those that have suffered from these tragedies.

    Finally, I chafe at the blithe attribution of divine judgment by some to various natural disasters. Take the Alabama tornado outbreak, for example. The general weather conditions giving rise to this outbreak were in fact well predicted by our current forecast computer models. We started seeing signs of its potential a week in advance, and as it got closer in time, it became increasingly clearer that a very significant tornado outbreak was likely. The state of the science is still not to the point that we could have known that it would be as bad as it was, or that we could have predicted where individual storms are going to form and put down tornadoes (but we’re working on it). The point is, we saw it coming, even if somewhat muddied with uncertainty. When God does judge people, does he announce it in the equations of motion applied to atmospheric flow? Somehow I doubt it…


  20. How about this explanation: Before God created any type of being, He created an alternative to Himself, Satan set up his kingdim in the alternative, and God went to Satan’s kingdom to create our world.

    To make a long story short, because God is love and love doesn’t seek its own, God created an alternative to Himself–darkness, evil, hate, death, and phsicality–by withdrawing Himself from a “place.” When Lucifer decided that he wanted to be like God and rule over his peers, he chose to let go of God and to set up his kingdom in the alternative. When God went to Satan’s kingdom to create our world, the first words He spoke were “Let there be light!” or “I AM here!” From that point on, God created good in the place of evil, and Satan began looking for a way to destroy God’s creation. Knowing that God would present Adam with the choice between Himself and the alternative (the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil), Satan carefully plotted a scam to push the human beings into choosing the alternative. Adam and Eve never touched the fruit until,Satan came to Eve and lied to her. Since Adam and Eve had only known good, they did not have the ability to discern the lie and fell for the scam. When they did eat the fruit, Satan inserted a dividing wall between God and the human race. On the cross, Jesus obliterated that wall and provided us with a way to overcome and defeat the kingdom of evil.


  21. Its ultimately clear that natural death existed in the world before the Fall. Some species of dinosaurs devoured others in vicious spectacles of survival, yet I find it interesting that even the most ferocious like T. Rex managed to perpetuate and nurture its species without self-annihilating consumption. There was blood, pain, and death long before man arrived. Plant life grew, and either withered or was consumed, and died. Decay was present from the inception of our planet. Ask anybody who has had a radon check of their basement. Why did God make a prehistorical world filled with pea-sized brains bent on predation? We are privy to the details of when Satan and his subordinates fell to earth, and the trail of death and pitiful survival amongst cold-blooded creatures suggests that it was eons before Adam’s arrival. Surd evil for me is a bottomless pit; making sense of it is way too much over my head. I can only say, the cosmic majesty and mystery overwhelm me, and when I listen to Vaughan Williams’ Sinfonia Antartica, it brings chills up my spine to hear the words taken from Psalm 104, “There go the ships, and there is that Leviathan whom thou hast made to take his pastime therein”.


  22. You should have brought this back out when Piper shared his words of wisdom with the Japanese people following the Tsunami.

    Anyway, I remember when you posted this the first time, and I thought is was brilliant then. The image of God separating, parting, stopping, silencing, or walking upon the chaotic waves runs through scripture. I didn’t appreciate your connection with the serpent imagery before. It really changes my perspective on the Genesis creation story. It is an amazing work of poetry.


  23. Why did God allow billions of years of evolution and extinction before humans came on the scene? Simple, he wanted Christians to drive SUVs, and SUVs run on extinct animals.


  24. I had never heard the term “surd” evil until this post. “surd” means voiceless… as in, no perpetrator that is directing a moral wrongdoing, who we can blame for it.

    Victims? Yes. Victims of cancer, alzheimers, earthquakes, tornados.
    Perpetrator? No.


  25. In short, my trip through the post-evangelical wilderness started with Calvinism. The notion of a Sovereign God first attracted me, but as I read some extreme Calvinist (and followed their logical conclusions) I realized this leads to a God who is the author of evil. I even had one Calvinist pastor say that God caused a man to rape a child as part of a plan for the greater good. In recent Alabama tornadoes, I heard that a sovereign God created the tornadoes in order to kill and destroy and bring about a greater good. The whole line of reasoning sends me into a very depressive and despondent state. If I am forced to believe in that kind of God, honestly I would rather reject Him.

    Now, however, I see history as a grand story of God bringing order out of chaos (as is suggested in Genesis, Job, and Psalms), and I see a future of the 2nd advent where Christ returns and completes the grand story, completely bringing order out of chaos and reuniting creation with the Trinity. I can handle the story, because I realize the chaotic world we live in is only temporary.


  26. Martha,

    (1) The covenant relationship that God had with Israel in the OT was clearly intended to anticipate the person and work of Jesus Christ and the greater spiritual realities that all peoples would enjoy in the new covenant. Moreover, the many prophecies concerning a coming savior that were given well in advance over many centuries could only serve to validate the ministry of Christ when he finally appeared on the earth.

