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

By Chaplain Mike

NOTE FROM CM: In the light of last week’s tragedies and some of our discussions, today we present an important post I first wrote two year ago. I have updated a few sentences and brought some of my comments up to date, but it is basically the same piece. I consider it important because it forces us to think about “creation” beyond the pages of Genesis 1-2, to see how other passages in the Bible portray God’s creative work and involvement with nature in much different terms, and to consider a bit of the Ancient Near Eastern milieu that shaped the mindset of the Biblical authors. Furthermore, these perspectives force us to rethink some of our simplistic views about God’s sovereignty and providence. The picture of creation and life presented in the Bible is far more complex, profound, and mysterious than any of us realize. During this Lenten season, when we are trying to think about issues of life and death, suffering and new creation, I think it important that we consider these ideas again.

• • •

Originally posted July 3, 2010

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen.

Don’t be afraid. I am with you.

• Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking

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 — covenantal death, exile, separation from God, condemnation. As I read it, Adam and Eve were created mortal, subject to physical death. When they lost the Garden, they lost access to the Tree of Life, which was their hope of both immortality and God’s eternal blessing.

Be that as it may, 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?

This article tries to help us think about that question. 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.

In conjunction with this post, I also want to recommend a piece on the same subject — “Death and Evil existed before the Fall” at Austin’s Blog. Both of us owe our understanding primarily to the teaching of Bruce Waltke, whose Genesis commentary and OT Theology discuss this subject.

Despite one common interpretation of the fall story in Genesis 3, I have come to think that the story of Adam and Eve’s transgression and its consequences does not indicate a radical change in the nature of creation itself as the result of human sin.

Some will object, and say:

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 ultimately operates 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.

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 disobedience.

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.

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 “cosmic battle” against the sea and Leviathan inform the author of Genesis 1.

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 Tiamat, splitting her in half, and uses her body parts to make heaven and earth. Genesis 1 makes 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 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)

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

  1. It’s semantics. It’s bad, right? That people suffer or die from the acts of nature? That people starve or lose their homes because of weather? Call it what you want — but I think evil is a perfectly fine word to use for it.

    Even describes evil as more than just “morally bad” which is the way you are using it:

    “characterized or accompanied by misfortune or suffering; unfortunate; disastrous” or “anything causing injury or harm”

    The point is — no matter what you call it, people of faith are asking why does it exist. Essentially, why does a good God allow such suffering at the “hands” of nature.


  2. It’s semantics. It’s bad, right? That people suffer or die from the acts of nature? That people starve or lose their homes because of weather? Call it what you want — but I think evil is a perfectly fine word to use for it.

    Even describes evil as more than just “morally bad” which is the way you are using it:

    “characterized or accompanied by misfortune or suffering; unfortunate; disastrous” or “anything causing injury or harm”

    The point is — no matter what you call it, people of faith are asking why does it exist. Essentially, why does a good God allow such suffering at the “hands” of nature.


  3. Reminds me of Orson Scott Card’s idea from his Alvin Maker series: the true enemy of God isn’t Satan. Satan is an irritant. The true enemy of God is The Unmaker, the force of non-existence. The cool thing about The Unmaker is that he doesn’t actually exist, but is no less dangerous for not existing.


  4. I started using that handle 4-5 years ago. My real name’s “Ken”, but there are a lot of “Ken”s out there commenting, so I went with that handle as a qualifier. You gotta admit it’s unique.

    The name originated back in 1999, when I was doing some pics for the AnthroCon art show and conbook. AC had just moved to Philadelphia that year, and its theme was “Join the Furry Revolution!” with a flyer pic of a raccoon Betsy Ross sewing a 13-paw print flag. Well, my brain tends to have these creative flashes and when I do, it’s usually Dark. I flashed on French Revolution imagery — specifically a unicorn getting the chop during the Reign of Terror — and this flash wouldn’t let go until three-four pictures and a 2000-word short story later. I figured anything that could jam my brain like that had to have power behind it, so I went with it.

    The B&W pic made it into the conbook, the story didn’t (too long), and the color pic sold. Did a dramatic reading of it on a panel a couple ACs later and got some hate mail from it. During the initial run-up, it gave me a good comeback line for avoiding people I didn’t want to talk to — “What are you doing for AC?” “Beheading a Unicorn.” Amazing how they didn’t want to continue the conversation after that answer…

    Here’s the main picture that started it all:
    The Age of Reason has No Need of Unicorns

    And a couple years ago, I found someone had bootlegged both picture and story onto their blog. No clue how they found it, but since I’ve never been able to find a publisher (paying or not) I let it be. Some NSFW&C cussing in the blogger’s introductory commentary, but here it is:
    Conversation with a Dying Unicorn


  5. This is not my personal site, so defining who can and cannot post here is above my pay grade.

    In addition, it seems that we lack agreement on the definition of terms such as “liberal”, “atheist”,
    “classical”, “God”, “myth” and “propeganda”.

