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Originally published in Journal of Creation 10(3):391-404, December 1996
The problem of evil continues to be a supposed ‘safe haven’ for the skeptic. He believes that issue gives evidence to support his rebellious attitude toward God.
The problem of evil continues to be a supposed ‘safe haven’ for the skeptic. He believes that issue gives evidence to support his rebellious attitude toward God. Unfortunately, many evangelicals, by adopting theistic evolution, give credence to the skeptic’s argument, because God would then have created pain and suffering to be inherent in the universe. As one rightly understands Scriptures, one finds the origin of emotional pain taking place subsequent to creation. This thought is developed in three sections.
First, when God created the animals, land, air, and water, He called them ‘living creatures’. As God made man from dust, man too was a ‘living creature’. The interpreter needs to understand what this ‘living creature’ means in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Man and animals as ‘living creatures’ share the capacity of emotional suffering.
Second, the scientific data must be examined to see if the they support the model suggested by the biblical data. Both neurophysiology and neurochemistry are examined in conjunction with the behavioural patterns related to both. It seems that animals and man share the ability for the expression of emotions and emotional suffering.
Third, the interpreter needs to examine when this emotional suffering originated. The clearest passage on the problem of evil, as seen in emotional suffering, is Romans 8:19–21. If one misunderstands the timing of emotional suffering, then it affects one’s ability to offer a consistent apologetic for the problem of evil.
The ‘problem of evil’ is not unique to Christianity; this problem is ubiquitous around the world, affecting those specialised theistic systems where God is all-powerful and perfectly good.1 These systems answer the problem in various ways, and in the opinion of this author, all of them have deficiencies.2 Christians, too, have long struggled with three propositions, which taken as a whole, appear contrary to our experience in the world:
Down through the centuries of human history many have asked:
If God is so good and powerful, then why is there evil in the world?
This ‘evil’ can be expressed in different forms, such as natural disasters in which people may greatly suffer, and through man’s sin against other people, that is, murder, rape, burglary, etc. Both of these have dramatic effect on man’s emotional state often causing terror, depression, or some other strong negative emotion. The presence of these ‘evil’ things and the emotional torment that it brings have caused many to enquire, whence came these things?
There is an urgent need in apologetics to present a consistent answer to this important problem before a skeptical world. The skeptic assumes that many reject Christianity because (he believes) our answer is contrary to reason and reality. This past century there have been two notable names who have considered the problem of evil and concluded that Christianity does not provide an adequate answer. Sir Bertrand Russell rejected Christianity for many reasons, one of which was the presence of evil in the world. Observe as he states:
The world, we are told, was created by a God who is both good and omnipotent. Before He created the world He foresaw all the pain and misery that it would contain; He is therefore responsible for all of it.4
It appears that Sir Bertrand Russell found any theistic answer, but particularly Christianity’s, lacking in credibility. A second person who rejected Christianity because of the problem of evil was Albert Einstein:
If this being is omnipotent, then every occurrence, including every human action, every human thought, and every human feeling and aspiration is also His work; how is it possible to think of holding men responsible for their deeds and thoughts before such an almighty Being? In giving out punishment and rewards He would to a certain extent be passing judgment on Himself. How can this be combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to Him?5
It would seem then, that we as evangelicals, should strive to consistently answer the problem of evil.
There is one idea that is becoming prevalent in evangelical circles which drastically affects our consistent presentation of an answer to the problem of evil—that is theistic evolution. Pattle Pun presents a brief overview of theistic evolution:
Theistic evolutionists accept the trustworthiness of the Scriptures. They also accept the processes of organic evolution as the ways God used to create humans. They believe that the Bible only tells us that God created the world but does not tell us how. Science provides a mechanistic explanation of life in terms of evolution. The two levels of explanation should complement each other.6
The basic idea of any form of evolution, theistic or not, would suggest that humanity is the culmination of a process involving pain and suffering. Thus, it is argued that this process God apparently ordained and used to create man in His image and likeness. This author will seek to demonstrate that theistic evolution and consistent Christian theology, as it relates to the problem of evil, do not mix.
The issue of suffering is fundamental to those who deal with the problem of evil. The fact that humans suffer physically is a terrible reality. All the example of physical suffering one needs would be to watch a loved one die from cancer. Yet there is a suffering that far exceeds physical suffering; it is the emotional suffering that humans endure, often in association with physical affliction. It is because emotional suffering is so prevalent, even among believers, that there is a great rise in the number of psychologists. Humans try to cope with the emotional pain they experience, and so today the church tries to minister to hurting people. While many will grant, as a given, that humans do go through emotional suffering, they would question the validity of attributing emotional suffering to animals. There is a need to examine both the Scriptures and the world around us, to see if animals possess this same trait and when this trait might have been established. This task will be accomplished as four points are developed. First, what did God mean to communicate when He declared that His creation was ‘very good’? Second, when God made both humans and animals they were called ‘living creatures’, but how should we understand this? Third, once the biblical implications of ‘living creatures’ are established, how does the interpreter harmonise God’s Word with God’s world as he explores animal neurophysiology and neurochemistry, comparing these to what is found in humans? Fourth, how does Romans 8:19–21 assist the interpreter to present a consistent answer for the problem of evil?
When God examined His creation at the conclusion of the sixth day, He declared that it was ‘very good’ מאד (me’ôd) טוב (tôwb). The task of the interpreter is to understand accurately what God meant when He uttered those words. This will be accomplished by defining the Hebrew words of Genesis 1:31, and contrasting to the Septuagint translation; then discussing the significance of these words in their context.
The Hebrew word טוב (tôwb), which is translated into English as ‘good’, shows a considerable range of meaning. Some have observed the range to be as many as ten meanings.7 Hover-Johag has observed that טוב has four meanings.8 טוב occurs 15 times in the first three chapters of Genesis, with seven in the first chapter alone. At each step of creation, God declares a certain aspect of His creation good. He attributes this quality to light (verse 3), the Earth (verse 10), the plants (verse 12), the Sun, Moon, and stars (verse 18), the sea and air creatures (verse 21), the land creatures (verse 25), man and the creation as a whole (verse 31). The lexical sources present three prominent concepts for the Hebrew word טוב: beauty, usefulness, and a moral righteousness.
