Our Fearful Fascination with Wild Things & Other Monsters of God
by Russell D. Moore
Wild dogs probably devoured the crucified body of Jesus, a liberal biblical scholar announced several years ago, but it was not his infidelity about the Resurrection that was so rattling. Christianity has been battling such claims since the perjured testimony of the guards at Jesus’ tomb. More distressing was the scholar’s image of Jesus’ body as food for scavenging carnivores.
This image is disturbing for a reason, and it points toward a problem for Christianity that is more ancient and more problematic than the naturalistic assumptions found in modern biblical criticism or in the reigning Darwinian scientific paradigm: natural evil. In short, why is it that wild dogs scavenge any bodies anywhere?
For this reason, Christians must understand that apologetic attempts based on general revelation, including natural theologies and the Intelligent Design (ID) movement, cannot rest their arguments on nature alone. Without a biblical understanding of the horrors of nature—including something as “natural” as animal predation—a natural theology leaves us with a skewed picture of the Creator and the meaning of life itself.
It is one thing to be dead. It is another thing to be meat.
So argues naturist David Quammen, as he asks in his recent book, Monster of God: The Man-Eating Predator in the Jungles of History and the Mind, why it is more disturbing to have a loved one eaten by a bear than killed in an automobile accident. Such a gruesome thought has never occurred to most of us, probably because our encounter with predatory animals is limited to watching them safely behind the bars of a zoo, or flickering across the television screen on the Discovery Channel.
And yet we are fascinated nonetheless by these predatory beasts. Television ratings spike dramatically when the networks show some version of “When Animals Attack.” And it is not surprising that Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake of King Kong took in over half a billion dollars in receipts worldwide. A giant bellowing gorilla rampaging through Manhattan just seems to get our attention.
This is especially true of men, who, like Quammen, often trek after animal predators either in real forests or in their imaginations. Why do little boys (and their brothers, fathers, and grandfathers) so love to think about dangerous animals? Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould dismissed as “Jungian nonsense” any idea that little boys’ love for dinosaurs and other dangerous monsters might be archetypal and universal. Instead, he argued, dinosaur mania is the result of commercialization and consumer hype.
I’m not convinced. It seems that children (and especially boys) from virtually every culture and every era, including children who have never seen television and wouldn’t know Barney the Dinosaur from Barney Rubble, have had their hearts set racing at the thought of such creatures. Why?
As Quammen notes, most human beings throughout history have had the experience of listening in the night or surveying the waters for animals that could, quite literally, eat them up. As he puts it in his book: “Among the earliest forms of human self-awareness was the awareness of being meat.” He argues that we are fascinated with such beasts, and always have been, because they remind us that human beings are not always at the top of the food chain.
With this in mind, he sets out through the geographic domains of such predators as Indian lions, Australian crocodiles, Russian tigers, and Romanian bears. He likewise traces out the predatory themes in contemporary film, like the ongoing science-fiction series Alien.
Quammen resorts to the typical Western creation myth—Darwinism—to explain this, along with everything else. After all, he argues, the genetic memory “of being a barefoot anthropoid on the East African savanna is relatively recent.” In his view, this deep evolutionary fear of predatory animals marks out human epic literature, including ancient dragon stories and even the Bible itself.
He points out that the Bible is obsessed with dangerous animals, beginning with the creation account of Genesis, and that it is less concerned with an abstract notion of “the environment” than with the human relationship to specific aspects of the creation order—such as the predatory beasts. Leviathan, the twisting serpent-dragon of the Old Testament prophets, is, in his words, “the archetype of alpha predators.” Moreover, heroic figures in Scripture are often pictured as heroic slayers of dangerous animals. Think of David or Samson.
And Quammen, remarkably, gets the shepherd imagery of the Bible more accurately than many Christians, reared as we are on cherubic shepherds in terry-cloth towels in Christmas musicals. The shepherd’s primary duty is to protect his flock from predators, and he does this by fighting them off.