    Enough to say that I agree with the Nicene Creed and it appears you do not……a huge chasm of worldview and the meaning of life, at the least.


  6. This is not an atheist position but a classic liberal position. Is this, then, unwelcome here? Then you might put some kind of notice outlining the range of theological stances you find acceptable.

    Most Christians believe in God (whatever that means–it may be undefinable), but few believe in a God who slays a cosmic dragon and creates the sea from its corpse. (i.e. the warrior Yahweh from all those strange references in the Wisdom literature mentioned above).


  7. I don’t believe tornadoes or any other dangerous natural phenomenon are inherently (that is, in themselves) evil. Indeed, I believe they are part of God’s good Creation. Knowing what I do about meteorology, it’s just inevitable that the same forces that bring about beneficial rains and pleasant weather are also responsible for more extreme manifestations such as tornadoes. We do not live in a tame Universe, and I don’t think God intended it that way, irrespective of our sin. But, then again, what one considers pleasant weather varies! I myself, being a stormchaser (both for science and as a hobby), think the most pleasant weather on the planet is a gorgeous, well-lit tornadic supercell with a photogenic tornado over open terrain, not hurting anyone! 🙂

    That said, I do think that it can be called evil when such things intersect tragically with human lives. The devastating losses of lives and livelihhood that can result from tornadoes is definitely an evil in my mind, and I think you’ve done a good job discussing this in the context of the biblical narrative. In such cases, we believers should roll up our sleeves and help to reduce the suffering, because as some other commenters on here have said, God is in the midst of that suffering and the love shown toward those who suffer.


  8. In all this talk of God’s wrath and these tornados, basic scripture texts are ignored.

    In Eph2:2 Paul calls the devil the ‘prince of the power of the air.’ Later the apostle John in 1 John 5:19 says that the whole world lays in the4 power of the evil one.

    Seems to me that this would have some bering on the subject, but those eager to talk about God’s responsibility for these tragedies have entirely ignored these passages.


  9. Love your comments, HUG. But for a long time I’ve been wondering- what’s the story behind the “Headless Unicorn Guy” name, and what does it mean?


  10. thinking thru the concept of surd evil, there seems to be a misconception as to what actually is supposed to be evil…

    the chaos of a physical earth where land shifts (earthquakes) or weather produces tornadoes, hurricanes, hail, lightning, flood, drought, etc., along with bacteria & viruses causing havoc, or even animals that were designed to consume other animals (and the occasional human that was at the wrong place at the wrong time) is not evil at all…

    it (all the rawness of physical existence) is an amazing creation. good in all its raw expressions. now it could be Adam & Eve there in the Garden with the Tree of Life blessed with combating all forms of demise that God wanted to be a clear sign to the rest of creation that this indeed was His highest blessing for those following His commands. and who knows what such supreme authority over ALL of creation would have resulted in as mankind took their cue from God & brought order to a wild environment outside the entrance of Eden…

    there is nothing ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ in this wild universe. what happened was our unfortunate failure at continuing God’s purpose of bringing order to every element of creation He intended us to have authority over. because of sin, humanity now abuses, rapes, destroys, squanders, is indifferent toward the very earth gifted to it & does the same to their fellow man…

    in this round of material existence, we are the ones that failed to meet our divine potential. that is why it will be ‘reset’ in the next age & we will rightly be joint-rulers with the Creator doing exactly what we had been designed to do in the first place…


  11. Well, Chill, I’ve heard “fanatic” defined as “Someone who carries out God’s Will — that is, what God would will if God only KNEW what was REALLY going on.”


  12. While I can definitely agree with you that evil existed before the Fall (in the form of Satan and the evil angels), I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that humans would have died had we not sinned. The Old and New Testaments portray death as the result of our own evil, even in the passages from Romans you cited towards the beginning. And death is *never* seen as a positive thing, for Christians or non-Christians. The last *enemy* that shall be destroyed is death, Paul says. If death is merely part of the creation, and would have been (though perhaps in different form) even if we hadn’t fallen, then why is there a resurrection? Why did Jesus have to defeat death?

    I can agree with you to a point about these things, but I definitely lean towards the conservative side on the issues of death and why it exists for humans.


  13. You’ve rather set me off on some musings here, Chaplain Mike. I, as is probably blindingly obvious from other comments I’ve made here, don’t hold to a historical view of Genesis. That is, I don’t believe it represents events that happened at a certain time (by whatever scheme of myth/symbolism), rather that it represents the state of the world. So I don’t hold to their having been an past-Eden from which we were cast out, rather an Eden-in-Eternity in which we are always being tempted and from which we are always departing. To me, then, talk of evil before Genesis 1:2 implies evil outside of God’s creation.