The occurrence of טוב (tôwb) in the last verse of the first chapter is worth some special attention. Here טוב is modified by the English word ‘very’, a translation of the Hebrew adverb מאד. Whatever may be the connotation of ‘good’ in Genesis 1:31, מאד strengthens it. The Old Testament uses מאד elsewhere to denote the idea of a superlative (for example, Genesis 7:19). The superlative seems the most appropriate view considering context, as this suggests that something, in this case the creation, cannot become any better or be improved. It would appear that God intended to tell us that His creation was something special when He finished it.
The Greek translation of this passage also would suggest that the finished creation was something special. The word used by the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek version of the Old Testament, to translate טוב(tôwb) is καλός (kalos).9 The word most frequently used in the Septuagint to translate טוב is άγαθός (agathos).10,11 Although this is true for the Septuagint as a whole, Moses uses άγαθός five times and καλός 34 times in the book of Genesis. Two questions come to mind at this point. Why did the translators choose καλός over άγαθός; and what is the difference between these two words? While there is a great semantic overlap between these words, the difference could give the interpreter an insight to an ancient view of this passage as it was understood by the translators of the Septuagint.12
The Greek word, άγαθός (agathos), is used often to point to something or someone that possesses a right relationship with God. The basis of this relationship for humans was personal action, in that this action was centred on faith in, and obedience to, the commands of God. For example, biblical translators use both άγαθός and καλός (kalos) concerning God’s covenant with Israel. The word άγαθός focuses on the process of developing the individual or national relationship with God. So as the nation obeyed God’s commands, they could be called טוב (tôwb) or άγαθός.13,14,15,16 In contrast, where the translators used the Greek word καλός (kalos) it usually has the idea of moral goodness, or righteousness corresponding to the will of God.17 The significance of καλός, apparently then, is that when this word appears it usually refers to a description of the state of existence, so that it would be said that καλός focuses on the result of the process of one’s relationship with God. An example of this may be found in Genesis 2:18, where Moses describes for us the condition of man prior to the creation of the woman. God did not declare this to be ‘good’ or καλός, so the situation man found himself in was not according to the will of God; in fact, God said it was not ‘good’. Then God completed the situation (God created woman and presented her to man), so that He could finally pronounce that it was ‘good’ or καλός. So it seems that the translators of the Septuagint understood טוב to be related to the will of God in the finished work of creation. What God said about His creation could be paraphrased as: ‘There now, the creation is just the way I want it!’
The significance of God’s declaration of ‘very good’, מאד (me’ôd) טוב (tôwb), is that creation has gone according to His plan.18,19,20 Other appearances of these words when used to together refer to the physical beauty of women, the usefulness of the land, or the character of men (see Genesis 24:16, Numbers 14:7, Judges 18:9, 1 Samuel 25:15, 2 Samuel 11:2, Jeremiah 24:2–3). These other uses offer the interpreter an interesting contrast to Genesis 1:31. These verses illustrate that they were uttered by human beings, as they describe an apparent concept of perfection. Twice these words apply to a woman’s beauty, or in our vernacular: ‘She is a 10’. Twice they apply to the usefulness of the land to support the Israelite population. Once it is used to describe human conduct. The last two times these words are used to describe the condition of fruit both in a positive and negative light. So, it would appear that when God declared His creation to be ‘very good’ it is significant, because it is God Himself describing a perfection which is in accordance with His standards.
The quality of the original creation, too, must be understood in light of God’s declaration. The quality of creation should be thought of as a reflection of the Creator, who He is and what He is like. This is very significant, for in the opinion of this author Genesis chapters one through three are a defence of God’s character for allowing pain and suffering (that is, a theodicy). When God finished creating, He would have included only those things that were necessary to fulfil His plan and purpose. The purpose of creation was as to glorify the Creator. Whatever may have been going on in the finished creation, it must have gone according to the plan and purpose of God. The view of God’s declaration as being an exclamation of purpose seems to fit best within the context, and is the most popular view among commentators.21,22,23,24,25,26,27,28,29,30,31,32,33 The Hebrew word הנה (hinneh) strengthens this idea, as the Hebrew language uses this word when the reader’s attention is to be grabbed. Thomas Lambdin observes its use here,
most hinneh-clauses occur in direct speech and serve to introduce a fact upon which a following statement or command is based.34,35
The significance of this word is that God was drawing attention to the whole of the creation and not just the newly added creatures of Day six. God wanted the reader to observe how well the entire creation worked together according to His plan and purpose. The creation most certainly was beautiful, but the text seems to suggest more than this. God wants the reader to observe, from Genesis 1:31, His entire creation and how well it operated when He finished it.36,37,38,39 A comment by Von Rad is especially noteworthy because he ties together the plan and purpose of God with the harmony of the finished creation:
Verse 31 contains the concluding formula of approval for the entire work of creation. This formula “Behold, it was very good” is of great importance within the terse and plain language of the author. It could also be correctly translated “completely perfect”, and rightly refers more to the wonderful purposefulness and harmony than to the beauty of the entire cosmos. This statement, expressed and written in a world full of innumerable troubles, preserves an inalienable concern of faith: no evil was laid upon the world by God’s hand; neither was His omnipotence limited by any kind of opposing power whatever. When faith speaks of creation, and in so doing directs its eye toward God, then it can only say that God created the world perfect.40
Von Rad notices the significant role of Genesis chapter one as it relates to a defence of God’s character. He observes that when Moses wrote this passage, the world was a vastly different place from the original creation. The world in which Moses wrote was full of pain and suffering. Yet, as Von Rad observes, the world of Genesis 1:31 seems to be lacking these apparently negative things. So the interpreter seems drawn to the conclusion that whatever existed in Genesis 1:31 was there by the plan and purpose of God, and that emotional pain and suffering did not yet exist. Some, however, would believe that in this process of creation suffering was a necessary ingredient. As a result they might argue that emotional pain and suffering are only negative things for humans. They might further suggest that animals do not possess the ability to suffer in an emotional sense, proposing this in an attempt to harmonise ‘survival of the fittest’ with God’s declaration ‘very good’. Are the Scriptures compatible with animal emotion? This point leads to the next part of this paper.
