Tuesday, 22 March 2016

The Birth Pains of Creation: Animal Death and Suffering Before the Fall of Man

The following was a presentation I gave on 20 Feb 2016. I claim to be no expert in these matters, so if you can find any factual or historical errors I'd be greatly obliged if you'd bring them to my attention in the comments below. Likewise, if you disagree with my scriptural exegesis then I'd appreciate hearing your input.

Note: since an oral presentation lends itself well to informal speech patterns, I thought it best to adopt a somewhat colloquial manner in my paper. For the same reason I peppered my text with italicizations and boldings to serve as prompts and cues for myself during the speech. I've provided the original speech below, prompts and all.
*********************************************************************** Let’s begin with a quote from Ronald Osborn:
“I have seen crocodiles on the riverbanks of Masai Mara in Kenya, near the end of the wildebeest migrations, their bellies distended from feasting. It is said they continue to kill even after they are engorged, without any interest in eating their prey. There is a turn in the Mara River where the wildebeest herds often cross and where by early November desiccated carcasses litter the banks, to be picked over by Marabou storks, maggots, and flies. One can smell this open graveyard and hear the din of birds from some distance. Some of the corpses lie partially submerged, their horns protruding from the fetid brown water where they were trampled in the stampede or ravaged by the massive reptiles. Calves sometimes manage to cross the river only to find themselves trapped by its steep banks. They drown in exhaustion amid the bellowing of thousands of their kind preparing to plunge after them into the murky water.”(1)
How can that be good? Can that be right? Surely it must be because of The Fall. ...or is it? I submit to you that this sort of carnage in the animal kingdom was actually ordained by God from the beginning, and is not a consequence of Adam’s sin. I will not be talking about evolution or natural science today. However, just to put all my cards on the table, I am persuaded of Evolutionary Creationism: I believe the world is old and God used evolution to do his creating. That’s one of the reasons I’m so interested in this subject personally, but I don’t anticipate it being directly relevant today, so we can set that aside. The question of animal death is relevant for all of us, even Young Earth Creationists--for example, James Jordan believes in animal death before the fall too. Remarkably little has been written on this subject though. Most people tend to focus on the problems of human death and suffering, which is fair enough. (As an aside, there was some growing interest in the question of animal suffering in the decade before WW1, but then for some reason people got sidetracked.) Early and medieval church fathers rarely discussed this issue directly, so in some cases I’ve been forced to read between the lines and make deductions, as you’ll see. The broad outline of the argument we’ll be going through is this: First: God created man with a natural, mortal body
Second: God also created animals mortal from the beginning
Third: Man was allowed to kill animals and eat meat before the fall
Fourth: Animals, too, were allowed to kill other animals and eat meat before the fall
Fifth: All of this animal suffering begs for a theodicy, which I’ll then elaborate on So, beginning with mankind’s mortality. The reason men die is because we sin---Romans 5 makes that clear. If mankind never sinned, then he never would’ve died. But that’s different from saying that God made Adam’s body inherently immortal. The text of Genesis actually implies this was NOT the case. After Adam and Eve sin, God says,
Gen 3.22-23, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever---therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken”
This implies that they needed the tree of life in order gain or to sustain physical immortality in some way. Augustine teaches this interpretation in his book on the literal meaning of Genesis:
“The fruit of the tree of life was material food, and yet it had the power to give lasting health and vigor to man’s body, not in the manner of other foods but by a mysterious communication of vitality. [...] Shall we hesitate to believe that by the fruit of a tree, in view of its higher meaning, God gave to man protection against physical deterioration through sickness or age and against death itself?”(2)

Later on Augustine goes on to explain that,

“the first man was still in a natural body, [...] as a reward for a life of obedience he was to be given companionship with the angels and a change of body from natural to spiritual.”(3)
Augustine explicitly denies that man’s body was created constitutionally immortal. Rather, Adam was created with a mortal and natural body, one made of dust, and the plan was to upgrade Adam’s body to something more like Jesus’ resurrection body. Augustine was not alone in this belief. Theophilus of Antioch in the 2nd century AD taught much the same in his letter to Autolycus, though he used slightly different terminology:

“Was man made by nature mortal? Certainly not. Was he, then, immortal? Neither do we affirm this. [...] He was by nature neither mortal nor immortal. [...] if he should incline to the things of immortality, keeping the commandment of God, he should receive as reward from Him immortality”(4)
A few others in the early church held this belief too, like Clement of Alexandria in the 2nd century AD(5) and Theodore of Antioch in the 4th century(6). Nevertheless, this was a minority view among the early church fathers; most of them taught that man was created immortal, and they elaborated on it in great detail. Speaking of which, I suspect most Christians today don’t think through the necessary implications for this view. If Adam was constitutionally, physically immortal, then he wouldn’t need to sleep, because he’d suffer no harm from sleep deprivation. Adam wouldn’t need to eat food either; eating would be optional, because he would be unable to starve or suffer hunger. Many early church fathers followed through the logic of an immortal body and came to exactly these conclusions. According to Seraphim Rose,

“From the writings of many Holy Fathers--[lists eleven]--we know that, before the fall, Adam and Eve were free from the bodily needs of shelter [...] and even of sleep; they had no sexual relations or even sexual passions; [...] their eyes did not produce tears; they [...] did not void bodily waste; [...] they knew no difficulties, sorrows, labors, sweat, hunger, or thirst; they did not experience physical pain; they were not subject to cold or heat, or to the elements. Thus [...] before the fall man’s existence was akin to that of the angels.”(7)
This ethereal view of a never-sleeping never-pooping humanity seems far removed from the earthy depiction we find in Genesis---literally, earthy! It makes much more sense that Adam and Eve would’ve been given mortal, earthy bodies, sustained providentially in immortality by God, and destined for an eventual upgrade to New Creation bodies 2.0. This ‘earthy’ Hebraic view of humanity is also much more compatible with the Reformers’ emphases on sex drive before the fall, and on sleep, and on hard work with resting on the 7th day, even before the fall.(8) Furthermore, the creation of a naturally mortal humanity aligns better with the Bible’s emphasis on spiritual death over natural death. According to John Munday,

“The fact that Adam and Eve persisted biologically after sinning, while having been warned that "in the day that you (sin) you will die", leads most interpreters to conclude that when they sinned they died spiritually—they died in the sense of spiritual separation from God. Physical death came later as a consequence.”(9)
When Paul speaks about death he usually speaks of spiritual death, in the present tense. We ARE dead in our trespasses, RIGHT NOW...without Christ anyway. (Col 2.13; Eph 2.1-5, 5.14; Rom 8.10; 1 Tim 5.6; cf. also 1 Pet 4.6). The death brought by the curse was primarily spiritual, though of course also physical. Knowing that mankind was created physically mortal restores this emphasis on our spiritual death, where it ought to be: although Adam’s sin did indeed cancel our intended upgrade to immortal bodies, more importantly, we lost our communion with God.   So then, if MEN were created with natural bodies, arguing from the greater to the lesser, our default assumption should be that animals were created mortal too. Surely not all the animals on earth had access to the Tree of Life. At this point you might be mentally objecting, but wait, what about Romans 5 and 1st Corinthians 15? Through one man death entered the world, right? Well, let’s take a closer look at Romans 5:

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned (Rom 5.12)
Note the focus is on men here. Death spread to all men, because all sinned. Back to Romans, a little later:

But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. (Rom 5.15-17)
Man’s death and condemnation is certainly because of sin, and Christ’s righteousness saves us from that sin and that penalty. But do animals receive this free gift of righteousness? Animals themselves do not sin, nor are they capable of righteousness. None of the concepts in this passage are relevant to animals. Therefore when Paul speaks of ‘death’ in this passage he probably doesn’t have animal death in mind. The focus of Romans 5 is doubtlessly humanity. It’s the same in 1st Corinthians 15:

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. (1 Cor 15.20-22)
This is talking about the death and resurrection of people. Maybe animals will be resurrected in the New Creation---we can speculate---but that’s certainly not what Paul is talking about. His focus is on humanity in this context. Hence, there is no statement in scripture that animals die because of Adam’s sin. Instead, everything points to beasts being created mortal by God in the first place. In researching this question I was surprised to find that this is BY FAR the dominant view in Church history, though not quite universal. Most Christians--in the early church, the medieval church, and even the reformation--believed that animals were created naturally mortal. Martin Luther taught that animals die...

