We’ve talked before how more and more people are rejecting Christianity because they simply don’t believe it. One of the main reasons people give for rejecting Christianity has to do with the way nature works. They do not believe that a God who is like Christianity says He is would have created a natural world that works the way it does.
This is something a lot of us have probably never really thought about, so I thought it would be good to think about it today.
Imagine you’re out in a green, grassy meadow. It’s a warm afternoon with a nice breeze blowing. The sky is blue with a few puffy clouds. There are wildflowers blooming, birds singing, a creek flowing along in the background. And here’s a little rabbit, hopping along, munching on the grass. It’s so beautiful, so peaceful. What a wonderful world God created!
But then, all of a sudden, here comes a bobcat. It’s spotted the rabbit and is after it. The rabbit bolts off running, and the bobcat goes after it. The bobcat catches it. The little rabbit struggles, but to no avail. The bobcat rips it apart and eats it.
Or maybe it’s a scene in the grasslands of Africa. A herd of zebras are peacefully grazing. It’s exotic, beautiful, and peaceful. But then here comes a lion. The zebras run in panic. The lion targets one at the back of the herd. It gets right up on this zebra, leaps on it, brings it down, then rips its throat out and settles in to eat.
Or maybe it’s an underwater scene. Underwater scenes can be so beautiful and peaceful, with the reefs and the different-colored fish all swimming around. My wife and I were watching a TV program a while back. They were filming underwater, and it was a reef scene. It was a beautiful reef formation with all kinds of colorful, exotic-looking fish swimming around. There was an outcropping of rocks in one place, and hiding in those rocks was a big, ugly, eel. I mean it was really ugly-looking. A little fish swam by. All of a sudden, the eel darted out, opened its big, ugly mouth and grabbed the fish, then disappeared with it under the rocks.
Skeptics of Christianity look at things like this and say, “And you say a good God created this?”
The natural world is a cruel place. On the surface, looking from a distance at a scene in a grassy meadow, or in the African grasslands, or an underwater reef scene, it looks so beautiful and peaceful. But actually, those places are killing fields, full of suffering, horror, and death.
By far most animals in the wild die at the teeth of predators. Their last moments in life will be moments of terror, where jaws or claws will close in on them and rip them apart. Their lives will end in terror and pain.
We have a lot of rabbits in our yard. They come from all directions. We enjoy seeing them, and they’ve sort of gotten used to us. We talk to them. Although I try not to think of it, I know those rabbits’ lives won’t end well. They’ll end up being eaten by an opossum, raccoon, bobcat, or coyote. The last moments of their lives will be full of horror and pain as they are ripped apart and eaten.
Just to give you an idea of how many rabbits die at the teeth of predators—one pair of rabbits, if all their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great-grandchildren survived and bred and had babies, would create a family tree of 4 million rabbits in 4 years. Just from one pair of rabbits, if all their offspring survived and bred and kept on; and then if all their offspring survived and bred and kept on, and so on, it would create a family tree of 4 million rabbits in just 4 years. Of course that doesn’t mean predators eat 4 million rabbits from this one breeding pair. Most of their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will get eaten before they have a chance to reproduce. 4 million is the number there would be from one breeding pair if none of their descendants got eaten. But, that gives you an idea of how many rabbits die each year screaming in pain in the teeth of predators.
Some people say that killing in nature is different from killing among human beings because animals only kill for food; they only kill what they need to eat. But, that’s a myth. The truth is quite different. Many animals kill for the fun of it. They kill when they don’t need to eat. They kill and just leave the dead carcass lying there. That’s what’s known as “surplus killing,” and it’s fairly common in the animal world.
Some of the best known animals that engage in surplus killing, or killing for fun, are dolphins, whales, housecats, foxes, leopards, lions, gorillas, chimpanzees, and elephants. You might have noticed that some of these are not even meat-eaters. Some of these don’t kill to eat at all. They kill just to kill. The natural world is full of “serial killers” that kill just to kill. Many animals don’t kill to eat; they kill just to kill.
Predators, though, are not just found in the animal world. It happens on a much smaller level in the insect world. Spiders, beetles, stink bugs, lady bugs, all sorts of insects prowl around all over the place. They sneak up on other insects and eat them. A nicely-manicured lawn around a house can look so beautiful—nice green grass, flowers and shrubs around the house. But under the surface, insects are killing and eating each other all the time. We just don’t see it.
It even exists on the microscopic level. Bacteria and viruses prowl around looking for something to infect.
For the most part, life on earth exists by consuming other life. In order to consume that other life, it first kills it, and that killing is painful and full of terror. Pain and terror, being ripped apart and eaten, is the fate that awaits most of life on earth.
We usually don’t think about things like this. When we see a grassy meadow, we see a beautiful, peaceful scene. We don’t see it as a killing field, a place where, one after another, animals will meet a horrifying, painful death at the teeth and claws or predators. But yet that’s the way it is.
Did God design it that way? After all, Christians say that God created the world and all that is in it. Christians also say that God is good. Why would a good God create a world in which the fate of most living things is a terrifying, painful death?
How does Christianity explain that? Be clear that we’re not talking about human beings; we’re not talking about human beings killing other human beings; we’re not talking about human beings killing animals. We’re leaving human beings out of the picture entirely and just talking about the animal world. How does Christianity explain why God made things like this?