One of the things that man and the animals share in common are that they both are called ‘living creatures’ נפש חיה (chay nephesh). The animals that God created on the fifth day are called נפש חיה in verses 20 and 21. God used the same terminology for the animals created on the sixth day in verse 24. The task for the interpreter is to examine the word נפש or nephesh (commonly translated ‘soul’) and to observe how it is used relative to humans and animals. This task will be accomplished by doing a short semantic study of the Hebrew word נפש and its Greek counterpart ψυχή (psuche). It would appear at the outset that the ‘soul’, biblically speaking, provides an organism with the means of interacting with its environment as a sentient creature, but is this accurate?
In the Old Testament ‘soul’ is a translation of the Hebrew word נפש (nephesh). This is the word that occurs in Genesis 2:7 describing what man became after God blew the breath of life into him. In fact, both humans and animals are called ‘living creatures’ נפש חיה (chay nephesh). So it would seem reasonable that since both share these terms, they will share those qualities that exist with a נפש חיה. Since the word נפש does have a broad semantic range (as the lexicons and dictionaries illustrate), scholars attempt to circumscribe the range of this Hebrew word.41,42
Another difficulty in defining נפש (nephesh) is this word’s etymology. Some have tried to establish the history of נפש by tracing it back to a Ugaritic or Akkadian word. Those who practice this method say the original meaning was ‘throat’ or ‘neck’.43,44,45 Yet conclusions of this type of extra-biblical historical approach should be considered less authoritative than a study of the biblical context.
נפש (nephesh) more often refers to humans than it does to animals. The interpreter should expect this because the biblical text focuses primarily upon the relationship of man with God. Yet according to the Scriptures animals do possess an apparent consciousness. Not only do the Scriptures claim that animals have נפש, but they also attribute desires and emotions to animals. Animals possess the innate desire for food (Proverbs 12:10), and water (Psalm 42:1, Joel 1:20). They also show the emotions of fear and despair (Lamentations 1:6), and love (Proverbs 5:19). These verses suggest that animals have similar desires and emotions to those humans possess, and that these emotions are not merely an anthropomorphism. The most significant references to animals, as נפש, occur in Genesis 1:21 and 24. Here the Bible calls these animals נפש חיה (chay nephesh), which consist of two different groups, the land and aquatic animals. Therefore it seems reasonable to conclude that animals, as נפש, possess some form of consciousness that allows them to express real emotions, just as man also has consciousness, which allows him to express emotion.
Examining נפש (nephesh) in terms of humans, one finds a vast amount of material. The word encompasses the entire sphere of human life, and so it can be used to show ‘life’ in its many facets. Johnson observes that the Old Testament uses it referring to conscious life:
The term nephesh may be used with more obvious reference to what are the comprehensive and unified manifestations of sentient life, as when it is said of the right kind of master that he understands the nephesh (i.e., the feelings) of his beast, or when the Israelites are reminded that in view of their experience in Egypt they are in a position to know the nephesh (i.e., the feelings) of a resident alien.46
Johnson argues that both humans and animals can be classified as נפש (nephesh) because they have conscious life and possess feelings (emotions) plus desires. The word נפש then, according to the Bible, suggests that those called נפש must possess the capability of being self-conscious and sentient.
This word commonly occurs as a reference to the whole of life, not just to one specific aspect of it. Eichrodt says:
Thus it becomes a substance which inheres the living even apart from the breath; it becomes equated with life. One can speak equally of the nephesh of animals and the nephesh of man.47,48
Thus, man and animals can show emotions and have relationships, because they share this very same quality. Robinson observes:
nephesh is not a spiritual entity which enters the body at birth and leaves it at death; it is simply a principle of life which makes the body effective and the body is the real basis of personality.49
Pedersen gives a good overview:
By the breath of God it [the lump of clay] was transformed and became a nephesh, a soul. It is not said that man was as supplied with a nephesh. Such as he is, man, in his total essence is a nephesh.50
Many who have written on the nature and use of נפש (nephesh) share this same view, that it is necessary for something to be considered as living and sentient.51,52,53,54,55,56,57,58,59,60,61 It is important to observe that the Old Testament view of life is holistic. Berkouwer summarises the holistic idea of נפש:
This does not of course imply that nephesh always refers to the totality of man, or that biblical usage is not deeply conscious of variation in man, or periphery and center, but it does mean that we may not see this variation and this centering as showing a localized religious part of man. On the contrary, the biblical anthropological references unmistakably appear to concern the whole man.62
So one can conclude that the Old Testament links נפש (nephesh) to man, as well as to animals, and that the נפש, whatever it is, refers to that which animates the whole of the being, whether human or animal.
One further use, that illustrates man in his entirety, should be considered—the pronominal use. This can be observed when one would expect a relative term, such as ‘he, she, his or her, etc.’ and the Hebrew text uses נפש (nephesh) in its place. Brotzman makes this observation:
nephesh and a personal suffix (his or your) were used to parallel a simple pronoun. This requires that the exegete understands the words “his nephesh” as a circumlocution for “himself”.63
This illustrates that the use of נפש may refer to the whole man, since it can replace a relative pronoun when speaking of a human being.
Although נפש (nephesh) refers to the whole man, the Old Testament has other words related to it. The first is the word for ‘heart’ (Hebrew: לב leb). Its function is essentially that of spiritual or mental activities.64 Bowling likens it ‘to the inner or immaterial nature in general or to one of the three personality functions of man; emotion, thought, or will.’65,66,67 Pedersen notes the semantic overlap of נפש to לב:
The relation between nephesh, soul, and leb, heart, is not that the heart is the designation of certain special functions. The heart is the totality of the soul as a character and operating power, particular stress being laid upon its capacity; nephesh is the soul in the sum of its totality, such as it appears; the heart is the soul in its inner value. One might just as well say “that which is in your soul” as “that which is in your heart”. But whereas it can be said that Jacob came to Egypt with seventy souls, it cannot be said that he came there with seventy hearts.68
The point to be gleaned is this: in many respects these words often overlap in their referential significance, so both can refer to man in his entirety. Further, לב (leb) is only once used of animals to illustrate their emotional character (2 Samuel 17:10—this verse is comparing the heart of a warrior to that of the lion). One could rightly say that both animals and man possess this kind of emotion called לב. ‘Heart’ also can be observed in colloquial English, where the same trait is given to man and animals (that is, Richard the ‘lion hearted’).