“not because God is angry at them. On the contrary, for them death is … a sort of temporal casualty, ordained indeed by God but not … as punishment. Animals die because for some other reason it seemed good to God that they should die.”(10)

The “Venerable” Bede, in his commentary on Genesis 1:30 mentions in passing:

“Among these verses a question arises that should not be ignored, as to how man is made immortal in contrast to other animals, yet he has received earthly food in common with them.”(11)
Most theologians simply took it for granted that animals were created mortal and never taught it explicitly. For example, Athanasius in his book On the Incarnation argues that mankind is uniquely immortal because we possess the image of God which imbues us with this quality (12). That’s different from Augustine; Athanasius does believe Adam was constitutionally immortal, but he considered it to be an “add on” that overcame the natural mortality that man had by virtue of being a physical creature. Despite some minor disagreement over man’s mortality, Athanasius, like most of his contemporaries, completely takes for granted that beasts were created mortal. He never bothers to state it explicitly because it’s not a point of contention. So, the general consensus is that beasts die, and have always died. The unnatural thing is that now, because of the Fall, men die like beasts instead of living forever in communion with God as his glorious image(13). In Augustine’s words, Adam was “cast down to the mortal nature of the animals”(14). This is in keeping with the way scripture talks about beasts, for example Psalm 49:20 “A man who has wealth but lacks understanding is like the beasts that perish.” It’s also in keeping with the general imagery of scripture. Beasts were made from the dust of the earth. Man was made from the dust, but also from the breath of God. The animals never had that. Now because of our sin we have sunk down to their level, and have become like the beasts that perish, reverting to dust... food for the snake. Early church fathers frequently drew on these metaphors in their homilies and commentaries(15). Our default assumption then, ought to be that animals were created mortal. To those who argue otherwise, claiming God imbued beasts with the splendor of immortality that was later lost due to Adam’s sin, I pose two major criticisms: First, why should we expect the nature and substance of animals to change so dramatically because of man’s sin? To postulate such a radical change in the nature of animals is an extraordinary claim, which ought to be accompanied by extraordinary evidence. Secondly, nothing in the text mentions a cosmos-wide recreation of animal mortality. As Alastair Roberts puts it, there is no “verse declaring that in the day that Adam eats of the tree, every creature in creation will die. [Such a notion is] incredibly speculative, reading some fairly extreme positions into the text, with no actual...evidence to back them up.”(16) If anything it actually goes against the grain of the text in subtle ways. If no rabbits were EVER going to die, then God’s mandate for them to be fruitful and multiply seems a bit odd and potentially problematic. Following the bulk of Christian interpreters then, and the most straightforward reading of the biblical text, we can be confident that animal mortality was instituted by God from the beginning, and is not a result of mankind’s fall into sin. This being the case then, moving forward with our argument... it’s eminently plausible that man would have killed animals before the fall. To use a benign example, if Adam accidentally stepped on a grasshopper or a small mouse, presumably it would’ve been morally okay. Going further, there would presumably be no problem with men carefully and respectfully eating meat before the fall. According to Bavinck, most of the Reformers believed this(17). John Calvin in his sermons on Genesis preached that “it is likely [men] were free to eat meat [before the fall].”(18) In the early church we also find folks like Severian of Gabela in the 4th century arguing that some animals were designed to be food for Adam. In discussing Adam’s naming of all the animals, Severian says:

“He was given three different kinds of brute beasts: one for food--assigned not for himself alone but for the human race in general--another for service, another for consolation. [...] For food were those that are now slaughtered, for service were horses, camels” etc.(19)
Nowhere in scripture are men commanded or even encouraged to be vegetarian. Even Jesus himself, the perfect man, killed and ate fish, and presumably lamb too, and he performed at least one miracle giving his disciples an abundant catch of fish.   Since it’s pretty likely, then, that pre-fall man would’ve eaten meat, is it such a strange thing to argue that perhaps some animals would’ve eaten meat too? Thomas Aquinas notes that:

