Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Your Friendly Neighborhood Leviathan

Cheesehead, Chad, and I have been having a fantastic discussion on the notion of reconciling the creation stories of Genesis and the scientific stories of animal predation long before human life on Earth. Rather than continuing deeper down that thread, I thought I'd make a new post in order to keep the discussion above the radar.

Cheeshead has argued that assuming the modern story of origins, with its eons of animal predation and death, undermines some key themes of Genesis 1-3: that of creatures being at peace with each other before the fall, that of death originating with the sin of man, etc. He focuses particularly on the contrast between God giving every green plant for food and him providing Adam and Eve with skins to cover their nakedness. The death of innocent animals covering the sin of guilty man. Heck, this even sheds some light on the choice of Abel's sacrifice over Cains'. I have to say, Cheesehead's makes some great points. I honestly enjoyed having my foundations shaken up a bit - I've long stopped being afraid of this, because it is when our paradigms are challenged that God so often is speaking.

But I still insist on having my cake and eating it.

In my defense, I do this because, as a Christian, I'm rather used to it. I get a God that is one substance, and yet three persons. I worship a first-century Palestinian Jew, by whom and for whom the entire universe was created. I expect to die and my body to rot, and in so doing, to live forever in that same glorious body. My inheritance in Christ is God's glorious Earth, which will be Heaven as well (as the dwelling place of the transcendent God will be with men).

So, naturally, I want to affirm the story of Genesis 1-3, and also thankfully receive the great historical insights brought about by modern science. So yes, we are to understand God's created order as intending harmony between his creatures. Yes, we should see the source of death and decay upon creation as the rebellion of God's image-bearers. But perhaps we should also see how death itself seems to have been a tool for life, in honing creature designs over the millennia. Perhaps we should also see the terrifying predators as expressing an essential part of God's nature and character. Can we do all this in genuine Christian mystery, rather than intellectual sloth and cowardice?

Well, Job has been a great guide in the past. And it just so happens that the end of the book of Job has some fantastic meditations on creation out of the mouth of the creator himself. These are not ruminations on the effects of the fall, but meditations on his creation:
Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
when they crouch in their dens
or lie in wait in their thicket?
Who provides for the raven its prey,
when its young ones cry to God for help,
and wander about for lack of food?
God himself is the author of the hunt of the lion and the raven. He bids us look in wonder.
The wings of the ostrich wave proudly,
but are they the pinions and plumage of love?
For she leaves her eggs to the earth
and lets them be warmed on the ground,
forgetting that a foot may crush them
and that the wild beast may trample them.
She deals cruelly with her young, as if they were not hers;
though her labor be in vain, yet she has no fear,
because God has made her forget wisdom
and given her no share in understanding.
When she rouses herself to flee,
she laughs at the horse and his rider.
God himself has made the ostrich foolish and cruel. What is he showing us through this?
Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars
and spreads his wings toward the south?
Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up
and makes his nest on high?
On the rock he dwells and makes his home,
on the rocky crag and stronghold.
From there he spies out the prey;
his eyes behold it afar off.
His young ones suck up blood,
and where the slain are, there is he.
God guides the great birds of prey. Consider their ways and be wise.

But of course all pale in comparison to the great sea monster, Leviathan, whom he formed to play in the tumultuous chaotic sea. No other creature is so fierce, so violent, and so deadly.
Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook
or press down his tongue with a cord?

No one is so fierce that he dares to stir him up.
Who then is he who can stand before me?
Who has first given to me, that I should repay him?
Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.

I will not keep silence concerning his limbs,
or his mighty strength, or his goodly frame.
Who can strip off his outer garment?
Who would come near him with a bridle?
Who can open the doors of his face?
Around his teeth is terror.

His heart is hard as a stone,
hard as the lower millstone.

On earth there is not his like,
a creature without fear.
He sees everything that is high;
he is king over all the sons of pride.
This is not the voice of an artist bitter at a work gone awry. No, this is God the creator glorying in the works of his hands. God isn't upset or ambivalent about the fierceness of Leviathan - he absolutely revels in it!

And yet, we are told that in the end the Lord will punish Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea. He will give him as food for the creatures of the wilderness. Once his creation is fully complete, once his glorious will is ultimately realized, the lion will lie down with the lamb, and, though he called it good on the second day, there will no longer be any sea.

Well, I will say this is a novel approach to the question. At least I cannot recall having seen it before. And it is quite persuasive to boot. So I will give this post high marks for both originality and quality.

I would count this line of reasoning as a strong argument in favor of death before the Fall. That said, I think we can draw parallels between these descriptions of carnivorous animals and the approval, yea even commanding, by God of wars and slaughter in the context of Sodom and Gomohorrah, the plagues in Egypt, the Conquest under Joshua, the Judges, Saul, David, and the exile, just to hit a few highlights. The Song of Miriam, Song of Deborah, and Song of Moses all describe approvingly things which would have been unthinkable in an unfallen world, and will not prevail in heaven.