The second term that has a semantic field overlap with נפש (nephesh) is the word for ‘face’, פנים (panym). This occurs in the Old Testament, pointing to the emotional aspect of man, carrying with it the significance of ‘the identification of the person and [it] reflects the attitude and sentiments of the person’.69 The use of פנים in the Old Testament expresses these emotions or attitudes: fierceness, determination, defiance, happiness, sadness, fear, anguish, and anger. Johnson summarises the relationship between נפש and פנים:
Thus the fact that the various expressions for the ‘fixing’ or ‘turning’ of the face in a particular direction normally serves as an obvious indication of purpose or intention, and thus point to the concentration of the nephesh (or the personality as a whole) upon the end in view, means that in many, if not most, of these cases the use of the Hebrew term panim does not fall far short of making it a parallel to the later term.70
There is only one reference in the Old Testament that uses פנים (panym) to refer to animal emotion, 1 Chronicles 12:8. Here the author compares the fierceness of a warrior and that of a lion. So then, one can say that uses פנים may appear in similar contexts having similar referential value as לב (leb) or נפש (nephesh). The ‘face’ according to the Old Testament does represent the whole person as an emotional, conscious being.
The Old Testament gives examples of these various emotional, conscious states of animals by comparing these states to those expressed by humans. The Old Testament uses certain animals for such comparisons: donkey or mule, bear, lion, horse, gazelle, ant, bee, leopard, fox and wolf. The emotional states that are compared are: cunning, fierceness, irritability, stubbornness.71 So the Old Testament does illustrate the emotional or conscious part of animals by comparing their emotions to those of humans.
Therefore, one can speak of the holistic nature of man (as a conscious, sentient being) from the Old Testament, and it would seem of animals too, by the term נפש (nephesh) and semantic overlap with לב (leb) and פנים (panym). The Old Testament also presents evidence for the application of נפש to animal life, since they too apparently possess consciousness. The terms לב and פנים, only used once concerning the emotional states of animals, are illustrative of the complex emotional makeup of man. The results gleaned from these words are that man and animals exist as conscious, emotional creatures made by God. Man and animals may have emotional relationships, because they share the same essential makeup as נפש. Although that relationship has changed since the entrance of sin into the world, the relationship is still a real phenomenon. Yet it is only man who can have an emotional/spiritual relationship with God, because it is he alone that has the image of God.
The New Testament primarily uses the word ψυχή (psuche) for נפש (nephesh) when quoting from the Old Testament, and this word, too, stresses a holistic view of life (the Septuagint uses this word to translate the Hebrew words חיה (chay), נפש (nephesh), and רוח (r˚wach).72 The majority of its appearances are in the Gospels and the Book of Acts.73 This word has the same broad semantic range through Classical and Koiné Greek that its Old Testament counterpart possesses.74,75 It is interesting that many have tried to see a Greek philosophical meaning behind the New Testament use of (psuche), but such attempts have not been successful.76 It appears that there is some progress in the revelation of the immortality of the soul between the Old Testament and New Testament,77,78 but it cannot be seen in the use of (psuche) alone. The idea of the whole man in the New Testament is emphasized by Ridderbos:
Psuche in Paul is neither, after the Greek-Hellenistic fashion, the immortal in man as distinct from the soma, nor does it denote the spiritual as distinct from the material. Psuche stands in general for the natural life of man.79
Guthrie shares the same thought:
We should note the complete absence in Paul’s epistle of any suggestion of the Hellenistic notion of the soul’s pre-existence before the existence of the body. The one cannot exist without the other. Indeed Paul never links the two ideas in a description of a person, since either covers both, that is, the whole person.80
One can observe that the New Testament view of man is that man is a unified whole. The only reference to animals as (psuche) is Revelation 8:9, where it says that one third of the living creatures (psuche) in the sea died. Thus, the New Testament considers both man and animals, in their entirety, to be living sentient creatures.
The point to be gleaned from this discussion is that both man and animals share similar capacities as created beings as נפש חיה (chay nephesh). Does this then suggest that there is no real difference, metaphysically, between humans and animals? While this question might be answered in the affirmative by any form of evolution, the Scriptures answer this in the negative. Observe the conclusion of James Buswell as he summarises his discussion on the biblical psychology of man:
The distinction [between man and the animals] is clearly revealed in that man is created in the image of God and is destined to live forever, whereas the beasts are not created in the image of God, and there is no reason to suppose that they have any kind of immortality.81
Another distinction between man and the animals arises because of the unique position man enjoys—he has dominion over all creatures of the Earth.82 Man can enjoy an animal’s companionship because both man and animal are classified as ‘living creatures’ נפש חיה (chay nephesh).
There are several common ways by which many modern thinkers attempt to skirt the issue of animal pain. The first is to think of animals not as sentient beings, but look at their behaviour as more instinctive in nature. Arthur Custance shares this opinion:
Yet, if such creatures are caught, the restriction of their movement starts up a keen reflex that makes them struggle to be free—and this struggle gives us the impression that the they are in intense pain. It is not at all certain that the animal world suffers pain in the ordinarily appointed experiences of their existence, except insofar as it serves to teach them where danger lies. It may only be evidence of a powerful instinct to resist all unnatural restriction of free movement.83
The second way is to suggest that animal suffering and human suffering are wholly different due to physiology and psychology.84 Truly humans are on a different plane of existence, due to the fact that they are created in the image and likeness of God; but this does not mean that humans and animals do not have a great deal in common. Could it be that many are overreacting to Hume’s concept of the commonality of humans and animals?85
Another snare is to see a great continuum between animals and humans: in fact, man is just a higher animal. Those who write in the secular literature have this as their working assumption as they evaluate animal behaviour and emotions. They would suggest that through the means of evolution, animal bodies have evolved over billions of years to reach the pinnacle of the human body. It would follow that their respective central nervous systems evolved also.86,87,88 They would further suggest that all of a human’s emotions and behaviours are the result of genetic alteration combined with natural selection.89,90 Yet the commonality between man and the animals must not be stressed to the exclusion of the uniqueness of man. One can walk the dangerous middle ground by pointing out that there is empirical evidence (at least in mammals and some birds) in support of the biblical teaching that animals are both conscious and sentient, and thus capable of true suffering.