Well, the standard answer most Christians have been taught is that God didn’t make it that way, initially. Initially, when God first made the world, none of that happened. Animals didn’t eat each other. Bobcats didn’t rip rabbits apart and eat them. Lions didn’t rip the throats out of zebras and eat them. Nothing killed and ate anything. Everything lived together peacefully.
But then, Adam and Eve ate the fruit God told them not to eat. They “sinned,” in other words. God got so mad that He flew off the handle and completely changed everything in the world. After Adam and Eve ate the fruit, God changed everything so that from then on, animals killed and ate each other. Why did God do that? As punishment for Adam and Eve eating the fruit, as punishment for sin.
This is the answer much of Christianity has given when asked why the natural world is so full of suffering and pain. Why are little rabbits ripped apart and eaten by bobcats? Because God changed things to be that way to punish human beings for sin. Why does a hawk swoop down and catch a bird in its claws, then tear that bird apart with its beak and eat it? Because God changed things to be that way to punish human beings for sin. Why does a shark grab a seal and eat it alive? Because God changed things to be that way to punish human beings for sin.
That is the answer given by most versions of Christianity. But is that really believable? Do you believe that because Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit God told them not to eat, God completely changed everything so that the fate of by far most animals is a painful, horrifying death in the jaws of predators? Think about that for a minute. Did God really fly off the handle and cause all this horrible suffering on living creatures just because Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit God told them not to eat? These animals, fish, and insects didn’t eat the fruit. Why punish them?
A rabbit didn’t eat the fruit God told Adam and Eve not to eat. Yet from that moment on, so we are told, rabbits have had to pay the price for it. A zebra didn’t eat the fruit God told Adam and Eve not to eat. Yet from that moment on, so we are told, zebras have had to pay the price for it. And it’s not only rabbits and zebras, but virtually every other animal in the world, except for a few right at the top of the food chain.
Is that really what God is like that, that He would place all this suffering on practically everything He made, just because two people ate a piece of fruit He told them not to eat?
Yet that is what most Christians are taught to believe. Nature is the way it is—there’s so much pain, suffering, and cruelty in the natural world—as a result of human sin, because Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit God told them not to eat.
If that’s what we say, then we are saying that things are like this because God wants them to be like this. Obviously, if God changed things to be like this, then God wants them to be this way, because if He didn’t, He wouldn’t have changed them to be this way.
But you know, the Bible never explicitly says God changed things to be this way. That’s an interpretation people put on it. Actually, the Bible indicates God does not want things to be like this. The Bible indicates that God is working on making things not be like this.
From Isaiah chapter 11, we hear this, “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb. The leopard shall lie down with the young goat; the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain.”
This is what God is working toward. It’s a vision of the way God wants things to be, the way God is one day going to make things to be. Notice that in this passage, wolves are not ripping apart lambs; they are living side-by-side. Leopards are not ripping the throats out of goats; they are taking naps together. Lions are not ripping apart baby calves; they are sitting beside each other. Wolves, leopards, and lions are not killing children; children are leading them around. Children are playing out and don’t have to be afraid of snakes, because snakes will no longer bite them. There will be no hurt. There will be no destruction. That’s how this passage says God wants things to be.
So think for a minute. If God is dissatisfied with the way things are now and wants them to be different, isn’t that an indicator that God did not make things be the way they are now? Isn’t that an indicator that God did not make it be so that rabbits are torn apart and eaten by bobcats and that zebras have their throats ripped out by lions? Isn’t that an indicator that God did not make it be so that the fate of most animals is a painful, horrifying death at the teeth and claws of predators?
A basic belief of virtually all versions of Christianity is that we can know some things about God just by looking around us and seeing how things work. This is what’s called “the natural knowledge of God.” There are some things about God we don’t have to read in the Bible or have someone tell us. Some things about God we can know by just looking at the world around us, just by paying attention to nature and seeing how things work.
And so here’s what we see: When we look at a grassy meadow scene, it’s so beautiful and peaceful. What a wonderful world God created! But then when we see a bobcat ripping a rabbit apart, what do we know? We know that there is something else involved here than God. Something else has come in and done something to ruin this beautiful, peaceful world God created.
When we see a herd of zebras peacefully grazing in Africa, it’s so beautiful and exotic. What a wonderful world God created! But then when we see a lion ripping the throat out of a zebra and eating it, what does that tell us? That tells us that there is something else involved here than God. Something else has come in and done something to ruin this beautiful, peaceful world God created.
We call that something else the power of evil, Satan. That’s what delights in pain, suffering, and death—evil. And so when we see pain, suffering, and death in the world, we know we are seeing not the handiwork of God but the handiwork of evil. We know that from what’s called the natural knowledge of God, which is something virtually all versions of Christianity accept as a basic belief—that we can gain some knowledge of God and what God is like by looking at the world around us and seeing how things work.
So, we started with a question: Why would a good God make a world where there is so much pain, suffering, and death in the natural world? The answer is simple: He didn’t. God made the world good, with none of that. But something else came in and spoiled what God made. Something else came in and made it so that animals rip each other apart. Something else came in and made it so that the lives of most animals in the wild end in excruciating pain at the teeth and claws of predators. Something else made it so that pain, suffering, and death is the way nature works.
God didn’t make it this way, God never wanted it to be this way, and God did not at any time change things to be this way. Something else did that.
The good news is that God is working right now to once again make things the way He wants them to be—to make a world where there will never be any pain, suffering and death.