“In the opinion of some, those animals which now are fierce and kill others, would [before the fall] have been tame, not only in regard to man, but also in regard to other animals. But [Aquinas says] this is quite unreasonable. For the nature of animals was not changed by man's sin, as if those whose nature now it is to devour the flesh of others, as the lion and falcon, would then have lived on herbs. [...] Thus there would have been a natural antipathy between some animals. They would not, however, on this account have been excepted from the mastership of man: as neither at present are they for that reason excepted from the mastership of God, whose Providence has ordained all this. Of this Providence, man would have been the executor, as appears even now in regard to domestic animals, since men give fowls as food to their trained falcons.”(20)
Basil of Caesarea in his homilies on Genesis also teaches the existence of carnivores before the fall:

It is on account of this that hares and wild goats produce many little ones, and that wild sheep have twins, for fear lest these species should disappear, consumed by carnivorous animals. Beasts of prey, on the contrary, produce only a few and a lioness with difficulty gives birth to one lion [...] Thus in nature all [...] is the object of continual care. If you examine the members even of animals, you will find that the Creator has given them nothing superfluous, that He has omitted nothing that is necessary. To carnivorous animals He has given pointed teeth which their nature requires for their support.(21)
Ambrose of Milan in his homilies on Genesis spends pages and pages praising God’s work on the sixth day of creation. Not only does Ambrose praise carnivores as the handiwork of God, he also praises the corresponding defenses God gave to other animals for their self-preservation:

‘The lion [is] proud in the fierceness of his nature [...] He turns away even from the fragmentary remains of his meal. What wild beast would venture to associate with him whose roar itself inspires such terror that many animals who could outrun him will quail on hearing it’(22)
[...and later…]
‘hedgehogs [...] on sensing the approach of danger, gather themselves behind their shields so that anyone who has in mind to harm them may be wounded by their prickly armor.(23)
When we look at how the Bible speaks about carnivores, we don’t see them condemned as something horrible and unnatural. It’s the exact opposite: we see them praised as showing the glory of God (except for when they kill men, of course). God waxes poetic to Job about the strength and ferocity of Leviathan, and Jesus himself is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Nowhere in the Bible are carnivores as such considered evil. This brings us to another big point: those who argue that carnivores were created, or transformed, or something after the fall of man are once again reading huge speculations into the text. The text says that snakes would now crawl on their belly because of the fall, but it does not say that thousands and thousands of species would be transformed into carnivores, or have their latent carnivorism released, or whatever; nor that millions of species would suddenly be given defenses against carnivores, etc. Nor are Adam and Eve ever notified in God’s curse of any change in their relationship with animals like carnivores. It’s simply not in the text. The only passage that does seem to imply a lack of carnivores is Genesis 1:29-30, where God says:

“See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so.”
Most commentators throughout church history have understood this to mean that all animals were vegetarian before the fall---I’ve quoted some of the few exceptions above, Aquinas, Basil, Augustine, Ambrose. As a modern reader I was surprised to see most church fathers simultaneously denying carnivores but affirming animal death. Modern American Evangelicals like us tend to conflate ‘no death’ with ‘no carnivores’, but apparently these issues were rarely conflated before our time. As far as I can tell, this widespread and uncritical conflation of the two issues began with 7th Day Adventists, who reacted against Darwinism by kick-starting the scientific Young Earth Creationist movement at the beginning of the 20th century. 7th Day Adventists strictly denied any kind of vertebrate death before the fall, and also denied carnivores of course. Consistently, 7th Day Adventists are notorious for their practice of vegetarianism. One of their core founders, Ellen White, was a leader of the temperance movement and promoted an ethic of vegetarianism, writing “Never be ashamed to say, “No, thank you; I do not eat meat. I have conscientious scruples against eating the flesh of dead animals.””(24) As far as I can tell, the modern evangelical conflation of ‘no carnivores’ and ‘no animal death’ began with the Christians in this denomination, or it at least became popular because of them. (Curiously, the vegetarian temperance of 7th Day Adventists has not found its way into the wider evangelical world, despite the fact that a vegetarian diet is more consistent with this popular interpretation of Genesis.) Moving back to the big picture though, these denials of carnivores rely on a shallow reading of Gen 1:30. That verse does not mean that men and all other creatures were created vegetarian. Most obviously, the verse says nothing about the fish and creatures of the sea….which happens to be the most carnivore-dependent food chain on earth (not all those fish can eat microscopic algae, they eat other fish). More importantly though, the point of that verse is not the specifics of the diet, it’s that God is the provider of their food. Kings in an Ancient Near Eastern context were expected to provide food for their subjects. When someone provides you food, and you eat at their table, that’s a kingly act of provision. Outside of that cultural context, when we hear the sentence, “I have given you every green herb”, we put the emphasis on the ‘green herb’ part, but arguably a Hebrew listener would’ve placed the emphasis on the ‘I have given you’ part. God doesn’t leave men and animals to fend for themselves, he provides for them abundantly. For man, he provided fruits and seeds. It’s baby food, basically, which is fitting since they’re essentially babies. He doesn’t prohibit them from eating meat, it’s just not the food that’s immediately provided right in front of them. God’s provision of fruits and seeds to men is not meant to be a limitation; the principle here is that of maturation. Presumably a few chapters later Abel would be eating lamb, and that’s fine, that’s consistent, that’s maturation. Then later after the flood God “provides” meat to man in a way he hadn’t before. Now, God says, the fear of you will be on all the animals. Now you’ve grown up and you’ll be able to eat anything you want. I’ve provided all of it for you and put it all right in front of you now. In his ‘Dogmatics’, Bavinck agrees with this narrative of meat and maturation; he even emphasizes it, making the point that, “[It would be] incomprehensible [that] of all times God should [newly] permit mankind to eat meat after the fall and after the flood; [if anything] one would expect the contrary, namely, that the rights and rule of man would be restricted after the fall.”(25)

Likewise in Gen 1:30 when God is talking about food for the animals, the emphasis is once again on God’s provision. Speaking about all land animals, God says ‘I’ve given them plants.’ If we’re speaking about all the animal kingdom as a whole (on the land), then that’s true. Plants are undeniably the foundation of the food chain. THAT is how God takes care of all the animals and makes sure everyone has enough. Plants come from the earth and supply what animals need. It’s because God is emphasizing his provision for all the animal kingdom that he says ‘I’ve given them plants.’ If God were speaking to individual species, then he might be more specific about the exact food he’s providing for them. Sure enough, that’s exactly what we see elsewhere. According to scripture, God provides the carnivores with their meat:

Psalm 104
You bring darkness, it becomes night,
and all the beasts of the forest prowl.
The lions roar for their prey
and seek their food from God.
[...and later...]
the earth is full of your creatures.
here is the sea, vast and spacious,
teeming with creatures beyond number
living things both large and small. [...]
Leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.
All creatures look to you
to give them their food at the proper time.
When you give it to them,
they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
they are satisfied with good things.

In Job:
Do you hunt the prey for the lioness
and satisfy the hunger of the lions
when they crouch in their dens
or lie in wait in a thicket?
Who provides food for the raven
when its young cry out to God
and wander about for lack of food?
[...and later…]
Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom
and spread its wings toward the south?
Does the eagle soar at your command
and build its nest on high?
It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night;
a rocky crag is its stronghold.
From there it looks for food;
its eyes detect it from afar.
Its young ones feast on blood,
and where the slain are, there it is.”
So in Genesis, when God speaks about all land animals he says “I provide them with plants.” In other passages though, when he speaks about particular species, God says, “I provide them with meat.” And far from this being a grudging concession, God delights in the way his creatures devour other animals. So we’ve established that animal mortality and even animal predation were instituted by God from the beginning, and are not results of mankind’s fall into sin. This brings us to what I consider to be the core issue: animal suffering. It’s one thing to talk about animal death, it’s quite another to talk about painful, fearful deaths. Seraphim Rose articulates the objection well:

‘If it is true as you say that animals died [...] before the transgression of Adam, then how can it be that God [...] after creating the animals on the Fifth and Sixth Days [...] “saw that they were good”, and at the end of the Six Days, after the creation of man, “God saw [...] they were very good.” How could they be “good”[?]”(26)
One possible response is to deny that animal suffering is a problem at all. Maybe we’re just attributing too much agency and personality to animals. Perhaps the suffering of animals just isn’t that important. In our modern day of PETA and Bambi and vegan diets, maybe we’ve blown this issue out of proportion. Can we really say it’s evil that an eagle swoops down and grabs a salmon to feed its chicks? Why should that be so different from Jesus eating a salmon? Augustine defends the violence of nature, saying “Of this order the beauty does not strike us, because by our mortal frailty we are so involved in a part of it, that we cannot perceive the whole, in which these fragments that offend us are harmonized with the most accurate fitness and beauty.”(27) Augustine certainly has a point. Nevertheless, there’s still something my soul rebels against in all this. Think back to those crocodiles and wildebeests, and consider all the carnage in the animal kingdom. My humanity tells me, this is bad, the Holy Spirit within me whispers, this...is...bad---not in the same way an individual sinful action is bad, but in general, as a painful process and a system, this is bad. That’s what makes it so appealing to propose Adam’s sin as the cause of animal pain and suffering. We need a theodicy to deal with our discomfort over this issue, and it’s easier to handle thinking that it’s caused by sin. It seems more appropriate that way. We’re like disciples in the New Testament saying, “Who sinned, this wildebeest or his father that he should die such a painful death?” That sort of theodicy might work with human suffering, on some level, but animal suffering is different, and all the evidence points to God ordaining it from the beginning, as we’ve discussed. God did this, himself. In Romans 8 Paul says,
the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him (God) who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.
Paul says that God did this to creation, filled it with suffering and birth pains, not as a punishment, but ‘IN HOPE’ it says, awaiting the glorious liberty of the children of God. When God made creation he called it good, even very good...but not perfect. Perfection is for later. This is hinted at in all sorts of ways in the text. We know that Adam was commissioned to “subdue and take dominion” over the earth. Those are not gentle words. ‘Subdue’ is kabash in Hebrew, which elsewhere refers almost exclusively to violent military conquest(28). Adam was supposed to conquer creation. He was also told to guard the garden. The world Adam is placed in does not seem to be entirely tame and gentle. Gen 1 explicitly mentions God’s creation of the ‘sea monsters’, therefore Leviathan in all his violence is presumably there when God is calling creation ‘very good.’ Furthermore, when Eve is cursed it doesn’t say, now you shall feel pain during childbirth, full stop. It says your pain in childbirth will be increased. It was already going to be painful on some level. Adam and Eve were created with bodies capable of feeling pain. Adam’s work was always going to require effort; it’s just that the curse made all these pains and labors worse and more intense for humanity. By contrast the animal kingdom, mortal by design, has always been filled with pain. But why? How can this be good? Like Job I cry out, telling God it would be better to have created no animals at all than to have created such pain. Job’s friends counsel me, and they rebuke me, saying “Brad, surely such pain must be due to sin.” But no, I tell them, it can’t be because of sin, that doesn’t make sense. Why God, why did you make it this way? God answers me, from the whirlwind. “Who are you to question God? Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me? I made the violent Leviathan, and I called him good. Hold your peace you rebellious pot, the Lord is God, and you, are not.”(29) And so I am silenced. I have a response from God, but no explanation. To quote Christopher Southgate, “In a sense all theodicies that engage with real situations … arise out of protest and end in mystery. There are no completely satisfying accounts, only recourses to explorations of God and the world that are bare logical formulations, or systems of partial explanation pointing beyond themselves.”(30) Nevertheless, let us proceed to, in the words of Karl Barth, “take rational trouble over the mystery”. When we ask ourselves why humans die and suffer, the answer is, sin. But this only pushes the mystery back one level. Why did God allow sin? We can speculate, read some scripture, and come up with some pretty decent reasons, but ultimately we don’t know why. It ends in mystery. When we ask, ‘why do animals suffer?’, we can’t even push back the question a level to sin, it just goes straight to the mystery. Many of the speculations we can come up with for ‘why sin?’ apply equally well to ‘why animal suffering?’ [pause] But what then of the groaning of creation? Isn’t all this animal suffering bad? I’ll respond with a question: was Job’s suffering “bad”? [pause] Yes, but ambiguously so, equivocally so. There are ways in which it’s bad, and ways in which it’s good. Are birth pains “bad”? Sort of. But Eve was always going to have birth pains of some kind. So also the ‘birth pains’ of creation, which God did, awaiting our perfection as sons of God--those birth pains are good, and bad. And Paul says the hope of those birth pains is related to us. The suffering of creation is indeed anthropocentric. But it’s not because we caused it. It’s because we are supposed to help free it. We are the midwives of creation. I believe we are headed for an Isaiah 11 world, where the wolf will lie down with the lamb. That will happen in this earth metaphorically and approximately in some way, and it will happen in an ultimate sense in the resurrection when all things are made new. In the meantime, all creation is in bondage to natural decay, awaiting the day when heaven will meet earth, awaiting the final glorification. Just as we eagerly await our incorruptible resurrection bodies, so also the animals await liberation from their bondage to the decay of this universe. We have the firstfruits of this new creation, as Paul says. Heck, we’ve even partly attained the Isaiah vision. When we train a dog to lie down and guard sheep, that *is* a wolf lying down with a lamb. We are the stewards and midwives of creation, and we are called to make nature more natural. I don’t know if that means we’re supposed to get rid of carnivores. Probably not; I expect that’s for God to do, when he makes all things new. I don’t think we’re supposed to become vegetarian either or cease farming animals. Speaking as one personally who loves cows dearly, I’d argue bovine happiness is served far greater on a well-managed dairy farm than if that farm and its milk cows never existed. Animal husbandry is a deep responsibility, and a privilege. Wendell Berry says, “To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration.”(31) Therefore, when an animal meets death by my hands, I limited its suffering as much as I can. I don't know a lot of the big answers here. One day the birth pains of creation will end, and the birth will happen. The end will be better than the beginning. We know what 'very good' looks like but we don't know what 'perfect' looks like. God does. To God be the glory. Amen.