That’s why the Psalmist is “comforted” by the Good Shepherd’s rod and staff. It’s not just that they look cool and shepherd-like. They are used to knock the teeth out of big cats and wolves. Quammen also notes, again correctly, that the shepherd-warrior imagery in the Bible is then applied to the Davidic king of the people of God. “The good ruler, like the bold shepherd, devotes himself to exterminating predators whenever and wherever they can be found.”
Quammen raises an issue that Christians can answer better than can the Darwinist “just-so stories”: why we cannot get predatory animals out of our collective consciousness, even long after we have safely secluded most of them beyond the borders of our suburban sprawl. The contemporary Darwinian creation myth tells us that we are essentially the same as the animals, only further along on the evolutionary chain.
And yet the Genesis account tells us from the beginning what we intuitively already know: There is a deep and ancient divide between humans and the animals. It tells us something else we intuitively already know: Our destiny is intertwined inextricably with these creatures over which we were once given dominion and stewardship.
Christian children’s Sunday-school storybooks tend to have pictures of a tranquil Adam and Eve (with strategically placed tree limbs obscuring anything inappropriate for little eyes) gazing at such non-threatening beasts as giraffes and parrots. But Genesis takes care to note that the God of Israel is also forming terrifying creatures, such as the great sea creatures.
The sanitized view of animals held by modern readers of Genesis tends to obscure this, at least in the Western industrialized world. We may have “phobias” about certain animals (snakes, mice, etc.), but most of us have never known the paralyzing fear of being prey before a predator. The first readers of Genesis would have understood the awe and mystery of the sixth day: that Yahweh has sovereignty over the animals, even the killers.
After all, when the Creator reveals his awesome power to Job, he does not speak to him in terms of abstract philosophy—of omniscience, omnipotence, aseity, and so forth. God thunders that he was the keeper of the most fearsome animals imaginable, creatures before whom Job and his contemporaries would have seen themselves as, quite literally, meat.
Scripture also uses the predatory animal imagery to explain God’s providential nurture of his cosmos. Yes, Jesus teaches that God notes the falling of a single sparrow from the sky, but the Psalmist likewise declares that God drapes the earth with night darkness so that the young lions may seek their prey from their Creator (Psalm 104:20–21).
Quammen’s analysis points to a flaw in much of contemporary Christian thinking about creation and the natural order. Perhaps because of our growing distance from animal danger, we have an increasingly anemic theology of predation. Our bookshelves buckle beneath volumes seeking to reconcile the goodness of God with the moral evil of the Holocaust or the serial killer. At the same time, we wrestle with “natural evil” whenever we see children buried beneath a Turkish mudslide, or an elderly Japanese woman weeping before the remains of a home swept away by a monsoon.
We seem to recognize the problem of “natural evil” when it damages homes or property. The tsunami disaster in Asia caused just such reflection among both believers and skeptics. “I do not see how a theistic view of the world cannot be embarrassed, or damaged, by such an event,” wrote Leon Wieseltier in the New Republic. “If it is not possible to venerate nature for its goodness, then it is not possible to venerate the alleged author of nature for His goodness.”
In contrast, too often there is an uncanny silence when we watch the image of a lioness tearing apart the bloody muscle of an antelope flickering by on the Discovery Channel. Such, we are told, is “natural”—and therefore morally neutral. This has not always been so.
C. S. Lewis, for instance, agonized over how to reconcile animal violence with a good Creator in his classic book, The Problem of Pain. Lewis’s conclusion was that predation is not in any sense “natural”—but can only be rooted in the ancient satanic rebellion. The writer Matthew Scully has recently pointed to ancient Christian thought on the evil of predation in order to rebut the poor stewardship of animals by humans who point to the violent natural order as the “natural state” of animal life, a state that can morally be replicated in inhumane factory farms or research laboratories.
