Utopia: Everything is perfect and in harmony. We live
But was that the created state?
Utopia sounds a lot like heaven where we live forever and where God’s rule, to love your neighbour as yourself, is at work. I’m going to use the word “utopia” to picture the best that we can imagine in this world and to distinguish that from the perfection of Heaven, of God’s Paradise, which is beyond our imagination. (1 Corinthians 2:9, Isaiah 64:3-4, Ephesians 3:20)
Just about every pictorial Bible or children’s Bible depicts this with an image of Adam and Eve in some tropical garden. There is usually flowers and fruit trees and animals nearby, and so very often, even with a lion sitting next to Adam, like a pet dog.
It is common for us to read God’s declaration at the end of day 6 that, “it was very good”, and project from that an image of utopia – animals and man living forever in harmony. There is no death until Adam sins so this seems like Utopia. But this is not the image depicted by scripture and leads to problems. However, when I review what scripture does say, things get a lot simpler, and if you hang in there to the end, you may find yourself with a revelation of God’s heart.
Several sections here have been covered in Created Mortal. Perhaps this will give a fresh perspective. I have put a ‘**’ beside those which were not covered in Created Mortal.
We don’t know how many weeks or months or even years go by before Adam sins but we know that sin brought death into the world. So that means that there can be no carnivores because in this time they would surely kill and eat some other animal. That’s OK, let’s look at Genesis 1:29-30...
29 Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you;
30 and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so.
Then you sort of have to look sideways at that phrase applying to animals, “I have given every green plant for food” and change it too “I have [only] given green plants for food”, and then deduce that there could be no carnivores, or at least no carnivorous behavior, because the animals only eat grass.
So when did carnivores appear or at least start to behave like carnivores by killing other animals for food? The answer is when Adam sins. But God’s judgment after Adam sinned in Genesis 3:14-19 is very specific and does not include the animals. Indeed, the animals were not involved in the sin at all. Only the snake, Adam and Eve were involved and only they suffer judgment. But again, if you read Genesis 3:14 a little sideways, you can assume that the animals also get cursed as well as the snake.
14 The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
Cursed are you more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you will go,
And dust you will eat
All the days of your life.”
Let me ask a question. Did Adam need the fruit of the Tree of Life to live forever? Genesis 3:22 makes it clear that the answer is yes. So if Adam needed this fruit to live forever, he was created mortal. If Adam was created mortal then so too were the animals over whom he had dominion. Did the animals have access to the fruit of the Tree of Life? No, because Genesis 1:29-30 (above) shows that the fruit was intended for man. I suspect that the Garden of Eden was like the king’s garden in Jerusalem – a private place. It seems likely that it was fenced off by the 4 river systems that flowed out from it. This further limited access to the Tree of Life.
So it seems that animals were never intended to live forever. Man had the option to live forever if he lived in fellowship with God and so had access to the Garden and the Tree of Life. God’s judgment of Adam’s sin did not curse Adam with death. Rather it just denied Adam access to the Tree of Life and death was the consequence. Indeed the phrase from Genesis 3:19 that says from dust you came and to dust you shall return, simply implies that Adam was created mortal and would die. Note that this death is not caused by God but caused by Adam’s sin. This sin means Adam cannot enter the place of intimate close relationship with God in the Garden and the consequence is that man remains mortal. Genesis 3:22-24 reinforces this.
On day 5 God created monsters (dragons) and on day 6 He created wild animals (beasts) and crawling things. Though man had dominion over the animals, these monsters and beasts were by definition wild and living separate from man. So the utopia pictures with man patting the lion are misleading. (Please don’t send me pictures of animal trainers cuddling lions and tigers, usually brought up from kittens and hand reared by man, because I will just have to include articles where trainers of such animals are mauled and even killed by such animals. The Bible says they were wild!)
All right, I have dispelled utopian images, so what do we see God describing as “very good” at the end of day 6? I propose that “very good” simply meant complete and ready; all that God had planed it to be from the start. I’m certain it was very good and significantly better than we see today. After all, we can see that man’s life span has decreased from 900+ years to 80. So certainly Adam’s sin (the fall) has contributed to downhill side effects.
But at the end of creation man and animals were all mortal. When you see that God created “wild” animals and monsters, (though that does not necessarily imply carnivorous animals), and that animals were never intended to live forever, and then couple that with the debatable suggestions that animals “only” ate plants, then I can accept that carnivores were created from the beginning. I then do not have to “read into” the judgment, (the curse) that some animals then changed into carnivores or that carnivores had until then somehow managed to survive on grass and only then they started to prey on other animals.
Further I do not see God taking away man’s eternal life when Adam sinned but Adam losses the chance to live forever as a consequence of his sin. God is not the cause of death – sin is!
