God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey
Chapter 3 – Other Red Herrings
We will continue our review of God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey. Today is Chapter 3 – Other Red Herrings. In this chapter, Jon looks at the main Scriptures outside the creation and garden narratives that are used to argue for a fallen creation. First up, Genesis 6:11-13:
11. Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13. So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.
The traditional interpretation is that because of humans even the animals are now wickedly violent and have to be destroyed too, along with the whole earth. Jon makes two points; the first is that the blame for the corruption is laid on “all flesh” not the inanimate world including the thorns and thistles said to be altered by the fall. In the second place, if the “corruption” and “violence” referred to predation, parasitism, etc., then it is apparent that bringing a breeding colony into the ark would have no remedial effect at all. Of course, as the NIV translation above shows “all flesh” is “all the people” and it is human sin that leads to human violence. Another major point of the flood story is that Noah remains tainted with sin vis-à-vis his later drunkenness. Finally, why is creation purified from predation through the rescuing of carnivores? In any case it is not only carnivores, but gentle herbivores too, who are destroyed in the flood.
Next up is 1 John 5:19, “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” I’ve seen a number of interpreters, especially Word-Faith charismatics, use this passage to imply all bad weather, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, etc. are under the control of the devil and his “prince of Persia” type (Daniel 10:13) principalities and powers and wicked spirits in the heavenlies (Ephesians 6:12). To interpret it thus would, of course, be to deny the whole theology of nature we have seen so far in the Old Testament. The simple explanation is that John means by “the world” the world of idolatrous desires i.e. the human world apart from God, not created nature.
A major passage that seems on its face to overturn the idea that creation is still “as created” is Romans 8:18-22:
18. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21. that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
22. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
The whole context of the passage leads up to the assurance that our sufferings cannot separate us from the love of Christ; they are therefore particularly Christian sufferings. Secondly, Jon looks at some of the key words:
Creation: It is an assumption that Paul means nature here. He is drawing attention to death and life, angels and demons, present and future, all powers, height, and depth, but not a single one of them is subject to biological decay. Jon says, “Conversely, Paul omits any reference to the ordinary animal world, or to the inanimate elements we consider most disordered and chaotic, such as earth, water, and atmosphere.”
Frustration: The word occurs 3 times in the NT where it means “sinful ignorance” or empty boasting”. It corresponds to the Hebrew word hebel, which based on the Septuagint use, mainly in Ecclesiastes, refers to the futility of all human affairs, not the natural world.
Hope: The usual Greek word is used here, but the question is who is exercising hope? Hope or dread for the future is entirely a human attribute. The object of this hope is redemption and salvation from sin and death, which is the predominant meaning throughout the Bible.
Liberated: The NT use of this word is always either of liberation from human slavery, or from sin, or from the law. It is never used of the non-human realm, so if nature is referenced it is in some figurative personification, rather than literally.
Bondage: The word in the NT covers human slavery or bondage to the law, and through it to sin. It is never used of death per se, nor of course to decay.
Decay: Paul’s use of the word is always to do with mortality, not immorality.
Jon then reviews the church fathers through Augustine’s interpretation of the passage. He says:
In summary, then, the early interpretations of Romans 8 is pretty varied, but refers in most cases (a) to some aspect of the rational creation, rather than to nature and (b) to the corruptibility inherent in our material condition rather than to the effects of the fall, Chrysostom being the only exception.
And so, Paul is suggesting in Romans 8, the natural creation (which he has personified for literary purposes) has been, from its original foundation, tied to mortality but longing for immortality, to corruption but awaiting incorruption, to the naturally empowered (psuchikos) but destined for the spiritually empowered (pneumatikos).
As it is, the salvation that God has now achieved by his own arm, through the incarnation of Christ, is in the wisdom of God far more glorious, and perhaps even the final state more wonderful. But since what is to come is still unknown and indescribable, it is foolish to make the attempt. But what is certain is that it was not how Creation was in the first chapter of Genesis, and therefore the pre-fall state is not what is being described in Romans 8, but the result of new creation in Christ.
6. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. 7. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. 8. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. 9. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
65:25 the wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.
The argument is that these passages predict a return to the original state of Eden. But Jon argues:
There is indeed a contrast, whatever the metaphorical context, between this present age and the age to come. But is there any implication that this is a contrast between a damaged creation and a repaired one? I would argue, rather, that it’s a contrast between the first, good creation and new, better creation. This is a progression that actually goes back to Genesis 1, and helps us understand not why the present creation is “naturally evil”, because Scripture does not state that it is, but why it could be better than we find it.
The real problem with the so-called “traditional interpretation” is that is that it never appreciates the scriptures as literary works. Scripture always has to be diced up into verses that then must be taken “literally”. The grand literary sweep of a passage tends to be missed as “interpreters” bog down in minutiae. Prophetic symbolism is consistently missed. That this is obvious can be seen by looking at Isaiah 65:20:
Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.
Wait… what…? What’s this about dying at one hundred years? I thought when Jesus returns, the dead will be resurrected and NOBODY DIES ANYMORE? What happened to: “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:53-54) See the problem with literalism? Either Isaiah or Paul is wrong, they both can’t be right, can they?
Or maybe, as Jon points out, Isaiah is engaging in the prophetic symbolism of the ideal Israelite farmer who is dwelling in harmony on the slopes of Mount Zion, close to the king and to God’s temple, “everyone under his own vine and his own fig tree” (Micah 4:4). Jon says: “Then the animal references are understood in this context, rather than as a description of nature in the raw. In each case a wild animal is paired with the livestock to which, in this present age, the latter might fall prey, to the loss of the farmer. No wild herbivores are mentioned. It is more to do with the Israelite landholder dwelling in God’s promised safety than the correction of a cruel natural order.”