Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Place to Thrive

As we study the cycles of nature—the water cycle and numerous other cycles and processes in nature, we sometimes experience some uncertainties about the goodness of these natural phenomena. Is Planet Earth really a place to thrive? Or is it a place of brokenness and decay? Superimposed upon the life sustaining water cycle, for example, are many sometimes frightening events. Inspired scripture writers do not shy away from vivid descriptions of these mighty events. When they occur in our day they command intense media attention. Accounts of many natural disasters, even though they occurred infrequently, have come down to us through historical records.

Droughts, famines, earthquakes, and pestilence have been recorded in the Old Testament. Some of the most vivid descriptions of water cycle weather phenomena have been recorded in chapter 37 of the Book of Job. Elihu, the speaker, could not be accused of over-dramatizing these events. Powerful lightning, roaring thunder, mighty downpours, whirlwinds (probably tornadoes), and cold snaps resulting in the freezing of “broad waters” are described as wondrous, God-ordained events.

These “wondrous works of God” are followed by far more tranquil clearing, bright skies and “golden splendor” coming out of the north. Elihu exults “…God is clothed with awesome majesty. The Almighty—we cannot find him; he is great in power; justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate.” It is apparent these violent terrestrial events are infrequent, even exceptional. Many other scriptures refer to God’s goodness in providing favorable conditions for raising crops and livestock for the benefit of humanity. The Book of Job does not, however, characterize the more violent events as evil. Rather, they are described as the wondrous or awesome works of a powerful, almighty God.

In Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job, (Baker Books, 2011) Hugh Ross, under the heading Lavish Creation in chapter 13 says “Observing earth’s beauty, abundance, diversity, and grandeur, people of all generations and cultures have been struck by the extravagance of it all. The Creator provided humanity with so much more than a place to survive. He presented us with a place to thrive.” It is apparent, nonetheless, that some events on our earth cause its living residents, including man, inconvenience, pain, and even death. This has been true since Eden. And it was true in the extended geological ages before Eden. The Law of Decay was operative since the cosmic creation event.

The Law of Decay has been a subject of ridicule and misunderstanding. Unbelievers ridicule the Christian God by stating that a loving, powerful, and all-knowing God would not permit pain, grief, suffering, or death. They use this argument as a reason to reject belief in God. On the other hand, many believers misunderstand the existence of the Law of Decay for an altogether different reason. Recently I read the lengthy statement of a well-known Christian college concerning the study of the natural sciences at their college: “We cannot, however, only celebrate the created order as good. We also recognize the effects of the disobedience of humankind, both in the world around us and upon the human race. Even our own capacities to know truth have been adversely affected. We learn in scripture that the creation groans in brokenness and decay (Romans 8:22-25) and awaits, just as we do as broken human beings, the final redemption, the ultimate healing of all that is wrong.”

Christians who believe the creation is currently “broken” may believe that the Garden of Eden sin of our original human parents resulted in the brokenness. Neither the Romans passage nor the record of life on earth since the creation supports this view. Sin was not present among animal species before man was created, because animals are incapable of sin. The context of Romans 8, and indeed, the context of the entire Pauline epistle, is the spiritual death of man through sin, and the spiritual life restored in Jesus Christ. It is doubtful the Apostle Paul digressed from the main burden of his Roman epistle to comment on the theological implications of the Law of Decay (2nd Law of Thermodynamics). Moreover, the people in Paul’s day were not privy to the evidence of the geological record which reveals the Law of Decay had been operative for millions of years.

In our present life we do experience pain and death. Earth’s living things had also experienced pain and death prior to the arrival of man. People who do not enjoy contemplating the death of any creature in modern times may not enjoy the thought of creature deaths millions of years ago any more than they do today. These geological deaths, however, and the geologic recycling processes of past ages, have provided plentiful sustaining resources for modern man, now numbering seven billion souls. God chose to create such a world. Should we question God, suggesting He should have done things in a different way?

Elihu proclaimed the majesty of God manifest in sometimes severe natural events. He also rebuked Job, perhaps somewhat unfairly, for questioning God, notwithstanding that Job had been pronounced blameless and upright by God in the first two chapters of the Book of Job. When God himself finally addressed Job beginning in chapter 38, responding to the reasoning Job had presented in his own defense, God asked him “Who is this that darkens counsel without knowledge?” (Job 38:2) In effect, God asked if Job knew how and why the world was created the way it was, including the creation of birds of prey (Job 39:29-30). Finally, Job humbly said “…now my eyes see you; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6).

Another quote from Hugh Ross’s Hidden Treasures volume states “So, too, we who have not yet completed our lives on earth may complain that the pain and suffering seem too much, especially when at their most intense. But if we take time to ponder the good purposes being accomplished for time and eternity and stretch to imagine what life will be like in God’s perpetual presence amid the splendors of the new creation, we begin to see (at least in part) why a good God would allow sin and suffering and evil to exist in this creation.”