August 24, 2019

God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey

God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey

We will begin our review of God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey.  Jon blogs at The Hump of the Camel and you can buy his book here.  As of the writing of this post, Amazon is only showing a Kindle version of the book for sale.  From Jon’s bio description at The Hump of the Camel:

“Jon retired as the senior partner of a large medical practice in 2008, and has since been studying and writing on faith-science issues. He started The Hump of the Camel in 2011 at the instigation of various other commenters on the BioLogos website. His greatest concern is biblical theology, but he sees his role as a generalist, pulling together ideas from a wide range of fields of human knowledge to enrich the discussion. This means he has to be pulled up on errors from time to time by more knowledgeable friends, which is all to the good. When not involved in The Hump, his main activity is writing, arranging and performing music for a number of ensembles, playing saxophones and guitars. He is also an elder of a Baptist church.”

This YouTube video gives a nice summary of the book.

The book is broken into four sections:

 Section 1 – The Bible

Section 2 – The Theologians

Section 3 – The Science

Section 4 —  The Application

Jon Garvey

In Section 1 he surveys the relevant biblical material pretty thoroughly, if not exhaustively.  In Section 2 he discusses the history of the doctrine of nature, with reference to the fall, through the last 2,000 years, and he shows how he believes the balance has shifted from a strongly positive view of the goodness of creation to a negative one.  He also looks at the possible reasons why the so-called “traditional view” became prominent around the sixteenth century. 

In Section 3 he looks at the evidence for “natural evil” in the world itself as science observes it, and why nature is now so widely perceived as cruel and malevolent, when once it wasn’t.  This section is also a study on how ideas gain or lose plausibility, and how evidence comes to be considered significant or to be disregarded. 

Lastly, in Section 4, Jon sketches out the difference it makes to Christian life to accept either the “traditional view” or the view he presents.  He believes that the idea that creation is tainted by the fall a false notion that negatively affects our worship, witness, and plain enjoyment of God’s good earth.  Jon says:

Lastly, I will touch on the Christian hope for the future, and how it involves not an escape from an evil creation to an uncreated heaven, but the renewing of a good creation as a better one, of the naturally empowered (psuchikos) as the spiritually empowered (pneumatikos), of the perishable as the imperishable – of the old order as the new heavens and the new earth.

In Chapter 1 – God’s Relationship to Creation, Jon points out that there are a series of blessing and curse stipulations to God’s covenant with Israel that follow the known Ancient Near East (ANE) treaty stipulations.  These are set out in Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 28, and Joshua 24.  The thing Jon wants to point out is the creation is used as God’s reliable and obedient agent for both blessing and for curses.  According to whatever God commands, the weather will either be beneficial and productive or violent and destructive.  The wild beasts will either withdraw harmlessly into uninhabited places, or act as marauders in towns and villages. The bacteria and parasites will be harmless or will produce epidemics as he wills.

Weather, in particular, is said in scripture to be God’s agent of government. Psalm 104:3-4:

 3. He makes the clouds his chariot

    and rides on the wings of the wind.

4. He makes winds his messengers,

    flames of fire his servants.

Psalm 65 describes God’s care for the land through his control of rainfall:

You care for the land and water it;
you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
to provide the people with grain,
for so you have ordained it.
10 You drench its furrows and level its ridges;
you soften it with showers and bless its crops.
11 You crown the year with your bounty,
and your carts overflow with abundance.
12 The grasslands of the wilderness overflow;
the hills are clothed with gladness.
13 The meadows are covered with flocks
and the valleys are mantled with grain;
they shout for joy and sing.

The book of Job in chapters 36-37 not only describes the hydrological cycle accurately, but shows that God’s judicial use of the weather is broader than Israel both geographically and in the range of purposes it serves.  The elements are never said to be independent of God.  Jon says:

Now there are instances in Scripture where natural phenomenon of extreme weather, famine, and so on are mentioned without any specific references to God’s actions or intentions.  But is should not be understood from this that these things “just happen” apart from God’s will.  That would be alien to the whole Hebrew worldview.  Rather, when things are described phenomenologically, without reference to divine intent, we are to suppose that God is going about his “own business” and that his particular motives are hidden from us, or are just irrelevant to the narrative.

Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt

In the calming of the storm on the Sea of Galilee, the word used in all three Gospel accounts, “rebuke”, is that used in the Septuagint version of Psalm 104, in which God’s creative power over primal disorder, not his quelling of an evil rival is in view. In the Old Testament, only in Job 1 is the person of Satan said to 1) send a destructive fire, 2) a mighty wind, and 3) inflict boils.  But it is essential to understand that Satan here is represented as a morally ambiguous, but obedient “son of God” who acts only under the direct permission of God, and ultimately in a mysterious way for Job’s blessing. 