This conclusion is supported by the physiological data, which show that the physical structures of the brain thought to be responsible for emotions (the limbic system) are found in the above animal groups as well as humans. This physiological system is aided by a neurotransmission system, using various chemicals as transmitters. These same transmitter chemicals are found in mammals, and some birds, and produce the same results on the body as those in humans. The behaviour that is exhibited as a result of the interaction of the physiological and neurotransmission systems is also similar to that exhibited in humans.91,92,93,94,95,96,97,98,99,100,101,102,103,104,105,106,107,108,109,110,111,112,113,114,115,116,117,118,119,120,121 So from the analysis of God’s world it appears that emotional suffering in humans is very similar to that which animals experience. The key question that remains is: When did this suffering originate?
As stated previously, the issue of suffering is central to the problem of evil. The skeptic points out that either God is not powerful enough or loving enough to deal with evil. He postulates a belief that the creation has always functioned the way he currently perceives it. It appears, to the skeptic, that God intended emotional suffering to be an integral part of creation. Paul addresses this very point in Romans 8:19–21 as he ties the redemption of creation to the eschatological redemption of the believer. The interpreter must clearly understand four things:
This section will examine these three verses with the following question in mind: Can Paul’s words be harmonised with theistic evolution or indeed any long-age creation view?
Paul uses the aorist passive ύπετάγη (hupetage) to signify the action which resulted in the creation being in the state ματαιότης (mataiotes). The verb ύποτάσσω (hupotasso) suggests that the creation now is in a subordinate position to ‘futility’, which it was not previously. The interpreter seems to have two options available to understand the meaning of the aorist. First is the constantive aorist as ‘it takes an occurrence and, regardless of its extent of duration, gathers it into a single whole’.122 Second is the culminative aorist. It is used ‘when it is wished to view an event in its entirety, but to regard it from the viewpoint of its existing results.’123 It seems most appropriate to the context to view the aorist as a culminative, as Paul wants the reader to understand that the creation is currently under an arduous load from which it desires to be released. Paul’s choice of the aorist ύπετάγη clearly illustrates the point he is attempting to make.
Paul employs the passive voice to illustrate the agency of the action. In the history of interpretation some have thought that Adam, man in general, or Satan may have been the one who brought about the ‘subjection’.124 These possible agents are incapable of altering creation on their own, so it would seem unlikely that they could be the agents of the action. Yet, today there is a general consensus, among those who have written on this passage, that God is the one who placed the creation in the terrible condition in which it is currently found. Every writer that this author examined, believed that the event to which Paul refers is the curse God pronounced upon creation after Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:17–19). Most believe Paul to be looking back to the Fall of Adam, because the evidence within the passage does not allow for the view that it could possibly refer to the initial creation of Genesis 1:1. Both would not satisfy the demands of the context, and they have two very different implications to Christian theology and apologetics.
Paul declares that the creation we observe is in a state of ‘futility’. The first step in understanding the meaning of ‘futility’ is to observe the meaning and use of the word ματαιότης (mataiotes). One lexicon defines this word as: ‘emptiness, futility, purposelessness, and transitoriness.’125 Louw and Nida classify this word in terms of value and so define it as: ‘useless, futile, empty.’126 They point out a possible danger that interpreters may assume that nominal and adjectival forms are equivalent in meaning, but that this is not always the case.127 Yet the occurrences of the nominal (6 occurrences)128 and adjectival (3) do reveal an equivalence. One may summarise that the lexical aids suggest that the meaning of ματαιότης is ‘futility, or emptiness’. This basic meaning can be further refined as one examines the usage of the word.
The New Testament use of ματαιότης (mataiotes) does not appear in a vacuum as it has a history of use. The Septuagint uses ματαιότης a total of 45 times with 31 occurring in Ecclesiastes.129 The point this word conveys is that things are confused, transitory, or pointless. This is an abstract application of the Hebrew word הבל (hebel). The Hebrew word appears 73 times in the Old Testament, with 38 of those appearing in Ecclesiastes.130 David Clemens’ comments on הבל are worth noting:
hebel refers, in fact, to the same nexus of toil/sin/folly eventuating in death that is introduced in Genesis 3 and which finds its first outworking in Genesis 4:1–7. It can scarcely be coincidence, then, that the name of the first victim of this process is Abel (Hebrew: hebel)! All is vanity because, like Abel, it is scarred by the madness of sin and swept away without warning by death. The term is so loaded with meaning that it virtually defies a unitary English translation; but perhaps ‘fallen’ (that is, expressive of and/or destroyed by the fall) can capture most of its connotations within E[cclesiastes].131
One should observe that the recurring theme of Ecclesiastes clearly states that life on simply the horizontal plane has no real significance. Solomon demonstrated this as he tried ‘everything under the sun’, and he found that living a life of disobedience to God’s law is the source of ‘futility’. It would appear that Solomon wishes for the reader to understand that ‘futility’ conveys an ethical connotation. So this ethical connotation, which both הבל (hebel) and ματαιότης (mataiotes) convey, might well be tied to the man’s act of rebellion in Genesis 3, but not to God’s creation in Genesis 1:1. The conclusion that one should draw from the Old Testament use of ματαιότης would be that the thing thus described is in much less than an ideal state.
The New Testament seems to follow the usage pattern established by the Old Testament, yet ματαιότης (mataiotes) appears only three times. Paul uses ματαιότης in Ephesians 4:17 to encourage the believers that they are not to live like the Gentiles who use their minds to construct sinful activity. One may understand ματαιότης here to signify: ‘. . .either absence of purpose or failure to attain any true purpose.’132 One may also think of ματαιότης in terms of self-deception. Hendriksen observes:
The apostle emphasizes a very important point, namely, that all those endeavors which the Gentiles put forth in order to attain happiness end in disappointment. Their life is one long series of mocked expectations.133,134
So the Gentiles put great effort into what they think the gods would have them do, but their effort is all for nothing. Peter also used ματαιότης (mataiotes) in 2 Peter 2:18 to qualify the speech patterns of false teachers. Bauckham rightly observes the idea Peter conveys:
The words of the false teachers sound very impressive, but they are deceptive; in reality, they are worthless.135,136
Trench is correct when he says:
One must, in part at least, have been delivered from the ματαιότης to be in a condition at all to esteem it for what it truly is.137
It seems that the only two other times ματαιότης is used it focuses on the surface appearance of things, which seems to be very different from the real state of things.