BTW, I loved the title of the post. Great illustration, too. I will use our friendly neighborhood Leviathan and our friendly neighborhood Behemoth to springboard into yet another detail where Scripture does not gel with modern cosmologies. The description of these animals in Job does not fit well with any animal now extant. However it does fit quite well with a Pleisaur and a Brontosaurus. I would take Job as presumptive evidence for the existence of large animals now extinct in the living memory of people. I would add to that the existence of dragon and sea serpent legends in most cultures throughout the world as support for the idea that these creatures have been extinct for thousands, not millions of years.

Refining our point of discussion after the input we all have had the last week or so, I think the nub of the argument is that even given Assumption #1 and thereby rendering inoperative differences in details between Genesis and modern etiologies, the fundamental picture that emerges from the two approaches is radically different, and I do not see how to reconcile the two. However, there is nothing in real, empirical science that is at variance with a straightforward reading of the Genesis account.

That's my take. Have at it guys...

I've taken the liberty of going to Chad's blog and starting a discussion of the scienfic end of things (questioning Assumption #1) on his microevolution post from August. https://silentplanet.wordpress.com/2006/08/08/a-good-idea-gone-bad-part-i/#comment-326
Hope you don't mind my jumping in Chad. (If you do you shouldn't have linked you blog in the comments here! ;) )

The only time I'll object is if I get so drawn into the discussion that I can't get my research done!

Cheesehead -

That's an argument I remember well from the ICR guys growing up. And part of it I totally buy, actually - I mean that it's stretching it quite a bit to say that Leviathan is a crocodile. For one, that's not a sea monster! The Pleisesaur fits the bill better, though I don't think perfectly. I always err on the side of credulity when it comes to ancient myths of dragons and such. But I don't think this need mean that therefore our paleontology is totally wrong - only that we have a limited sample of what's out there.

Your rebuttal is fair, but I don't think it's decisive. God really is talking about creation, and doesn't seem to be referring to their fierce nature in the context of judgment on fallen man, as in the cases you mentioned. You might be able to counter that he can still glory in fallen creatures, but it still rings a little thin. I think you have some of the same problems here as I do with "I give them the green plants for food." This happens to all theological constructs though, when we think they are large enough to encompass the whole of scripture.

At the heart of my argument is the desire to look at both scripture and science with open, eager, and teachable eyes. All truth is God's truth. Even here, pondering what we are taught from natural history has led me deeper into contemplation of the passage in Job. My argument continues to be that these scientific stories (when decoupled from atheistic and materialistic spins) do not ultimately undermine the foundations of our faith, though they may indeed undermine some peripheral theology.

Is this a good place to stop for now, you think? It's been a wonderful conversation, involving tough challenges, points made, understood, and responded to. In the end, we all have had to back down somewhat, and have come to a richer understanding of the others' position, while remaining convinced of the truth of our own. Genuine thoughtful engagement - not a small achievement for internet debate!

I do hope you stick around, and don't completely abandon WFO for Chad's blog! Blogging through the Bible has been really rewarding for me so far, and I relish your continued involvement - even if you're a bit of a "fundy". ;-)

By the way, Chad, as an aside to make us look like the three stooges, I actually have some pretty significant beefs with Christo-Platonism. Don't get me wrong, I want to affirm the brilliance of Greek philosophy as much as the next guy, but I think we did end up taking some things on board that would have been better left at the station. I'm speaking of the distinction between the perfect "heavenly" forms and the imperfect "earthly" shadows. Platonism isn't Gnosticism, but it can still be more dualistic than we ought to go. For instance, our hope as Christians is not in going to a different spiritual place called "Heaven" after death, but in the resurrection of the body in God's truly redeemed and completed creation - new "heavens and Earth." This creation will indeed be "Heaven", not in the platonic sense of a spiritual ideal, but in the Jewish sense of God fully dwelling with his creatures.


By the way, Cheesehead, I wasn't authoritatively declaring discussion closed. I sorta feel like we've gone as far as we can under assumption #1 and defined where we disagree, and we understand each other. But if you feel like there's more ground to cover, I'll happily keep going.

It's been a great discussion. And no, I won't go away because this discussion has ended, unless of course, you stop writing...

In my estimation the discussion was helped by bringing in the neo-Platonistic motivations to Augustine's hermeneutics. From my vantage point the singular feature that is the takeaway point of the discussion is that we should be very careful when our hermeneutics lead us to conclusions that accord well with the views of those who do not identify with the Christian worldview. If our interpretation resolves some point of conflict with the message of the Bible and the current science, morality, philosophy or politics of our culture, it is then that we should be most on our guard.

I hope you come over to Chad's blog to discuss the science end of the question. I'll keep reading, but most of the time will lurk. After all, you can't expect me to be brilliant and witty all the time. ;)

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