Jon gives a whistle-stop tour through the animal kingdom to give examples of those creatures which God names as his agents:

  •         Gnats (Ex 8:16-19)
  •         Flies (Ex 8:20-31)
  •          Locusts (Ex 10:1-19, Joel 1-2, Amos 4:9, 7:1)
  •          Frogs (Ex 8:1-14)
  •         Snakes (Num 21:4-9)
  •          Birds (Jer 15:3)
  •         Dogs (Jer 15:3)
  •         Bears (2 Kings 2:23)
  •         Generic wild beasts (Jer 15:3, Ezek 14:15-16)

In addition to these, the general judgement of God himself is likened figuratively to another menagerie of fierce creatures:

·         Lions (Is 31:14; Jer 4:5, 5:6)

·         Wolves (Jer 5:6)

·         Leopards (Jer 5:6)

·         Birds of Prey (Is 46:11)

·         Snakes (Jer 7:17)

Jon says it is incongruous to consider God identifying his own actions with such creatures if, as the “traditional view” says, they are corrupted and evil.  The clearest description of his care towards the nonhuman creation are in passages from Job and Psalms.  Job in particular stresses his care – even workmanlike pride – in the details of what he has made.  See Job 12:7-10 and Job 38:39-41, 39:1-30.  It is hard to conceive how anyone can read the Job passages and still think that God considers his creatures to be corrupt in any way.  He is as equally enthusiastic about the carnivores whose prey he procures as the herbivores he provides for. Jon concludes the chapter:

Nothing in what we have examined in this chapter, covering the whole sweep of Old and New Testament teaching about the creation as it is, gives any hint that some other agent has corrupted the natural world, nor that God himself has altered its nature for the worse because of human sin, nor that it has corrupted itself.  If God uses it for harm, it is because of humanity’s desert, not because of nature’s corruption. 

In Chapter 2, Jon will examine the Scriptures that are most often cited to claim the opposite.

Comments

  1. Mike, thanks for the effort you’re putting into reviewing this book, and the others.

    I’m looking forward to discussing the pros and cons of Jon’s assertions with fellow communicants here, but I don’t want to spoil the reviews of the next chapters, so I’ll wait a bit 🙂

  2. Mike, thanks for this excellent summary of the start of my book.

    For readers’ info, the Amazon.com link for the book version is here.

    • Mike the Geologist says

      Jon: welcome to Internet Monk. I hope you can chime in from time to time as your book is discussed. It’s a great book, you’ve totally convinced me.

  3. Iain Lovejoy says

    The Bible deals with man’s relationship with nature and the naturally consequent suffering of man derived from man conflicting with God and his creation, but it’ll be interesting to see how Jon deals with the suffering of animals inherent in natural processes.

    • Robert F says

      Yes, I wonder how its agonistic, predatory aspect can be congruous with the idea that prehuman creation was exactly the way that a good God intended it to be.

  4. Robert F says

    While Garvey’s list of Biblical texts in support of the idea that the Biblical presents an uncomplicated view of the prehuman creation and creatures as good,unfallen, and totally responsive to God’s will and intention is substantive, I think the character of the deceptive serpent in the garden in Genesis presents a different view. Perhaps the Old Testament as a whole is not fully consistent in this matter; most texts may support one view, while others, or even just one other, may support another. After all, the very character of God is depicted in the OT on the one hand as petty, violent, and tyrannical, and on the other as loving, gentle, and concerned, sometimes in the same chapter or even verse! It may be that one-off or minority texts express something of religious existential import left unresolved by the majority texts; perhaps the prevalence of the majority view does not necessarily make it the determinative one.

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    He believes that the idea that creation is tainted by the fall a false notion that negatively affects our worship, witness, and plain enjoyment of God’s good earth.

    Including “This World Is Not My Home… I’m Just Passin’ Thru” and “IT’S ALL GONNA BURN!”

    Hope in Fluffy Cloud Heaven (and getting beamed up) instead of a New Age of God’s Kingdom (here in the Cosmos).

  6. Peter Wolfe says

    Biologos put up a post yesterday that takes on part of this question: Biological Death: Part of God’s “Good” Creation? https://biologos.org/articles/biological-death-part-of-gods-good-creation

    Jon’s book looks interesting, I’ve added it to my backlog :).

    • Mike the Geologist says

      Good examination of the question in this article. Robert F – you should read.