Yet, if Christians are ever to provide a “counter-story” to the Darwinist creation myth, we must account for a nature that certainly does seem red in tooth and claw, not only in terms of the obvious predators, but also in terms of the (often even more dangerous) microbial parasites.
Christians are effectively countering Darwinism with the obvious truth that the natural order seems to be intelligently and personally designed. I understand this strategy, and fully support it. There is a need for a broad coalition of dissenters against Darwinism among those who don’t necessarily agree on the details of cosmic or human origins, and even among those who don’t necessarily agree on the identity of the Designer.
And yet Darwinists are already marshalling the theodicy argument that the parasite sapping nutrients from starving children in sub-Saharan Africa seems awfully well designed too. Jim Holt in the New York Times Magazine, for instance, ridiculed Intelligent Design precisely because nature seems “shoddily designed” in everything from male nipples to extinct animal species. Even more “shoddy,” the magazine opines, are the pervasive cycles of “wasteful” death in nature—seen pointedly in the fact that only about one-third of pregnancies result in live births.
“Nature appears to be an avid abortionist, which ought to trouble Christians,” Holt concludes. And indeed it should.
We do not want to ignore the issue, and suffer the fate of William Paley and the early natural theologians, who celebrated a romantic notion of the “harmony of nature” as pointing to the goodness of God. Yes, it is easy to say that a formation of geese in the skyline declares the order of the Creator. But what does the bulge of a struggling pig in the mid-section of a python tell us about the Designer of that order? Skeptical philosophers such as atheist William Rowe often point to such “natural” evils as the agonizing death of a fawn to disprove the possibility of a benevolent and sovereign Deity.
It is appropriate and necessary for Christians to apply the “wedge” of general revelation in order to reason with a culture enraptured with Darwinism. But it is only with special revelation that we can answer the question of why nature seems to have gone so terribly awry.
Quammen is right that predators remind us that we’re not always at the top of the food chain, but the Scripture tells us that this is not the way it is supposed to be. As a matter of fact, the Bible seems to indicate that the very fact that there is a food chain can be traced back to what went wrong in Eden.
Quammen hypothesizes that there is something especially fearful and fascinating for humans about large, predatory reptiles. We fear them, he argues, because they seem especially sneaky and cunning. In the mid-1980s, NBC sent shivers down the spines of the nation with V, a mini-series that featured peaceful humanoid aliens arriving on earth in spacecraft, and promising medical and technological wisdom.
The tension point of the series came when the “visitors” were revealed to be reptilian creatures hiding behind latex human masks. The television audience was expected to wince in horror when the civilized-looking aliens held guinea pigs over their heads and devoured them whole, with unlocked, expanding snake-like jaws. Quammen would root this reptile phobia in our evolutionary DNA. But what if such a morbid fascination is indeed archetypal?
Not Meant to Be?
Perhaps we are fascinated with all kinds of dangerous creatures—as evidenced by everything from children’s fairy tales to high-budget Hollywood vampire epics—because intuitively all people know that this is not the way life is meant to be. Even when we cannot verbalize it, we understand that there is an unseen enemy, a cosmic war. In our music, our artwork, and our literature, we all seem to recognize that in some sense, as Lewis put it, this universe is “enemy-occupied territory.” And this is true even when we disagree about the identity of the enemy.
Could it be that our fascination with dangerous animals is really just part of a much larger longing for a Christ? After all, as the Genesis narrative tells us, the reason the original creation was not violent is not because of a “natural” animal tranquility. It was not violent because the Creator placed a vice-regent, formed in his image, over all of the animals. He was to rule “over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). All things were put “under his feet,” as the Psalmist says (Psalm 8:6).
This does not just mean peace between humans and animals, but among the animals themselves. Scripture implies that carnivorous activity does not begin until the shalom of Eden is disrupted. This is the state of nature, as originally and intelligently designed.