There are prophetic scriptures that talk about the carnivores no longer preying on animals but I see those as symbolic and discussed later. There are examples in the natural of carnivores, like bears, being able to survive off berries. So it’s not implausible that the carnivores managed to not kill before Adam sinned, it’s just that I see no need to require it in scripture.
Because man was mortal from the start I do not see God’s judgment as condemning man to death, but because sin cannot enter into God’s presence, man was cut off from God and the consequence was man could not live forever. So death is a consequence of sin and not a punishment for sin. The rest of the Bible is about God drawing man back to Himself, not punishing man.
Now that we have pulled down the utopian image we also see that the death of an animal is not an evil or a sin. The principle that Adam’s sin brought death – Original Sin, is still true. But we see that God is talking about death of man and not death of animals. This is important. If death of animals was bad, then we have problems. Who was the first to kill and animal? It was God (who alone is good), because in Genesis 3:20, even before evicting Adam from the garden, God made leather garments for Adam and Eve, which meant that some animal had to be killed. Further, how could God later ask man to sacrifice an animal if it was a bad thing, to act as a covering for another bad thing – sin.
Romans 1:19-21 says that we have no excuse for denying God because we see His glory through what He created. If the original created state was Utopian – no death, no carnivores etc, then we could say that what we see now is horrible, not at all good, and we would have an excuse to deny God because we do not see the “very good” creation. But I think that the creation I see today is still very good even though there are carnivores and death of animals. I certainly don’t like death of man. But this is what God saw at the end of day 6. There were mortal animals and carnivores, but this was not evil – it was just what He planned. There was mortal man, but God had the Tree of Life to cover that limitation. It was very good. Things have degraded since then but it is still very good and God has again provided a way to overcome man’s mortality through Jesus.
By the way, if you still want death to have come to animals as well as man, as a result of Adam’s sin, then ask yourself this question. If Jesus has dealt with sin, the cause of animals’ death as well as man’s, then surely we should see animals raised to eternal life.
While I was on a roll, I thought it best not to be side tracked on related issues. But there are other scriptures and issues to discuss.
2 The fear of you and the terror of you will be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given.
3 Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant.
Genesis 1:29-30 only allocated plant food sources. This scripture, after Noah exited the Ark, allows animals to be eaten by man. This is then sometimes taken as confirming that man only ate fruit and seed after creation and animals only ate green plants. But there are problems.
** This is the first direct mention of eating animals but for a variety of reasons it can be surmised that man ate animals before this. But just because it is the first direct mention, it does not deny that the practice of eating meat, either by man or animal, was not already occurring.
Man was given dominion over the animals so it was man’s choice to eat them if he chose to. God made no rule to prevent this. The only rule was not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Cain and Abel sacrificed (Genesis 4). Cain brought the first fruit of his crops, and so he was going to eat the rest as was the custom in the Festival of First Fruits. Abel brought fat portions from some of his first lambs. Why would Abel not eat the other portions as in the case of fellowship offerings? We don’t know when God made this known to them, but from the rules of sacrifice later described through Moses, the eating of parts of the sacrifice was included. Note that the fat was offered to the Lord in all sacrifices. The rest could be eaten in Well-Being sacrifices but all had to be burned in a sin offering (Leviticus 3&4). But because both Cain and Abel were offering from their first fruits, it was probably not a sin offering.
The trick here is that if you want to see the eating of meat as only starting after the flood then you will assume that Abel was obedient to the presumed command to eat only grain and fruit and so did not eat of the offering. Presumably he turned his hand to pasturing flocks for milk and wool and not meat. So this is not definitive but still supportive of my position.
The amazing thing is that we have no idea why God looked with favour on Abel’s offering but not on Cain’s. Many will offer reasons. Some will even suggest that Cain’s offering was somehow done wrong, but God has provided no details. But immediately after the offerings and before Cain sinned and killed Abel, God warned Cain (Genesis 4:1-10). So God, who sees a man’s heart, could see the problems in Cain’s attitude. I think that this is why God looked with disfavour – Cain probably offered resentfully or wanting to appear best, but Abel offered out of thankfulness. Why is this important to note? Because when others suggest Cain’s offering was procedurally incorrect they are seeing a Legalism. The reason why we are having this debate is because some see God’s allocation of plants as a command to eat [only] seed and fruit – a legalistic interpretation. So be conscious you don’t develop an image of God which is all about obeying rules to please Him because this will colour how you read the whole Bible.
** The concept of clean animals, those suitable to eat and to sacrifice was known by Noah before the flood. (Genesis 7)
** If the animals adopted carnivorous behavior after the fall, why do we assume that man waited until after the flood? (Now I think carnivorous behavior existed at the end of creation – this is just a problem for people who insist eating meat only started after the flood.)