      • Robert F says

        Read it. It’s a good examination, but as the article itself acknowledges, it is impossible to tie up all the messy, bloody loose ends. As the article also says, none of these questions are new, and for the most part neither are the possible answers; as Christians we have to believe that the contradiction between God’s goodness and the pain, suffering, and death we see around us and experience ourselves is only apparent, even when we don’t have the answers. But that’s a difficult task to accomplish, because I am being asked to trust a God who may at any moment assent to or even demand my own pain, suffering, and death, or that of those I love and value. Trust is the issue here; for those who have been made to suffer pain of various sorts unjustly for others benefit and at their will, that trust comes hard, if at all. It is hard to see the God with bloody hands and mind as other than an all-too-human ogre.

        • Mike the Geologist says

          Robert: I am deeply sympathetic to your situation. Garvey will have some interesting things to say, but he doesn’t offer any easy answers, which, as you well know, there aren’t any.

      • Robert F says

        And the character of the deceptive serpent in the Garden still does not jibe with a view of the total goodness of the non-human creation before the advent of humanity. Something is already amiss in the Garden, and by imaginative extension in the world around it.

    • “God’s immanence and providence in sustaining all of the natural processes that occur in our world… includ(es) the instances of animal wildness and predation that are described in Job 38-40 and Psalm 104. In the words of Miller, “Scripture does not seek to distance God from the ongoing death and pain present in the creation, and neither should we.””

      I think this is key. We seem to automatically equate pain with evil, and perhaps this is not so.

      • Robert F says

        I used to suffer from what are called cluster headaches. Pain from such headaches is so excruciating and hard to treat that sufferers have been known to kill themselves to escape it. Such an evil outcome can only be the result of an equally equal cause.

        Btw, the extended episodes of cluster headaches, which I had suffered every few years since childhood, stopped in 1998 or 99 after my wife and I became involved in what I came to view, and continue to view, as a spiritually unbalanced charismatic Episcopal healing prayer group, and received prayer for the issue. I wasn’t suffering an episode at the time, but my fear of onset of the headaches was so great that when asked what I would like to receive healing prayer for it was at the top of the list. My wife was also turned off by the vibe in the group, and uncomfortable with the leadership, so we discontinued going, and I’m still glad we dies; but at the same time it would be hard for me to dismiss the fact that I have never again suffered cluster headaches as a mere coincidence. God works in mysterious ways.

        • Robert F says

          Corrections:
          ….can only be the result of an equally evil cause…
          ….and I’m still glad we did….

        • Christiane says

          I’m glad you no longer have those headaches, Robert. Bad stuff. God is merciful. If He didn’t work through imperfect weird people, Our Lord wouldn’t have had any disciples, I guess. Stay well.

          • Mike the Geologist says

            What Christiane said. Stay well.

          • Robert F says

            Thanks Christiane. I was just rereading about CH to reacquaint myself with the literature. It’s been a long time, and I wanted to see if there have been any advances in treatment — unfortunately, not much progress has been made since my struggle with CH. The pain from CH is said to be worse than from migraine, and because they can cause suicidal ideation, they are sometimes called “suicide headache.” Bad stuff indeed.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I’ve heard of cluster headaches.
          They’ve been described as the WORST type of Migraines.

  7. Christiane says

    if we humans can ‘learn from the Earth’,
    maybe the Earth is not so ‘corrupt’ or ‘cursed’ (?)

    ” speak to the Earth, and it will teach you ”
    (from Job 12:8)

  8. anonymous says

    http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/newbb/viewtopic_pdf.php?topic_id=11457&forum=40

    the strange revival on the Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides, Scotland

    ‘the universal language of grief’

  9. Sometimes I ponder an alternative multi-verse theory: God already tried universes where no suffering was possible, and it didn’t work out great, so now he’s trying one where suffering IS possible 🙂

  10. The thing is, we just blithely ask “why did God create a universe which included suffering”, but I haven’t seen much in depth propositions of what a universe without suffering would look like, nor how it would function.

    Of course the elephant in the room is what a New Earth would look like, if “absence of suffering” is impossible…

    • I have been reading this blog for a long time and wondered on/off if I should start commenting. But I feel so blessed by a lot of what I read, that tonight I’m jumping in.

      Ben, my take on the topic is that, perhaps, the new earth will be a place where suffering is possible (after all, mechanism for suffering is “good”, see “Where is God when it hurts” from Yancey) but, perhaps, we’ll be wise enough (through our connection to God) and aware of anything that can cause pain, thus able to avoid it altogether.

      Similarly, perhaps we were supposed to teach/tame animals to not eat each other while ruling over them as part of our initiate mandate. After all, God talked about “subduing” the earth and “dominating” it, hinting to some things that needed to be mastered.

      Hope that helps 🙂

      Blessings to all,

      Thomas