But our first ancestor, rather than ruling the beasts, chose to be ruled by the craftiest of the beasts of the field, the serpent—that is, ruled through his appetite. And so he became “meat” for the alpha predator, who is described across the canon as a Serpent, a twisting sea monster, a wolf in a sheep pen, a dragon who seeks to devour a male baby, and a roaring lion who desires to eat us alive.
And contrary to the “spiritual” pietism of much of contemporary Christian thought, the wreckage from Eden is not just the spiritual bondage of humanity. The Apostle Paul tells the church at Rome that the entire creation groans for liberation from the curse (Rom. 8:21–22).
Darwinist Howard Bloom finds a different storyline from that offered by the Apostle Paul. In his groundbreaking book, The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History, published ten years ago, he argued that Lucifer is “the alter ego of Mother Nature.”
He builds on the brutality of animal predation to assert that the “evil” seen in the Chinese Cultural Revolution is not uniquely human, and is not distinctively moral or immoral. It “comes from something both sub- and superhuman, something we share with apes, fish, and ants—a brutality that speaks to us through the animals in our brain.” Bloom praises man for dreaming of peace, but concludes that, “to achieve that dream, he will have to overcome what nature has built into him.”
But if nature is “satanic,” even if only in the most metaphoric of ways, then how can we really hope to cultivate the kind of love for the natural order the neo-Darwinists and their environmentalist allies demand? Does this not present the very kind of essential separation between humanity and the inanimate natural order that the environmentalists blame on Western Christianity?
It is here that the Christian gospel has a uniquely anthropocentric and nature-affirming lens through which to see the cosmos. The reality is not, as the high priests of Darwin tell us, that we are animals aspiring to something great. Instead, we are kings and queens who are becoming animal-like.
After surrendering rule to a reptilian invader, we now turn to animals, birds, and reptiles in our distorted worship (Rom. 1:23). After having the rule over everything that creeps across the ground, we now have to be reminded to look to one the smallest of creeping things—the ant—for an example of how to carry out the original human mandate to work the ground (Prov. 6:6). We must be reminded not to act like animals that are governed by their appetites (2 Pet. 2:22). Indeed, we must be reminded by the Apostle Paul not to “bite and devour” one another, as we once did in the old order.
Moreover, every time we sit down to a steak dinner, we are reminded that the tranquility of creation is lost—and even we are now carnivores. The presence of carnivorous animals—especially man-eating animals—is just one more reminder that, as the writer of Hebrews tells us, we do not yet see all things under the feet of humanity (Heb. 2:8).
Indeed, the cosmic scope of human sin is seen in the sacrificial system, present at the earliest moments of human history. Thus, the story of Christian redemption is one of bloody carcasses strewn from an animal sacrifice just east of Eden to a human sacrifice just outside the gates of Jerusalem.
Even Christian worship recognizes the tragedy of predation. In the beginning, God gives to his people abundant vegetation to eat. In the time between the times, we not only are forbidden to insist on a utopian vegetarianism, the apostles teach us (Rom. 14:1–4), but our Lord tells us that we must recognize ourselves as carnivores by eating his flesh and drinking his blood (John 6:53). Christians disagree on what these words mean, whether they are symbolic or involve the “real presence” of Jesus, but would our first ancestors before the Fall even have had a reference point to begin the argument?
Predator & Prey
This means that not only does a theology of animals challenge the reigning secular creation myth, it also challenges the reigning secular eschatology. The vicious dance between predator and prey reminds us that the cosmos is not the story of the inevitability of progress, even though human beings seem to long for such. Our children shout with glee at the idea of fighting Godzilla, but they also cry at the death of Bambi or Old Yeller.
As Christians, we see something on the horizon that Darwinism misses altogether: the ultimate resolution of the predatory cycle. The messianic kingdom long promised by the prophets doesn’t simply mean spiritual bliss for humans. It means a cosmic restoration of human rule over the animals, a reversal of the curse of death that holds even them in bondage.
