Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Creation as "very good", and creation as "perfect"?

In fact, Mark Whorton writes, nowhere else in Hebrew Scripture is tob or tob me'od interpreted by biblical scholars "as absolute perfection other than Genesis 1:31, and in that case it is for sentimental rather than exegetical reasons." There are other words in biblical Hebrew that are closer to the English sense of "perfect" than tob me'od and that might have been used instead. [Ronald E. Osborn, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2014), 29]

Another objection to YEC that has been made is the somewhat peculiar pointing out that the Garden of Eden is not perfect. Now I must confess that I am not so sure why that is supposed to be an objection to YEC, since after all YEC does not maintain that the Garden of Eden is heaven, or some Platonic ideal. If I were to guess, I would say the argument runs as follows:

P1: A place without death or suffering, where animals are vegetarians, is a perfect place.
P2: Heaven is a place without death or suffering, where animals are vegetarians.
C1: Therefore a place without death or suffering, where animals are vegetarians, is heaven.

P3: Eden is not heaven.
C2: Therefore Eden is not a place without death or suffering, where animals are vegetarians.

It is here that we must object immediately to premise 1. Is heaven just a place without death or suffering? Is any place without death or suffering "perfect"? Heaven is indeed a place without death or suffering, where pictorially animals are pictured as vegetarians. But that is not just what heaven is about. An absence of death or suffering is insufficient for perfection. Rather, life positively has to be there, life in its fullness and abundance.

Reformed theology speak about the Covenant of Works being made with Adam in the Garden. In the Covenant of Work, Adam was placed, as it were, on probation. Even though he was created without sin or defect, he was to perform positive obedience in order to merit eternal life. In other words, a blank slate, tabula rasa, is insufficient for heaven. Of course, we know that Adam would fall into sin. The key point I would like to make here however lies in the fact that creation, although it is very good, was not perfect. The absence of death and suffering itself is not perfect. Perfection is not just the absence of death and suffering, but also of the abundance of life. That is why the tree was sacramentally called the Tree of Life. If all that was necessary was not to sin, why then should there be two trees instead of just one? In fact, why should God even put the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden in the first place, tempting, as it were, Adam and Eve to sin?

Creation according to YEC is very good, but not perfect. It is a paradise without death and suffering, yet that is not sufficient for perfection. This particular objection to the YEC scheme might apply to some versions of Fundamentalist YEC, but it does not apply at all to Reformed YEC.

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