Now that the basic meaning of ματαιότης (mataiotes) has been established it can be further refined by noting the contrast between κενός (kenos) and μάταιος (mataios). It was stated above that the nominal word, μάταιος (mataios), and the adjectival word, ματαιότης (mataiotes), are essentially equivalent in meaning. So one can legitimately examine the contrast and apply the results to the adjective ματαιότης. The Septuagint uses μάταιος (mataios), or one of its derivatives, to translate the majority of the appearances of (66 times out of 73) הבל (hebel). There are three times that the translators chose κενός (kenos).138 Job says that his life is empty in that it is transitory. Job points out to his ‘friends’ that their words are really empty or hollow in that they offer no comfort. Thus, Job’s life and the comfort from friends have no ultimate reality or substance. Bauernfeind’s comments are very pertinent as he discusses classical Greek:
κενός is sometimes used figuratively along with μάταιος. But the words are not wholly synonymous, for in μάταιος there is always the implication of what is against the norm, unexpected, offending what ought to be. κενός means worthless, because [it is] without content, μάταιος [means] worthless because [it is] deceptive or ineffectual.139
It would appear that Bauernfeind’s opinion is supported by the translator’s choice of κενός (kenos) in Job. It would appear that this distinction between μάταιος (mataios) and κενός (kenos) is carried into the New Testament. The only time these words share a common context is 1 Corinthians 15. Paul uses κενός in verse 14 to describe the condition of the Gospel message if Christ did not rise from the dead—it would have no connection to reality. Paul uses μάταιος in verse 17 to describe one’s faith in Christ if He did not rise from the dead—while having an apparent use, in all reality it is useless.140 So it would appear that the interpreter is correct for understanding ματαιότης (mataiotes) to signify a deception, and that the interpreter can understand this deception has an ethical connotation because it is opposite of what God intends.
As one turns to Romans 8:19–21 these thoughts are very pertinent as they relate to the status of the believer and the creation. Paul wants the Christians in Rome to understand that any suffering we endure in this present world does not compare with the glory we will have in the future. The context of this section of Paul’s book is eschatological, as he ties the ultimate redemption of creation to the ultimate redemption of the believer. One should understand the phrase, ή κτίσις (he ktisis ‘the creature’), to convey the physical Earth, plant kingdom, and animal kingdom; it does not include humanity.141 Some would understand ή κτίσις as an equivalent to πασα (pasa ‘whole’) ή κτίσις and thus it refers to the entire universe.142,143 Paul dealt with the struggles a believer has in this present world (Romans 7:7–25). The creation, too, has its own struggles as it awaits and desires the redemption of the believer. Paul describes the present struggle of creation as ματαιότης (mataiotes) which will be remedied in the future.
One of the tasks that faces the interpreter is to rightly understand Paul’s meaning of ματαιότης (mataiotes) in Romans 8:20. Many authors have suggested that as Paul writes the word ματαιότης he has in mind that creation cannot reach its desired goal.144,145 Cranfield, as a representative, writes:
But the simplest and most straightforward interpretation would seem to be to take ματαιότης here in the word’s basic sense as denoting the ineffectiveness of that which does not attain its goal, and to understand Paul’s meaning to be that the sub-human creation has been subjected to the frustration of not being able properly to fulfill the purpose of its existence.146
Along with the thought that creation cannot achieve the purpose for which it was created, there is another idea that creation is an object lesson for man. Dunn observes:
The point Paul is presumably making, through somewhat obscure language, is that God followed the logic of his [sic] purposed subjecting of creation to man by subjecting it yet further in consequence of man’s fall, so that it might serve as an appropriate context for fallen man; a futile world to engage the futile mind of man. By describing creation’s subjection as “unwilling” Paul maintains the personification of the previous verse. There is an out-of-sortness, a disjointedness about the created order which makes it a suitable habitation for man at odds with his creator.147
One may conclude from our sufferings in this present world that suffering is simply part of our createdness, but this understanding would be mistaken.148 It seems that God is using creation to point out that man needs to seek life from the Author of life. The word ματαιότης (mataiotes), as Paul uses it, seems to convey the idea that creation is presently less than the ideal that God had in mind.
This word φθορα (phthora) helps to understand and further qualify the concept of ‘futility’ which afflicts the creation. Here the interpreter needs to understand the difference between the nominal and the adjectival forms, as well as the negation. Then one needs to see the significance of this word in the context of Romans 8:19–21.
First, the adjectival forms for examination are φθαρτός (phthartos) and άφθαρτος (aphthartos). The first word is defined as ‘perishable, subject to decay, or destruction.’149
The second word may be understood to mean ‘imperishable, incorruptible, immortal.’150 These words appear a total of 13 times, and they refer to something in the state of, or possibility (or the impossibility) of, corruption. Paul and Peter use these words in the New Testament. In Romans 1:23 both the positive and negative forms appear as they contrast the image of man with the glory of God. The idea is that man can corrupt whereas God is incapable of corruption. The same kind of contrast occurs in 1 Corinthians 9:25 where an earthly crown is compared to a crown we as believers will receive in the future. These words appear again in 1 Corinthians 15:52–54 where Paul is contrasting the present body to the future resurrection body; and in 1 Peter 1:18, 23 where Peter contrasts the blood of Christ to silver and gold for the price of redemption. All of these comparisons are to show that the heavenly or eternal cannot corrupt, but corruption of the earthly is entirely possible. In 1 Timothy 1:17 άφθαρτος (aphthartos) is rendered as ‘immortal’. Peter also uses άφθαρτος to encourage believers to persevere for their future reward and wives to let the beauty of their spiritual lives win their husbands.