This means, as Isaiah tells us, that in the new creation, “the cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox,” while even a baby can safely “lay over the hold of the cobra” (Is. 11:7–8). This is because in Christ the creation will no longer ask the dreaded question first posed to a couple cowering in the vegetation given to them for food: “Adam, where are you?” (Gen. 3:9). Many of us are uncomfortable with the implications of such passages as Isaiah’s vision of the peaceable kingdom.
After all, we cannot imagine a cosmos in which lions do not track down antelope, and mosquitoes do not consume human blood. But is this simply because we cannot imagine a cosmos other than the one to which we’ve grown accustomed? Could it be that just as the gospel contradicts the “natural” understanding of human death as the end of the life cycle that the gospel likewise contradicts the idea that death is natural at all?
The gospel is not simply a message of “how to get saved” and escape creation. It is a message of the triumph of a divine-human Messiah whose blessings flow, in the words of hymn-writer Isaac Watts, “far as the curse is found.”
Indeed, we already see the beginnings of this cosmic triumph. The first advent of the Messiah saw long-waiting Israelites and Eastern Gentile stargazers drawn to the presence of one born in a cattle trough, surrounded by beasts. Mark tells us that as Jesus triumphed over the temptations of the Serpent in the wilderness, “the wild animals were with him” (Mark 1:13).
The Scriptures promise us that Jesus is more than a spiritual guru, more even than a great prophet. He is a dragon-slayer (Rev. 12) and a wolf-killer (John 10:11–12). When he confronts the ultimate expression of human rebellion against God, the opponent is pictured not as a machine, but as a beast rising out of the seas (Rev. 13:1). Moreover, while he is a sacrificial Lamb dying for the sins of the world, he is also an “alpha predator” himself—a fearsome Lion of the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:8–12; Rev. 5:5). And he is, as Lewis reminded us, “not a tame lion.”
The Other Pole
My little boys were not all that interested in the dust jackets of the other books I was reading at the time I was reading Quammen’s book—with pictures of John Updike, Hank Williams, and Russell Kirk on them.
But they were fascinated with the cover of Monster of God, with a full-color drawing of a fearsome tiger with teeth bared. For them, the appeal is not just tigers—any animal will do, real or mythical, so long as it is dangerous. They attentively sit through Goodnight Moon, but they squeal, “Let the wild rumpus start” whenever I pull out Maurice Sendak’s classic book Where the Wild Things Are.
In our nightly Bible readings, I read every narrative in the canon, but every night they beg me to read “the one about the snake.” For some reason, they love to hear about Moses combating the fiery serpents in the wilderness with the bronze serpent on the pole, followed by its fulfillment in, as they call it, “the other pole,” the cross of Christ.
My little boys don’t simply have a morbid fascination with venomous snakes among the wandering Israelites. In fact, they are never satisfied to end the story there. They wait in silence until we turn to the picture of the crucified Jesus. That’s when I tell them how mysteriously this seemingly helpless, executed man confronted the snake of Eden right there on “the other pole”—and finally did what God had promised since the beginning of history.
He crushed its head. He went out beyond the gates of Jerusalem to “where the wild things are”—and he conquered wildness forever. They seem to sleep better hearing that. And so do I.
Perhaps that is because God designed them, and me, to long for the ancient oracle of the Dragon Slayer: and because they were designed to image God in watching out for the predatory Serpent. Perhaps this longing points us toward a story that is not “natural” at all, at least by Darwinian standards: the story of a dead corpse who walked out into the garden of a new creation.
And there wasn’t a wild dog in sight. •
Credo Quia Absurdum
A Lion Eating Straw Is Unthinkable & Inevitable
by S. M. Hutchens
There is a small but persistent voice in my head assuring me this discussion is nonsense. Nature red in tooth and claw is simply Nature, unimaginable otherwise; the cyclic ecology of our world is life arising from death, each inextricable from and dependent upon the other. Even if the wolf’s incisors were replaced with bovine dentition and the reformed predator’s eyes moved around to the side of his head, the better to gaze benignly at the lamb while he grazed alongside, the raging drama of protozoan life would still play out in his newly installed rumen, returning its product to the soil, itself a veritable Ypres Salient of lust and violent striving.
