It sounds strange to extol the benefits of death in any context. However, as we look back at earth history, we may see an entirely different perspective. Our last post explained that bacteria have been present for the majority of Planet Earth’s existence as a solid body. Even today, thousands of species of bacteria are ever present, in our mouth, on our bodies, and in virtually every earth environment one can imagine. Estimates of bacterial biomass on earth range up to 50%. Encyclopedia Britannica states, “Bacteria are instrumental in performing numerous critical biochemical transformations of substances in nature, changing them from complex to simple compounds that can be used by plants, man, and other animals.”
Bacteria have acquired a negative reputation owing to the small minority of pathogenic varieties which cause disease. But in general, the benefits of bacteria far outdistance the harm. They have lived and died in unimaginable numbers for the past 3.8 billion years. For over two billion years they were essentially earth’s only life forms. They have performed multiple beneficial tasks, such as reducing toxic concentrations of soluble metallic elements and converting them to highly useful ore deposits which now sustain our high-tech society. Other functions include breaking down rocks into useful soils for the benefit of plant life, and supplying our atmosphere with oxygen for the onset of complex animal life much later.
Tombstone eulogies for other organisms would praise the demise of marine plankton which settled by the trillions into shallow sea sediments, later to become chemically converted into the petroleum resources on which we now depend. And what could we say in praise of the ancient land-based plant life quickly buried in airless shallow water conditions? That ancient plant life is the source of our coal deposits. The death of microbes, plants, and simple animals has been ubiquitous throughout the timeline of earth’s history. Without the death of these organisms, we would not enjoy the benefit of mineral resources in our present day. Without the ongoing life and death of multiple kinds of microbes as near as our bodies and as far away as the Polar Regions, the deep sea, and Earth’s deep crust, our life would be impossible.
Some Christians see the onset of physical death as an outcome of the fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden. Yes, Adam’s fall resulted in the spiritual death of man--alienation from God--but the physical death of earth’s living organisms, simple to complex, historical to contemporary, must be seen in the context of God’s provenance. Romans 5:12 tells us this spiritual death came to all men. The physical deterioration and death of multiple creatures throughout geologic history is an example of the universal Law of Decay. In God’s plan, this law has worked wonderfully to our benefit.