********************************************************************* Footnotes:
  1. Ronald Osborn, Death Before the Fall (ISBN 978-0830840465), pg 157
  2. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, 8.5
  3. Ibid, 11.18
  4. Theophilus of Antioch, Letter to Autolycus, 2.27
  5. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata/Miscellanies, 3.9
  6. Robi Bradshaw’s in chapter 4 of his online book Creationism and the Early Church cites this as appearing in Theodore’s Commentary on Galatians in sections 2.15-16; unfortunately I am unable to personally obtain a copy of this expensive book.
  7. Seraphim Rose; Genesis, Creation, and Early Man (ISBN 978-1887904254); pg 694
  8. Herman Bavinck; Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2: God and Creation (ISBN 978-0801026553); pgs 574-575
  9. John C. Munday Jr, Creature Mortality: from Creation or the Fall?, appearing in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 35/1 (March 1992) 51-68, accessed online on 22 March 2016 at the following URL: http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/35/35-1/JETS_35-1_051-068_Munday.pdf
  10. Apparently this is a citation from Luther’s Works, vol 13, pg 94. Unfortunately I was unable to personally obtain a copy of this book; I discovered the citation on pg 404 of the book, Coming to grips with Genesis (ISBN 978-0890515488)
  11. Commentaries on Genesis (ISBN 978-0830829071), pg 131
  12. See chap 3-4 of On the Incarnation. Thanks to Nathaniel McCallum for bringing Athanasius’ subtle assumption to my attention.
  13. This sentence was inspired by an utterance of Alastair Roberts’ here: https://alastairadversaria.wordpress.com/2014/04/08/death-before-the-fall/
  14. Augustine, Two Books on Genesis Against the Manichees (ISBN 978-0813210889), 2.21.31
  15. For example, see Severian on pg 88-89 in Commentaries on Genesis (ISBN 978-0830829071)
  16. Bavinck Vol 2, pg 575
  17. John Calvin, Sermons on Genesis 1-11 (ISBN 978-1848710382), pg 110
  18. Severian, Homily 6 (see pg 73 of Commentaries on Genesis ISBN 978-0830829071)
  19. Aquinas, Summa, part 1, question 96, article 1, re: to obj 2
  20. Basil of Caesarea, Homilies on Genesis, Homily 9, section 5
  21. Ambrose; Hexameron, Paradise, Cain and Abel (ISBN 978-0813213835); pg 235
  22. Ibid, pg 239
  23. Ellen White, Counsels on Diet and Foods, pg 402, accessed online on 22 March 2016 at http://text.egwwritings.org/publication.php?pubtype=Book&bookCode=CD&lang=en&pagenumber=402
  24. Bavinck Vol 2, pg 576, emphasis in original
  25. Rose, pg 453
  26. Augustine, City of God, XII.4
  27. Osborn, pg 28
  28. That last sentence is a lyric from the following song, featuring Doug Wilson singing lead with my mother and grandmother singing backup vocals: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJ7sr-jcG1M
  29. Christopher Southgate; The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution, and the Problem of Evil (ISBN 978-0664230906); pg 16-17.
  30. Southgate, pg 105-106. Southgate says that he is citing pg 281 of Wendell Berry’s book The Gift of Good Land.