    (2) The covenant relationship that God had with Israel in the OT also took place for the purpose of its being recorded so that all peoples could learn about the nature and character of God as revealed through that relationship. And perhaps just as important, to show the inadequacy of our fallen human nature as revealed through Israel in the OT, who despite being entrusted with “the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises” (Rom 9:4) still broke the covenant they had with God because they had not yet been given a new heart (Deut 29:4). Israel in the OT is supposed to illustrate the inadequacy of our own fallen human nature and that we can’t possibly hope to work out our own salvation even if God gives us every possible advantage and many “second chances”, as he did with Israel in the OT. Of course, all this would take time.

    (3) Moreover, as the mysteries of God were being unfolded in the fullness of time he had not left himself without witness to all peoples; in the creation (Rom 1:20), in his common grace (Acts 14:15-17), and in the allotment of periods and boundaries for dwelling (Acts 17:26). All this was given “in the hope that [all peoples] might feel their way toward him and find him” (Acts 17:27).


  27. Would the natural life and death, hunter and prey, etc. bits of animals lives be considered morally cruel? I’d think that it’d fall into the “neutral” category. Wildfires, earthquakes, etc. seem to just be part of nature requiring destruction in the process of creation. Can one put morality into the natural order?


  28. These kind of discussions assist one in the discovery of a viable Biblical theology, an ongoing process.


  29. One key point is that this is all before the first humans. It is the moral equivalent of putting animals in an arena to fight, or bear baiting.


  30. An interesting aspect of YEC is that approximately half the people who have ever lived are alive right now. Some amount of timing may be due to allowing peoples to progress to some certain point…


  31. So what? I still don’t get what that matters.

    You seem to be coming from the perspective that the display God’s glory is the primary point of creation. I’m not sure I would agree with that perspective. I would say that creation flows out of an expression of God’s love. True love requires beings that have true freedom, which means that any of the personal beings God created have the ability to reject Him. So if they did turn the cosmos into a war zone, that was a risk that God allowed when He created them.


  32. By the same token, why only choose one people to know the truth? Why wait four thousand years from Noah to Christ?


  33. Well, we’re not talking about hundreds of millions of years of angels singing praises to God.

    This is hundreds of millions of years of suffering, death, extinction, wild fires, earthquakes, etc. All to the “glory” of God.

    For example, most biologists estimate that >90% of all species are extinct. Most before 1e6 ya (i.e. the first humans).


  34. A big part of my spiritual journey is seeing history as a cosmic battle instead of the result of a fall. It changes a lot about how I view the world around me.

    I can actually handle evil in the world slightly better when I see it in that context.


  35. But what is time to God? I really don’t see why that matters at all. Time (or more accurately, space-time) is a completely relative entity anyway. We don’t know how other personal entities such as angels and demons in the universe experience time, so I really don’t see how what you’re saying really matters that much to this sort of discussion.


  36. Wonderful exegesis!
    How about this passage from Isaiah for New Creation:

    They will not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain;
    for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.


  37. Although I’m not a gap theorist, there’s a valid criticism in here for us OECs. If God created the world as long ago as modern scientific findings suggest then we might wonder why it took so long for the drama of human redemption to take place.

    My answer is that this world is a giant cosmic temple that God made for his glory and fills with his glory (Isa 6:3) and that it shouldn’t surprise us that God’s cosmic temple is very big and that it’s been glorifying him for a very long time. The idea of the cosmos being very big and very old is only disconcerting if you believe that the primary purpose of the cosmos is to serve as a backdrop to our little drama of redemption, but if you believe that the primary purpose of the cosmos is to give glory to God and that our little drama of redemption is secondary to that then it’s not so surprising that it might be very big and very old.


  38. For those with weak Google-fu, here is my comment from the last version:
    “The Old Earth (OE) pictures a God who creates, but in the course of the 14 billion years from creation to man, Satan gets in and messes everything up. God tries to create good, but everything turns out bad. God tries to grab a toehold in Eden (among the first humans, perhaps 1e6 ya), but that is a disastrous failure. The descendants of Adam are even more failures, and God nukes the site from orbit.

    Over the next 997000 years, God is quiet.

    Then, God reveals Himself to Abram. And we follow from there. Perhaps Jesus will return soon, perhaps He will wait another 15e9 years.”


  39. Chaplain Mike,

    This amateur theologian approves, excellent entry!

    On a minor note, I disagree with Collins and think that phthora in Romans 8:21 should be translated as “decay” (NIV) and not “corruption” (NASB, ESV, KJV, ASV, YLT). The parallel Paul sets up is that creation longs to be set free from phthora (Rom 8:20-22) just as we who have the firstfruits of the Spirit long to inherit our imperishable bodies (Rom 8:23); along these lines, the NASB does translate phthora as “perishable” in 1 Cor 15:42, 52 in describing the natural bodies we have right now and as “perish” in Col 2:22 in describing the transient natural order of our world. Collins wants to say that phthora in Romans 8:21 is a reference to human corruption (following the LXX in Gen 6) but that doesn’t seem to fit the context as well, although it is certainly true that our fallen nature has done great violence to the rest of creation.

    “Furthermore, it is possible that it is speaking only of human death of a certain kind”

    That’s what I think, I’ll be looking forward to that entry.


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