No, it does not work unless everything is changed, and the change of everything cannot be imagined, only represented by images that strike us as absurd, and cannot be gone beyond—cannot be made a part of any story that we are presently able to understand.
If nature is in the same place glorified and subsumed in men who are like the angels in heaven, who still have sex organs adorning their glorified bodies, but no children arising from them, just as there is no longer rending of flesh by the teeth of the carnivore—no hunting of the one desired, no consummation in the shedding of blood, no life arising from the consummation, and no death following upon the satisfaction of life—then to what do the cycles of life and death refer if the New World is to bear any analogy to the Old, as the new body of Christ was “analogous” (absolute difference in absolute identity) to the old? What meaning has nature to its blessed end as depicted in Scripture, what proleptic understanding can we possibly have of the life to come, and indeed, how can we take all this seriously?
The problem goes deep because we believe that primal history became myth, and then History again. The world we know seems to have been established in the blood of the God—the lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world being the one in whom, by whom, and for whom all things were made—his death and his rising thematic not only in the theology but the ecology of the first creation.
But now Christ is risen and dies no more, and not only spiritual but physical death is conquered. Solutions to the conundrum therefore do not seem to include an incorporation of what we call death into the life of glory any more than we can incorporate evil, so that eternal glorification, deification, the ever-intensifying approach to God in the life of his Son appropriate to his redeemed creatures cannot, it would appear, include things like the apotheosis of pain, now willingly entered into for eternal good, the dissolution of the new bodies, or any such thing. The journey of redeemed creation into the life of God, the “higher up and further in,” must be accomplished without death in all its aspects, for death, in Christ, is dead.
And yet, the resurrected Christ ate a fish, freely, and we must assume fully, participating as the New Creation in the ecology of the old. In the Resurrection accounts we find the Lord participating in the first creation, but mysteriously free of it. Space and time appear to be relativized in the sense of subject to his will, yet fully, while subordinately, operative within the context of both their own law and the higher to which they are now subject.
Calvin’s shining dictum, Deus legibus solutus est, sed non exlex (God is free of laws, but not outside them), seems to be fully realized in the life of the Resurrection in the sense that the higher and fuller law, if we may call it that—it is really the will of God in Christ—dictates the manner of life in all of its aspects to the lower. In this we are reminded that Kierkegaard’s truth as subjectivity is plausible when the subject is Christ, and perhaps what was in the old world called magic and forbidden to sinners is now something to which the redeemed may be lawfully brought up.
The question that remains, however, whatever shape this particular virtuosity in commerce with the old world may assume, is: What shall be the nature of life fully drawn into the life of God who is light, and in whom there is no darkness, sin, or death? The wisest teachers of the Church have been extremely cautious here, offering suggestions, but accepting the pastoral burden of avoiding speculation, much less dogmatic assertion.
The Eastern fathers speak much of the apokatastasis pantoon (Acts 3:21), the restoration of all things. Sts. Gregory of Nyssa and Maximos the Confessor considered the possibility of—but were careful not to teach—the eradication of evil from creation and with it the submission of the wills of every fallen creature, human and angelic. This way of thinking overlies an Eastern view of punishment for sins which tends to regard hell less as an eternal divine torture chamber for those who, in their contravention of infinite life, deserve and receive infinite death, than a compelling and inescapable flame of purification, the fire of hell being nothing other than the shining of divine love as experienced by sinners (“God is love” added to “Where can I flee from thy presence?”).