The second duo of words seems to suggest that the thing described is already in the process of corruption. One may define φθορα (phthora) as ‘ruin, destruction, dissolution, deterioration, and corruption’,151 and the word άφθαρσία (aphtharsia) as ‘incorruptibility, or immortality.’152 Together these words appear 17 times in the New Testament. The noun φθορα (phthora) appears in Galatians 6:8 and 2 Peter 2:12b to signify that there is a reward of ‘corruption’ for those who have this lifestyle. The point is that these people will earn the result of a process of corruption. In 2 Peter 1:4 and 2:19 it refers to a moral ‘corruption’ that exists in this present world. The positive and negative words share a common context in 1 Corinthians 15:42–54 contrasting our present bodies to our future bodies. Lenski observes the state of corruption:
These are concrete terms [this corruptible, this mortal] and denote the body itself which has been wrecked or is in the process of being wrecked by the power of corruption and death.153
So the noun φθορα focuses on a real process of decay which will ultimately lead to death, and is contrasted with its antithesis.
As one takes this information and attempts to understand Romans 8:19–21, it is obvious that Paul is discussing a sad state of affairs existing in creation. It is not just plant disease, but disease as a whole, that was brought into existence at the time of the ‘subjection’.154 Since this is true, it has strong implications for a belief in theistic evolution. Another concept that is discussed along with ‘corruption’ is that the Second Law of Thermodynamics came into existence at the Fall and Curse of Genesis 3. Yet, it appears that even from the very beginning of creation certain aspects of this law existed. For example: water that has been heated by the Sun and would cool at night; this is accomplished according to the Second Law. Also, for food to digest requires a biochemical reaction which uses the Second Law. Henry Morris states:
In the primeval creation, however, even though what we might call “decay” processes certainly existed, they must all have balanced precisely with “growth” processes elsewhere whether within the individual systems, or perhaps more commonly, in an adjacent system, so that the entropy of the world as a whole would stay constant.155
So it appears that Adam may not have introduced the entire Second Law of Thermodynamics by his sin and God’s curse. Yet the picture Paul paints for the interpreter is very bleak. But is God the author of this condition?
It is now time to bring this paper down to brass tacks issues. The Bible says in Genesis 1:31 that everything that God created He called ‘very good’, thereby placing upon it His stamp of approval. Yet, as observers, we see a vast amount of evidence that suggests that people and animals do suffer emotionally. There are some very serious consequences of making God the author of all the pain and suffering in the world.
First, those who would place the origin of suffering in Genesis 1:1 cannot adequately harmonise animal suffering and Christian theology. They try to hold to some of the moorings of Christian theology, yet they include many doctrines contrary to Christian theology. One recent attempt at such a harmony uses evolution and Eastern mysticism as building blocks. Betty states, the purpose of God in creation was to ‘create others sufficiently distinct from Himself to experience the divine life as uniquely their own.’156 Betty describes this process of creating others:
In like manner a soul is being cultivated by its contact with a body—the body of a protozoan, for example. When the “particle” or “wave” of Spirit that is in contact with the protozoan body departs the body at death, it returns to undifferentiated Spirit. But the particle is not the same as before. It is true that it loses its intactness as a distinct unit, which at this early stage is dependent on its being united with a specific material body; but it is closer to individuation, than before.157
This kind of theodicy actually creates more problems for Christian theology than it solves. It seems to be based more on a concept of spiritual reincarnation than it is based on the Bible, although it does appear to be internally consistent. Betty attempts to offer a best way to the greatest good, yet there does not seem any fundamental difference between her view or that of a Hindu or Buddhist.158
There have been other attempts to harmonise suffering with Christian theology. These seem to suggest that the suffering present in nature is a metaphor. This view would caution the scientist, or theologian, not to take what they observe in nature as a literal reflection of God’s character.159 Rice elaborates on the application of this metaphorical approach to nature:
We can obtain factual information about nature through the scientific method. But human observers feel irresistibly drawn to impose metaphorical interpretations on nature. The very use of the word “selfish” is metaphorical . . . This procedure is metaphorical because it causes us to seek illustration of Christian themes which are not literally connected with either the origin or operation of the natural systems so studied. If we employ this procedure, it does not matter whether we can demonstrate that nature has a Designer or whether evolutionary theory is correct or not . . . . The apparent contradiction between a good God and “evil” in the natural world also vanishes. For nature is His great work of fiction. He need not approve of all the activities of the participants in the story any more than a novelist need approve of all the actions of his characters.160
This approach, it seems, would deny the explicit teachings of Scripture that nature does reflect God’s glory and character. If one were to follow this apologetic, one would be forced to maintain that Christianity is just like any other religion; because one must deny any connection between objective reality, as presented through nature, and truth. So a metaphorical approach to evil does not assist the apologist to ‘give everyone an answer for the hope within’.
Another difficulty for those who would suggest that God created suffering in Genesis 1:1, is that they must consider a new definition of ‘original sin’ so that their view will harmonise evolution and Scripture. Davis Young is very aware of the problems that human evolution poses for Christian theology.161 While he is not explicit, Young thinks that looking at Genesis 2–4 as a theological treatise employing concepts of the ancient Near East might prove beneficial. He is to be commended for at least trying to salvage biblical doctrine as one of his objectives. Others have not had the same objectives and have drastically deviated from biblical doctrine. Observe one of the new concepts for ‘original sin’ (that is, the Fall) by A. Hulsbosch:
‘But while in the traditional description of original sin the character of sinfulness is ascribed to this condition on account of this connection with the historical fall, we now impute sin to man’s wishing to stay where he is, seeking his happiness on earth, and refusing the continuing creative action of God. Then what was at the start purely a not-yet-possessing becomes a sinful absence, because the incompleteness, in conflict with God’s will, is affirmed as a positive condition.162
This concept is also called ‘cosmic immaturity’ in that all of creation is moving with an upward progress leading to a new humanity. This leads also to a new concept of salvation as being the evolutionary progress of the human body and mind.163 It still leaves one with the belief that God really does not care about the suffering of His creation. This redefinition ultimately takes the hope and heart out of Christianity.