    I suspect that there are as many phrasings of the problem of evil as there are ideas about the Creation. So although I do like the ideas you express here, they simply don’t work in my mind – much as, I am sure, my ideas don’t work in yours.

    I agree with Job.


  14. Of course evil existed before the world, as we know it, came into being. By the time humanity fell into the bondage of sin and death, Lucifer had already been cast out of Heaven (along with the others who rebelled along with him). But seeing as this happened outside of the space-time-matter continuum, we can’t “date” it exactly.


  15. It’s possible, and I hold that Genesis 1:1 may be describing the ex nihilo event and that 1:2 begins a new subject about “the land,” which describes the transformation of a wilderness place into God’s Temple on earth.

    Jack, the idea inherent in the term “surd” evil is that it is beyond rational explanation. We don’t have the backstory. As I said in the post, I certainly don’t think we’re talking about an ultimate dualism here. Just the presence of evil in the world before the events portrayed in Genesis 1:2ff.


  16. For me the hard part is knowing how to separate God’s sovereignty from Satan’s destructive influence from the results of man’s sin from life just happening that way sometimes. Maybe that’s why we’re instructed just to weep with those who weep. . .


  17. I don’t think anyone is asserting that evil existed before the ex-nihilo creation event, but rather the narrative in Genesis 1-3 isn’t talking about an ex-nihilo event. The universe itself existed prior to the earth being formed, and Genesis 1-3 describes God’s work of creating a place for His dwelling.


  18. Oh, the rain it raineth on the just
    And also on the unjust fella
    But mainly on the just, because
    The unjust hath the just’s umbrella


  19. For me, I think there are worrying implications is suggesting that evil in some way forms a ‘backdrop’ to good and order. Suggesting that, for instance, the Garden of Eden was an enclave against the evil around it (whether you conceive of that as a literal garden or as a more metaphorical description of an existence that can escape the evil around it) does rather paint that which it excludes as the ‘default’ against which God had to intervene. And a ‘default evil’ strikes me as all sorts of worrisome in ways I can’t quite express.


  20. I can appreciate that answer. Perhaps Jesus was saying the same thing when he discussed the tower that collapsed and killed 18 people. Aren’t there other people in Jerusalem who deserve the same fate?

    When hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, and people were buzzing about God’s judgment on that city, our pastor pointed out that churches were destroyed, and Christians were affected by that event as well. We would be wise, he said, not to voice God’s purposes unless God Himself had revealed them to us. No one was willing to say that God had done so!!

    Thank you, again, for this thought provoking post.


  21. You might find the writings of N. T. Wright helpful on this. “Simply Jesus” is one such book, but he touches on this often in other works.


  22. Tikkun Olam is something I heard from Judaism. Not 100% sure of the definition, but the idea is that the world is imperfect and damaged and God made or tasked man to repair the damaged world. Judaism puts a lot of emphasis on living life, and has a generally earthy feel to it.

    Contrast that with Rapture Practice and It’s All Gonna Burn (or in the words of one troll on this blog years ago “God will pour his wrath upon this corrupt world … And I will be laughing as the world burns” — from his catered box seat in Heaven, no doubt.)


  23. Oh my GOODNESS, there is a human being who does not believe in GOD!! Clearly, I will drop my faith and become a secular humanist atheist right this gall-darn second based on the superior knowledge of a random stranger on the internet. Wow, glad someone set me straight before I spent anymore wasted years following God!


  24. Still wonder why people view things like weather phenomenum as evil. It just is. Did the tornado have intent? Did it know it was going to kill? Viruses and desease fall under the same category. Will it be considered evil if an asteroid, because of gravitiational pulls of celestial bodies, has its course altered and hits our planet?

    I understand evil perpetrated by others willfully, I don’t understand evil assigned to inanimate objects……


  25. I hope this isn’t straying too far from the subject. I don’t think it is. But this point of view (of this essay) in no way precludes the possibility of an Eden like time in human creation. Rob Dunn, who is a biologist and writer in the Department of Biology at North Carolina State University, has written a fascinating book called “The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today,” unfolds very intriguing possibilities about the early life of our planet. In part of it he states:

    …”That was the extent of it perhaps for the simple reason that harvesting food from the forest was easier. It did not require much time, just four to six hours a day, to collect enough food for a family. The rest of their time was leisure. On this point, there is little disagreement. The average day of a hunter-gatherer was composed of a little work and lots of time for art, dance, and, one presumes, sitting around and telling stories. The disagreement begins in terms of what happened next.”… (page 117)

    Of course the book is far more complex than this one paragraph. But it gives some hints and opens to discussion as to just what forces bring into existence at least some of the surd evil we experience today.