Karl Barth was so powerfully moved by the victory of Christ that he was accused by G. C. Berkouwer of asserting an illegitimate triumph of grace in which theological speculation overrode Scripture. Barth denied he had done this (Church Dogmatics IV.3.i, pp. 173f), and while acknowledging we are not free to engage in unscriptural speculation, was unapologetic for his belief in the complete and cosmic victory of the Lord. To Barth, and perhaps also to people like Gregory and Maximos, this means the ultimate unimaginability in Christ of any loose ends—the “triumph of grace”—but always remembering that this triumph cannot be a creation of our imperfect imaginations, but only be spoken of in relation to the personal history of God in Christ, which we are given to know truly, but imperfectly, as in a glass darkly.
Very darkly, I think, for I doubt whether it is possible to imagine such a world in our present state, even the analogies being beyond our present ken. Small parts of its character, its operation under the laws of perfect freedom, have apparently been vouchsafed to us, but I, at least, find them utterly confusing.
I have tried understanding the Peaceable Kingdom by following Lewis’s ecology of the unfallen world of Malacandra, but he does not there attempt to sketch out the life of immortal flesh, referring to it only in the mysterious and oblique language of the hrossan funeral hymn. Their world is like ours, for while it is without sin, which is imaginable, it is not without death, which is perhaps not.
I have tried to draw out the implications of an Eternal Present where a kairotic, aoristic moment where no death occurs is drawn out to infinity. But this does not work either, for the necessity of space and time immediately reassert themselves to the imagination, and with them the necessity of something like Nature as we know it, and with this, life and death.
Nature not only as we know it, but as we can imagine it, now becomes impenetrable—or rather, is delivered to us only in the revelation of the lion who eats straw like the ox and the resurrected Lord who appears through locked doors, yet tells Thomas to touch his body—a true and perfect human body, and then, beyond all power of imagination—or so it seems to me—eats, and we must assume digests, a fish. (We cannot imagine this life away by putting ourselves in a purely “spiritual” state, as though we were angels, for it is not only our souls but our bodies, and with them the nature of which they are a part, that has been redeemed. And yet, we are to be, at least in certain regards, “like the angels in heaven.”)
A Third Way
Would it not be wise, and certainly more honest, simply to lay all this eschatology aside as a mishmash of myth, imagination, and the wishful thinking of religious people? Or, if one wishes to retain a comforting form of faith, like a good old-fashioned liberal, make it mythological in the pious sense, the promise of good things for the beloved of God, conveyed to us in paradoxical symbols of harmless predators and resurrected bodies eating fish?
There is, I think, a third way besides rejection or apologetic demythologization, open to those who believe in the resurrection of the dead, who believe in particular that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead—open to those who believe the impossibilities must remain, but are willing to believe them if they are true. If there is any God worthy of the name, this is within his power, and we are given the story of how and why he elected to do so, which also seems perfectly worthy of Almighty Love, and within that context entirely plausible, given that God is God.
How a lion can eat straw like an ox I do not understand, for it is not within the character or power of the lion as I can conceive it: One simply cannot make a lion into what amounts to a large, tawny rabbit, and have a lion; for its majesty, its power, and its ability to kill and eat its prey are one, both in physical and iconic reality.
How God could raise a man from the dead, however, I can understand so far as I can conceive of it as entirely within the character and power of God—and so I must rely on my belief in one to carry me to my belief in the other, from an impossibility I can conceive as possible to one which I cannot. Where lies the power to raise men from the dead, against all nature as we know it, there also lies the power to remake nature beyond our ability to comprehend even its symbols except on the most superficial level—and so we have been told, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” The Lord has plainly told us there are things coming we cannot even imagine (although he didn’t tell us we couldn’t try).
Given this, the images of the life of the resurrection encountered in Scripture gain plausibility precisely through their impossibility—which is precisely the impossibility of the resurrection—their ultimate, collective impenetrability to both science and the imagination being a mark of their truth.
Glorious Wild Things
St. Paul Doesn’t Say Creation Is Benevolent
by Denyse O’Leary
As a journalist who has studied the evidence, arguments, and events in the Intelligent Design (ID) controversy almost full-time over the last three years, I think ID should be used very cautiously in strictly Christian apologetics. Fortunately, I am in good company.