Genesis 9:3 says “just as I gave you green plants” but in Genesis 1:29-30, man was given seed and fruit and the green plants were given to the animals. Now perhaps there is something in the translation I have missed, but this seems inconsistent. Rather I think that you need to see the big picture. Noah has got out of the Ark. There are thousands of hungry, some wild and already carnivorous animals, surrounding them and they are afraid and perhaps hungry themselves. None of these creatures were to be killed for food while on the ark because God wanted each one saved so Noah and his sons would be hesitant to kill one for food. But now God is comforting Noah and his family saying that you need not fear the animals because they will be afraid of you. God effectively reminds Noah of the dominion given to man by saying that Noah may now kill any of these animals for food. Just as when God allocated the best of the plant foods to man so everything is available to man.
Late update: See A different view of Genesis 9:3.
Now having said all that about Genesis 9:3 to deny that this implies the start of meat eating, I have to admit that the animals being in “fear and dread” of man sounds like a step up from man having dominion over the animals as stated in Genesis 1:30. Further the “I give you everything” seems a step up from just the seed and fruit. But is it a step up meaning that man has access to green plants as well as fruit and seed or is it implying a step up to meat? I cannot tell for sure from this one sentence. So this scripture by itself is not definitive. I can understand why some have taken it to imply the start of eating of meat but taken with the preceding points, and my interpretation, I am comfortable that meat eating was already in practice and sanctioned by God.
In other places I have discussed prophetic references to carnivores no longer preying on animals and why I don’t think they can be used to point to the initial created state. One of the best is “More than a menu”.
The argument goes that if God had used evolution to create life, then He could not have looked down at the various stages and called it good. Evolution is design by death and trial and error. Millions of years of death and suffering is not a very good process. So, the assertion of “very good” is still a valid argument but it is a rather unnecessary argument because God planned and created and reviewed each step in a purposeful and considered way. This is nothing like evolution. There are a plethora of other arguments against evolution, both technical and theological and the “very good” argument is not at all essential to deny evolution.
But since God did not use evolution, the concepts that arise out of the argument that “very good” means no death – in an evolution style scenario – should not leak into our opinion of what the Bible describes. And the Bible clearly shows that Adam was created mortal because he needed the fruit of the Tree of Life to live forever. Adam and the animals were created mortal but there were not millions of years of death and suffering prior to this.
If you don’t believe there is a God, then your science is evolution. If you do believe, then you choose creation. (Sadly some Christians have been deceived and somehow still accept evolution.)
If your creation theology pictures a utopian state after day 6 then you must try and explain how all animals and man could have DNA that could live forever and you have to explain how carnivores, which seem exceeding well designed as carnivores, could change form, or at least behavior, later on.
However, if your creation theology sees mortal man and animals, including carnivores, at the end of day 6, then all you have to explain is the downhill degradation in DNA over the last 6,000 years. In fact this is already well understood. So I think it is important that we at least allow this theology as an option.
I prefer a non-utopian theology fundamentally because it requires less reading between the lines to support it from scripture and does not require God to curse Adam with death. In addition, and never wanting science to dictate or lead a debate, it seems simpler and more consistent with known mechanisms by which Adam’s original “very good” DNA could have run down to the state we see today, especially when we factor in the small population groups after the flood and the scattering. And, for those that can handle it, when you also factor in interbreeding with day-6 man as described elsewhere in other Game Start articles.
I don’t think that Adam would have killed an animal for food while in the paradise of the Garden of Eden. God had provided fruit and though not clearly stated, I suspect grain bearing plants. Adam wanted for nothing and needed to do no work, except perhaps tend the garden. In the paradise of God’s heaven, I would be very surprised to see animals being killed for food. I’m sure God has a much better solution. A lot of people will also passionately believe this about heaven though I know of no scripture that definitively tells us what will be on the table at the wedding feast. My point here is not to let that passion influence what you think the state was at the end of day 6.
I finished all the above sections about 2 am last night and I woke up feeling exhausted so my wife took the children to Church and I was going to sleep in. But I started to think about some subtle issues that came up as I was preparing this article – things I had not noticed before. So the Holy Spirit seems to want to show me, and perhaps you too, a little bit more.
These issues are not essential to the arguments developed above but relate to the nature of God and His love for man. I have found this to be increasingly on my heart in the last year or two, and believe now that these are not just subtle theological issues, but that God sees it as of major importance that we project the correct image of Him. That is also why I wrote the Rules of Paradise article.
...I have now made this a separate article, The Post Fall Picture.