  26. Yes, I do think it is tenable that God’s wrath may be exercised through the elements of creation. What I find difficult to believe is that you or I (or Pat Robertson or John Piper or anyone else) has been given the gift of interpreting when that is happening.


  27. It is an often overlooked fact that evil existed before the creation. I appreciate the clarity you employed in bringing this out. Your article truly caused me to rethink some things.

    I am curious as to what you think about God’s multiplying the pain of childbirth and cursing of the ground with “thorns and thistles” in response to Adam and Eve’s sin. Granted, tornadoes and other disasters are not mentioned, but the story seems to imply that God altered His creation in a negative way due to sin.

    I cringe when I hear Christians pronounce God’s judgment at every natural disaster (who knows the mind of God?). At the same time, in a very general sense, I can’t help but think that the “wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” is in part revealed in the natural disasters we experience. Paul told the people of Lystra that God’s goodness was shown in “rains from heaven and fruitful seasons”. If the character of God’s goodness is shown in creation, is it entirely untenable to believe that his wrath is also shown in the same creation?


  28. “The picture of creation and life presented in the Bible is far more complex, profound, and mysterious than any of us realize.”

    Your essay helps us to better comprehend those things that we can never fully understand. Some of the common explanations we come across seem forced, and really answering very little.


  29. We’re not just waiting around to escape a dying planet; we’re a part of the work of God to heal and restore all of Creation, a work which is going on right now, among us.

    Tikkun Olam, not Rapture Practice.


  30. Doris,
    If you are looking for dialogue I think you’ll find some willing participants here. If your agenda is simply to debunk scriptural validity I can assure you it will require much more creativity of thought in these environs. From what I have read here in the last few years, there are some big thinkers here who will require more than you saying ‘it just ain’t so’.


  31. Thanks for posting this again! It’s a really helpful way of thinking about the question of evil.

    What I hear in this is two different ways of viewing Creation. The first is: God created a good world, it got messed up, and it’s getting worse and worse until finally God will toss it out and make a new one. The second is: the world started out chaotic and uncontrolled, and each act of God – creation, Abraham’s calling, the exodus, the exile, the incarnation and life and death and resurrection of Jesus, the birth of the church, the spread of the Gospel, Christ’s eventual return, the renewal of all things, the resurrection of the dead – is a continuous, escalating drama of redemption where each step builds on the previous ones and spreads God’s healing and restoration to more and more of our broken world.

    I agree with you that the second view better matches the Biblical narrative. I also think it gives us a strong impetus to work for justice and renewal in this world. We’re not just waiting around to escape a dying planet; we’re a part of the work of God to heal and restore all of Creation, a work which is going on right now, among us. To me that makes this whole business of being a Christian a whole lot more exciting.


  32. I would be interested in hearing how you connect this stream of thought with the idea of re-creation. The ideas of creation, order, and chaos will lead to interpretation of re-creation, and thus restoration of His creation.


  33. Doris, I appreciate your input. You must realize, if you read this site at all, that we do not agree. That’s OK, we’re glad to have you as part of the discussion. If you want to stay involved, just remember that propaganda can come from any position, and that we prefer to have intelligent conversation here, not just casting assertions back and forth.


  34. CM, this is going to take more coffee and several re-reads to sink it, but you have done a masterful job of explaining the interplay between the almost “neutral” evil of weather events, viruses replicating and doing what they do, and big animals with big teeth eating little furry creatures. This “surd” evil of the tensions in nature is not a spiritual battle, but a tug between competeting needs in the (non-human) physical world. Long before humans existed, this planet was wild and dangerous. God COULD have chosen to make a world where every day is mild and sunny and food drops from plants to all creatures….but he didn’t. [Of course, He also could have made man withOUT free will and WITH total obedience, but he didn’t do THAT either!]

    As Lewis put it, for some reason He wanted His children to be allowed love Him rather than being FORCED to, like a well-programmed android computer. God made the same “mistake” with His angels, and a cohort of them chose to live their lives apart from God and Love…….and He did it AGAIN with us humans, and even allowed the separted angels to lead humans into evil WITH them.

    Why? A question way above my pay-grade, but all we can see, read, hear, and observe all lead to this conclusion. All the sentinet creatures He made have choice, and some choose poorly. And….the phyical world can be horrible, but even Christ went on to remind us that the rain falls on the just and the un-just..


  35. You are reading a myth as if it were a semi-reliable account of history, which of course is ab-“surd.” Adam and Eve did not really exist, any more than Yahweh the Storm God or his Twelve Labors. The biblical authors did not understand the true origins of the universe, the earth, life, or humanity (granted, our scientists are still working on the details), and there is no reason to credit ancient writers with any special ethical or metaphysical knowledge either. This is not to say that the Bible is not a great book, only that it should be read for what it is–a collection of myth, folklore, unreliable histories, and doctrinal propaganda.


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