The only crystal-clear statement I can find in the Scriptures on design—that is part of a rigorous theological argument—is Romans 1:20. Quoted in context:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be made known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Rom. 1:18–20, NIV)
Men are without excuse for refusing to recognize that the creation displays God’s eternal power and divine nature. (I use the term “creation” here because it is the term of choice in Romans in the NIV for non-personal nature, “nature” being used to refer to the human and divine personal natures.)
Almost immediately, Paul identifies contemporary religious, social, and personal disorders (Rom. 1:21–28) as arising from that specific failure (Rom. 1:23), and warns that those who live in these disordered ways “deserve death” (v. 32).
Note what Paul does not say. He does not say that the creation is good, but rather that it is glorious (vv. 21,23). Glory alone, in Paul’s view, ought to warn the heathen away from attitudes and behavior that provoke God’s anger.
In chapter 2, Paul immediately turns to matters within the human heart in order to build his case for Jesus Christ as the appointed redeemer. He does not rely on the creation to make a case for Christ. Indeed, he does not address the creation again at all until he offers an explanation for its current distress and decay, and a prophecy of its future perfection (Rom. 8:20–22).
Paley and many modern apologists went wrong because they did not follow Paul. They were trying to demonstrate benevolence, not glory. How shall we understand the incomparable ghost tiger? The elegantly designed parasite? The spun-glass-like human embryo, shortly to miscarry due to an invisible and very tiny flaw? The lovely young Christian wife, dying in a state of grace from an uncontrollable ovarian cancer? These things are glorious; they are anything but benevolent.
Paul teaches that we can be condemned for failure to recognize the glory as testifying to God, for acting as if it did not exist. He does not justify the state of creation, apart from Christ. Because apologists like Paley and the many well-meaning moderns have embarked on a project that finds no support in Scripture, it is not surprising that any uninformed materialist pundit can get hundreds of people to nod their heads wisely when he puts them down. Mr. Pundit need not even acquaint himself with the details of the Intelligent Design hypothesis.
We will never understand creation if we insist on separating glory and design from suffering, loss, and waste, because, bound in finite time and space, creation is full of suffering, loss, and waste as well. All must be taken together or put aside together, in a final decision for meaning or nihilism.
The modern debate has decayed in part because that vision of the inseparability of the horror from the glory has been lost. Of course, Stephen Jay Gould was merely being tendentious when he dismissed our deep-seated fears of monsters as commercial hype. As a paleontologist, he well knew that, before humans ever walked the earth, there were terrible beasts on land and sea—far more so than today.
But his evolutionary-psychologist opponents are even more off the track. Any human who is gifted with the mere capacity to imagine fears the serpent’s sudden fang and the ghost’s spectral finger. That’s simply what imagination is; it bodies forth the shape of things unknown. Imagination, not some complex survival calculus, is our true inheritance from our ancestors.
No External Answer
I greatly appreciate Russell D. Moore’s exposition of the principal passages in Scripture on evil in nature. One caution I would offer, not to him but in general: To understand nature as it is now, we must abandon any hope of external answers that “explain it all.” We are ourselves a part of what we seek to explain, so there have never been any merely external answers and there never will be.
All that an intelligent-design hypothesis can really do is enable scientists to investigate instances in nature that show evidence of design, as opposed to ignoring them, explaining them away, or declaring them to be “outside science.” As the list of problems with materialism grows, this paradigm change is essential for science.
But it does not make the task of theology any easier, because there is no way of making the task any easier. People do not want to suffer or die, and they do not want to see suffering or death. They especially do not want to hear that glory is bound up with suffering and death; they would rather not see any glory.
Armed with abortion, botox, shopping malls, TV, and euthanasia, they try to arrange a lifestyle free of both. And if they succeed, they will finally, utterly die.
So where are the wild things? Everywhere that, by the mercy of God, we cannot escape them. That’s the glory.
Russell D. Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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