One might conclude that the secular community would applaud the integration of evolution and Christian theology. Yet the reaction of the secularists has been one of hostility. It seems that they are aware of some of the glaring inconsistencies with such an integration. Only two of these inconsistencies will be dealt with here. First, the secularist understands that if one were to integrate evolutionary theory and Christian theology, then he must also redefine original sin and salvation. Richard Bozarth states:
Without Adam, without the original sin, Jesus Christ is reduced to a man with a mission on the wrong planet . . . . Sin becomes not an ugly fate due to man’s disobedience, but only the struggle of instincts . . . . Christianity has fought, still fights, and will fight science to the desperate end over evolution, because evolution destroys utterly and finally the very reason Jesus’ earthly life was supposedly made necessary. Destroy Adam and Eve and the original sin, and in the rubble you will find the sorry remains of the son of god. Take away the meaning of his death. If Jesus was not the redeemer who died for our sins, and this is what evolution means, then Christianity is nothing! Christianity, if it is to survive, must have Adam and the original sin and the fall from grace or it cannot have Jesus the redeemer who restores to those who believe what Adam’s disobedience took away.164
Bozarth, so it seems, understands the causal relationship between the Fall and redemption. He also understands that this is linked to an eschatological restoration. Thus, when one integrates evolutionary theory with Christian theology it becomes a religion that offers no hope.
The secularist observes another inconsistency, relating to the character of God, when one integrates evolutionary theory and Christian theology. The driving force of evolution is mutation and natural selection, yet this is the source of a great deal of suffering. Jacques Monod brings out this very point:
[Natural] selection is the blindest, and most cruel way of evolving new species . . . the more cruel because it is a process of elimination, of destruction. The struggle for life and elimination of the weakest is a horrible process, against which our whole modern ethic revolts. An ideal society is a non-selective society, it is one where the weak are protected; which is exactly the reverse of the so-called natural law. I am surprised that a Christian would defend the idea that this is the process which God, more or less, set up in order to have evolution.165
Monod observes that Christianity cannot be integrated with evolution and still have a good and loving God. Monod notes that if God used this method to create, then modern society is more ethical than God. So when the apologist accepts evolutionary theory, and mixes it with Christian theology, he can give no consistent answer expressing hope in a loving God when he is asked by the skeptic.
The other option for the interpreter is to place the origin of suffering at the Fall, and the resulting curse. Those who would place the origin of suffering in Genesis 3:17–19 do not have the difficulties expressed above, and are able to harmonise this concept with Christian theology. First, the existence of suffering was brought about by man in rebellion to God. If there was suffering built into the creation, it would seem that God enjoys seeing animals and humans suffer. In fact, God could be thought of as the original Marquis De Sade, and this fits exactly with the character of the pagan gods. Yet the biblical portrait of God is that He is gracious, loving and compassionate, and at just the right time, God reached out to mankind through His Son Jesus Christ. This is the manner most apologists utilise as an answer to the problem of evil. This understands that when God said ‘very good’ in Genesis 1:31, it illustrates an idyllic creation. So when Adam fell, creation underwent a change for the worse. The suffering that exists today had its origination from man, not God. Since the moment sin had stained His creation, God has been seeking a people who will be His through faith. This observation will allow the apologist to present the good news of Christ to the enquiring skeptic.
Second, there appears within Scripture a concept of renewal for creation at some point in the future. There are many passages which make this point, but for the sake of brevity only three will be discussed. The future renewal of creation is the point Paul makes in Romans 8:19–21. Adam’s act of rebellion brought a curse upon nature so that its ‘potentialities are cribbed, cabined, and confined.’166 The thought here is that Paul is discussing a renewal of the creation.167 The very word ‘renewal’ suggests that the creation is going back to an existence that it enjoyed previously. Another passage is Isaiah 11:6–8. Here the interpreter can observe various changes in nature:
The change will be a literal restoration of the animal kingdom as it was before the fall of man into sin.169 The last passage discusses the changes in the new heavens and new Earth from Revelation 21–22. The interpreter should observe that in chapter 20 there is the judgment of all non-believers, so sin is vanquished from this new creation. We are told, according to 21:4, that there will be ‘no more mourning, crying, or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’. It would appear that John is linking sin and emotional suffering in a causal relationship. Also according to Revelation 22:3 the Curse will be done away. It seems to suggest that in the presence of sin these negative things came into being, and in the absence of sin the idyllic creation is restored. This is truly the hope that Peter spoke of in 1 Peter 3:15, and for which the apologist can give an adequate answer.
The problem of evil continues to be a reason some skeptics reject Christianity. Suffering, as we observe it, seems to be an integral part of human and animal existence. When one examines God’s declaration ‘very good’ as found in Genesis 1:31, we observe that this was God’s stamp of approval on everything present. It was noted that the Septuagint translators seemed to have this idea. Instead of illustrating that suffering was present in the primeval creation, Genesis suggests that there was an idyllic harmony. Yet for those who maintain a belief that God used evolution, as the process of creation, God must be the author of suffering. So God’s declaration is important for the apologist to understand.
There is a tendency in our naturalistic society to reject what the Bible teaches, yet for the apologist this is a lifeline. The Bible indicates that humans, and animals, are emotional creatures. The evidence that they share this capacity was demonstrated by the use in the Old Testament of the word ‘soul’. The New Testament counterpart of the Old Testament word is consistent with this view. It would appear that animals do possess the ability to suffer emotionally, not just physically.
The evidence from neurophysiology and neurochemistry seems to support the model of emotional suffering suggested from the Bible. Humans and animals, at least the mammals, share the same brain physiology and the same neurotransmitters. These two things together are indicators of the emotional state (often indicating emotional suffering) in humans, and if animals possess them it would seem reasonable that they too suffer. This places one who postulates theistic evolution in an awkward position, as he must now believe that God created the world with suffering in operation. Since some fossils also exhibit evidences of disease and violence (hence suffering), those who believe that fossils formed millions of years before Adam (that is, progressive creationists and other old-earth advocates) have a similar problem.
Persecution was the way of life for the early church. They needed hope in order for them to persevere to the end. Paul, in Romans 8:19–21, stresses that in the future the believer will find release from suffering. Yet, not only the believer will be released when the children of God are revealed, but the creation will also find release. This passage only makes sense when it is understood in light of Adam’s fall in Genesis 3:17–19. Thus the one who seeks to harmonise any view of origins which postulates animal suffering before Adam (especially evolution, which is a process in involving suffering) with Christian theology must redefine such concepts as original sin and salvation. It appears that there is no way that one can believe in theistic evolution, progressive creation and the like, and still have a consistent answer for the skeptic when he asks about the hope within the apologist.
James Stambaugh has a M.Div. and an M.L.S., and is the librarian at the Institute for Creation Research, San Diego, California.
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.