Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Creation, death and curse

The only creature that is altered or "cursed" by Adam's fall is the serpent that was directly responsible for it, though its curse is not becoming a predator but rather being forced to crawl on its belly and "eat" the dust of the ground (Gen. 3:14)— clearly metaphorical and symbolic language not to be taken literally. ... The serpent is singled out from among the animals. [Robert] Alter thus renders the passage, "And the Lord God said to the serpent, 'Because you have done this, cursed be you of all cattle and all beats of the field.'" To construe this simple statement to mean that God abruptly and supernaturally transformed docile creatures at every level of animal existence—not only in their instincts but also in their physical structures— into ferocious predators (or permitted a satanic being to do the same) is to take no small liberty with the text. Nor is there any mention in Genesis or any other book of the Hebrew Bible of mortality being imposed for the first time upon the non-human animals world as a result of human rebellion [Ronald E. Osborn, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2014), 35]

And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

(Gen. 3:17-19)

Osborn questioned the whole idea of death being extrinsic to creation. As I have mentioned earlier, there is a difference between biological death and biblical death. The death that is extrinsic to creation is the death of nepphesh chayyah, not just any death in particular. It is also noted that the verse used by Osborn is not the verse that speaks of the curse on creation, which should be seen not on the curse upon the serpent in verses 14 to 15 but rather the curse on the ground on verse 17 to 19.

According to the Scriptures, the ground is cursed because of Adam, thus it produces thorns and thistles instead of crops. Farming would be a hard work. Yet it is reductionistic to see this as speaking merely of the ground. Rather the "ground" should be seen as a synecdoche for creation in general, such that the curse speaks of creation itself impeding Man's labor and well-being.

The passage that speaks to this can be seen in Romans 8: 20-22 where creation is pictured as groaning until the coming of the Eschaton. We note here that the larger context parallels the creation's groaning with our groaning to be set free from the bondage to sin. We desire to be set free from the body of sin, thus our spirits groan. Likewise therefore, creation is groaning to be free from the curse from sin. Creation itself does not sin, so it cannot be said to groan for deliverance from sin. Yet the parallel indicates that the groaning of creation has something to do with sin, and thus it must speak about the curse upon it due to sin. Genesis 3:17-19 speaks only about the ground being cursed, and therefore the "ground" must function as a synecdoche for all of creation and life in this present age.

Thus far, we have proven that creation itself is cursed as a result of Man's sin. But how is this curse manifested? Is animal death part of the curse? We notice at least that human death must be a consequence of the curse for the simple reason of the sanctions of God's command in Genesis 2:17. Romans 5:12-21 furthermore reinforces the link between human sin and human death. So human death should be seen as a consequence of the Fall. But what about animal death? While there is nothing to indicate that animals are immortal, the fact that they are called nepphesh chayyah seems to indicate a common sharing of life with Man. Death normally comes through predation, disease or old age, or sometimes freak accidents. Disease and freak accidents would be part of the curse on creation, and there wouldn't be predation. As for old age, while this is not definitive, since death is antithetical to life, for a "living creature" to die it must cease to be "living," so it is highly doubtful that old age applies. This is especially so since old age is not a necessity of nature.

And lastly, canivory is not a curse. The idea that God or someone transformed "docile creatures" into "ferocious predators" is a caricature of the YEC position. There is nothing inherently wrong or sinful with ferocity, or even carnivory. Creation is cursed; creation is not guilty and not sinful. Sin adheres to moral agents, and ferocious predators are most definitely not moral agents. The transformation is not immoral and might even be a biological necessity in light of the environment with its scarcity of food. The problem with animal carnivory was never about the supposed immorality about meat-eating, but about the death of the animal eaten. So, if there is an hypothetical "meat" producing tree, or even an animal that once in a while "eject" a bunch of fresh meat from its body, there wouldn't be any problems pre-Fall with eating that meat.

In conclusion, Osborn's rejection of animal death through his interpretation of Genesis 3:14-15 fails. Animal death is wrongly linked to the curse on the serpent, the development of carnivory is misconstrued as sinful, and the wrong question was asked. The question was never about meat-eating, but about the cessation of the life of the living creature.

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