“And God Saw That It Was Good”: Death and Pain in the Created Order

by Keith B. Miller

In the Genesis account and elsewhere, Scripture declares God’s love and care for creation, and the glory and praise it returns to him. Yet, the creation that Scripture declares both good and an object of God’s care is a creation in which death and pain are integral, indeed vital, aspects. A number of different approaches have been used to develop a theodicy for the existence of this “natural evil” within the created order. Approaches that view death and pain in the nonhuman creation as a consequence of either a human or angelic fall are difficult to reconcile with both the testimony of Scripture and nature. More helpful are approaches that stress the “self-emptying” of God, and the cruciform character of the creation. But ultimately, we seek some explanation that has relevance at the level of the individual creature’s life. Here, something similar to the “soul-making” theodicy of John Hick seems to provide a framework for understanding the fulfillment of animal existence in a world beset by suffering and challenge.

PSCF 63, no. 2 (2011):

2 comments to “And God Saw That It Was Good”: Death and Pain in the Created Order

  • Randall Isaac

      Thanks for an excellent article and clear explanation of the various aspects of dealing with theodicy.
      In several places, you articulated God’s specific interest in the individual creature and not just the species. For example, in the discussion of Farrer’s approach you state “The life of each individual animal is a work of God.” Later, you add “God is not just interested in the future of species, but is a participant in the lives of individual creatures.”
      Could you discuss further how this attention to the individual creature plays out in the predator/prey relationship? Such relationships are ubiquitous in nature and it seems that there is no easy way to resolve that tension in favor of both parties. Is God merely “interested” but powerless to help the prey? Or are these exceptions to the rule of the individual vs the species?


  • Keith Miller

    I do believe that it is important to address the issue of theodicy from the perspective of the individual.  That is where the real tension comes — How can God allow the suffering of the individual animal life?  That is where the problem is at its most visceral.  Any response to this question must apply equally to prey and predator.
    I address this in terms of the “fulfillment” of animal life.  It is in the living that animal lives glorify God — by being what they were created to be.  We instinctively think of the death of the prey — and focus our attention there.  However, predators also die — and often no less painfully.  But while both predator and prey animal are living out their created lives they are receiving God’s providential care.  As I argue in the essay, it is the reality of death that makes most animal activities meaningful — defense against predators,  search for prey, protection against environmental challenges, reproduction, protection and car of young, etc.
    This has application to theodicy in the human realm as well.  God cares for the poor, the powerless, the hungry, etc.  But His care is not in the elimination of the struggle hardship, but in being present with us in the midst of that struggle.  It is in the struggle that our lives often yield the greatest praise to God.

May 2011
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