  1. I thought you made some good points, but here are some random thoughts:

    Your quotes from Basil and Ambrose don't mention the fall, and thus don't seem to clearly support your claim that they though there was carnivorous animals before the fall. In contrast, the Augustine quote clearly argues for carnivores before the flood. (I have no idea whether they did or not. but the quotes you presented don't seem to clinch the point)

    I though several points in your discussion of Genesis 1:29-30 weren't relevant.

    Firstly, you spend the first paragraph criticising people for conflating carnivores and animal death. But that seems utterly irrelevant to the issue of how we are to understand the passage.

    Secondly, you point out that the emphasis is on God's provision, not the diet. While true, that doesn't seem to alter how we should understand the statement about diet.

    Thirdly, you point out later in the bible God is described as providing meat for carnivore. But this seems irrelevant to whether or not God provided the meat pre-fall.

    I thought that Genesis 9:6 needed better discussion. You do briefly mention it, but since its usually interpreted as God giving new permission to consume animals to Noah and his children, its seem rather relevant to the point your making.

    1. Hey Winston, thanks for your comment.

      The quotes from Basil and Ambrose are both in the context of God's work on the sixth day of creation, so it does seem they were talking about animal characteristics created before the fall. Furthermore, neither deny carnivores before the fall in any of their writings (as far as I'm aware), and they both make a big deal about the immutability of species, a doctrine which is at least superficially more compatible with original carnivorism. I grant that it's not super-explicit whether Ambrose and Basil believed in carnivores, but it does seem to be the most consistent interpretation of their writings. (Fwiw, Ambrose also seems to imply that man was created mortal; in the context of man's temptation in Eden he says that Adam "aspired to immortality". However, I wasn't sure enough of this interpretation to include it in the paper.)

      My point regarding Gen 1:29-30 is that God's provision is the proper focus and also that to extract the notion of universal veganism from there might be an example of Fallacy of Accent, especially when compared to other passages speaking of God's provision. By itself this proves nothing, but considered alongside the other passages and principles I've emphasized I think the most consistent interpretation is that carnivorism did indeed exist before the fall.

      I could've spent more time on Gen 9 and man eating meat before the fall, but my limit was 6000 words and I had to cut something. Since I had Bavinck and Calvin and most Reformers on my side I felt comfortable abbreviating that section. :-) If you're interested in digging deeper I recommend checking out those authors.