God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey
We will begin our review of God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey. Jon blogs at The Hump of the Camel and you can buy his book here. As of the writing of this post, Amazon is only showing a Kindle version of the book for sale. From Jon’s bio description at The Hump of the Camel:
“Jon retired as the senior partner of a large medical practice in 2008, and has since been studying and writing on faith-science issues. He started The Hump of the Camel in 2011 at the instigation of various other commenters on the BioLogos website. His greatest concern is biblical theology, but he sees his role as a generalist, pulling together ideas from a wide range of fields of human knowledge to enrich the discussion. This means he has to be pulled up on errors from time to time by more knowledgeable friends, which is all to the good. When not involved in The Hump, his main activity is writing, arranging and performing music for a number of ensembles, playing saxophones and guitars. He is also an elder of a Baptist church.”
This YouTube video gives a nice summary of the book.
The book is broken into four sections:
Section 1 – The Bible
Section 2 – The Theologians
Section 3 – The Science
Section 4 — The Application
In Section 1 he surveys the relevant biblical material pretty thoroughly, if not exhaustively. In Section 2 he discusses the history of the doctrine of nature, with reference to the fall, through the last 2,000 years, and he shows how he believes the balance has shifted from a strongly positive view of the goodness of creation to a negative one. He also looks at the possible reasons why the so-called “traditional view” became prominent around the sixteenth century.
In Section 3 he looks at the evidence for “natural evil” in the world itself as science observes it, and why nature is now so widely perceived as cruel and malevolent, when once it wasn’t. This section is also a study on how ideas gain or lose plausibility, and how evidence comes to be considered significant or to be disregarded.
Lastly, in Section 4, Jon sketches out the difference it makes to Christian life to accept either the “traditional view” or the view he presents. He believes that the idea that creation is tainted by the fall a false notion that negatively affects our worship, witness, and plain enjoyment of God’s good earth. Jon says:
Lastly, I will touch on the Christian hope for the future, and how it involves not an escape from an evil creation to an uncreated heaven, but the renewing of a good creation as a better one, of the naturally empowered (psuchikos) as the spiritually empowered (pneumatikos), of the perishable as the imperishable – of the old order as the new heavens and the new earth.
In Chapter 1 – God’s Relationship to Creation, Jon points out that there are a series of blessing and curse stipulations to God’s covenant with Israel that follow the known Ancient Near East (ANE) treaty stipulations. These are set out in Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 28, and Joshua 24. The thing Jon wants to point out is the creation is used as God’s reliable and obedient agent for both blessing and for curses. According to whatever God commands, the weather will either be beneficial and productive or violent and destructive. The wild beasts will either withdraw harmlessly into uninhabited places, or act as marauders in towns and villages. The bacteria and parasites will be harmless or will produce epidemics as he wills.
Weather, in particular, is said in scripture to be God’s agent of government. Psalm 104:3-4:
3. He makes the clouds his chariot
and rides on the wings of the wind.
4. He makes winds his messengers,
flames of fire his servants.
Psalm 65 describes God’s care for the land through his control of rainfall:
9 You care for the land and water it;
you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
to provide the people with grain,
for so you have ordained it.
10 You drench its furrows and level its ridges;
you soften it with showers and bless its crops.
11 You crown the year with your bounty,
and your carts overflow with abundance.
12 The grasslands of the wilderness overflow;
the hills are clothed with gladness.
13 The meadows are covered with flocks
and the valleys are mantled with grain;
they shout for joy and sing.
The book of Job in chapters 36-37 not only describes the hydrological cycle accurately, but shows that God’s judicial use of the weather is broader than Israel both geographically and in the range of purposes it serves. The elements are never said to be independent of God. Jon says:
Now there are instances in Scripture where natural phenomenon of extreme weather, famine, and so on are mentioned without any specific references to God’s actions or intentions. But is should not be understood from this that these things “just happen” apart from God’s will. That would be alien to the whole Hebrew worldview. Rather, when things are described phenomenologically, without reference to divine intent, we are to suppose that God is going about his “own business” and that his particular motives are hidden from us, or are just irrelevant to the narrative.
In the calming of the storm on the Sea of Galilee, the word used in all three Gospel accounts, “rebuke”, is that used in the Septuagint version of Psalm 104, in which God’s creative power over primal disorder, not his quelling of an evil rival is in view. In the Old Testament, only in Job 1 is the person of Satan said to 1) send a destructive fire, 2) a mighty wind, and 3) inflict boils. But it is essential to understand that Satan here is represented as a morally ambiguous, but obedient “son of God” who acts only under the direct permission of God, and ultimately in a mysterious way for Job’s blessing.
Jon gives a whistle-stop tour through the animal kingdom to give examples of those creatures which God names as his agents:
- Gnats (Ex 8:16-19)
- Flies (Ex 8:20-31)
- Locusts (Ex 10:1-19, Joel 1-2, Amos 4:9, 7:1)
- Frogs (Ex 8:1-14)
- Snakes (Num 21:4-9)
- Birds (Jer 15:3)
- Dogs (Jer 15:3)
- Bears (2 Kings 2:23)
- Generic wild beasts (Jer 15:3, Ezek 14:15-16)
· Lions (Is 31:14; Jer 4:5, 5:6)
· Wolves (Jer 5:6)
· Leopards (Jer 5:6)
· Birds of Prey (Is 46:11)
· Snakes (Jer 7:17)
Jon says it is incongruous to consider God identifying his own actions with such creatures if, as the “traditional view” says, they are corrupted and evil. The clearest description of his care towards the nonhuman creation are in passages from Job and Psalms. Job in particular stresses his care – even workmanlike pride – in the details of what he has made. See Job 12:7-10 and Job 38:39-41, 39:1-30. It is hard to conceive how anyone can read the Job passages and still think that God considers his creatures to be corrupt in any way. He is as equally enthusiastic about the carnivores whose prey he procures as the herbivores he provides for. Jon concludes the chapter:
Nothing in what we have examined in this chapter, covering the whole sweep of Old and New Testament teaching about the creation as it is, gives any hint that some other agent has corrupted the natural world, nor that God himself has altered its nature for the worse because of human sin, nor that it has corrupted itself. If God uses it for harm, it is because of humanity’s desert, not because of nature’s corruption.
In Chapter 2, Jon will examine the Scriptures that are most often cited to claim the opposite.