Incomprehensible Animal Suffering

You intrigue me. What are your thoughts? I agree that classical Western evangelical (thus, narrow and dispensationalist, based on incorrect biblical reading) interpretations of saying God allows babies to die and all of humanity to suffer because of one man’s sin is insufficient. It’s a bit like neglected children blaming themselves for why their parents don’t come to help them.
I am aware of open theism, but I’ve not yet read much on it. There are many other potential explanations.

My thoughts are just to keep thinking. More questions than proven answers. People who don’t like some questions call me an atheist. I just tend to express my doubts that God has a cunning plan that cannot fail. And the cosmos can easily be imagined as burning on without us. It hasn’t even reached its peak number of stars and planets yet, according to estimates by astronomers. I have a blog titled Scrivenings, and pieces on biblical and scientific questions.

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Jim Stump already said it for me:

“I’d suggest that moral maturity is a quality that can be developed only by making moral decisions. God can no more create morally mature creatures than he could create free persons who are incapable of sin. So to achieve moral maturity, agents must be involved in their own moral formation by making decisions with moral implications. But in order to have genuine moral decisions, there must be a challenging environment in which beings are subjected to the kinds of natural evils that force difficult decisions. When faced with such situations, will creatures opt for their own selfish preservation over doing what is right and good? Until recently, no one studying evolutionary history would have even considered such a question. But now there is increasing interest in the role of cooperation and even altruism in the story of the development of more complex animal forms.”

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I disagree. I don’t think one can point to an obvious moral reason behind all the ways we and all other animals suffer pain, ignorance, dangerous distractions, overblown fears, mental and physical, disabilities. The idea that God teaches us great lessons via all such things makes a mockery of our desire to dispense with measles, mumps, scarlet fever, malaria, smallpox,TB, Alzheimer’s, and other great plagues.

Also, natural disasters and dangerous parasites & diseases afflict species other than humans. These animals often die with no humans learning anything about their life struggles, suffering or deaths. Animals also face competition for food and mates and have to balance aggression and mutual aid. Is this all just to teach humans lessons? Looks more like we are indeed part of nature.

And concerning innate morality compared with learned morality, consider that self sacrificial mother love is built into many species.

Also, the desire to sacrifice for one’s tribe or culture arises naturally in humans raised within that particular tribe or culture, such that one would often rather die than be separated permanently from one’s tribe or culture, or see one’s tribe or culture annihilated.

I am reminded even of a case of young humans adopted by wolves. When the humans were taken back to the village the wolves marched up to the outskirts of the village to howl for their return.

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I think you just agreed with everybody above. Sure we can all put forward suggestions that we think may be plausible ways to understand this. But I don’t think anybody above is suggesting that their responses to this question are the one knock-out punch that would finally satisfy everyone today, much less silence all the petitioners down through the ages all the way back to Job!

Again … has anybody above (or anywhere else on this site) ever suggested otherwise?

This is an interesting question to raise. I think it’s a pretty clear mandate from scriptures that we work to alleviate (even do away with where we can) suffering of others. But we need not fear that our efforts in this regard will result in a shortage of suffering around the world (and in our own personal spheres) that God can still use to help us grow stronger.

Think of it like poverty: Jesus effectively tells us that poverty will always be with us – it isn’t going to disappear. But nobody with any theological sense or biblical knowledge confuses Jesus observation here to be a sort of exemption that we need not concern ourselves over our neighbor’s welfare. God can use poverty, suffering, or even all manner of evil to teach us things, but that is in no way giving us leave not to fight all those same things. As to your question of …

It seems to many of us answering here (I think) as if that is one plausible response for those who desperately want to grasp onto something for intellectual purposes or because they can’t abide theological loose ends flapping about. But it may not be the only reason, and certainly isn’t any kind of a first “go-to” when consoling our weeping friend or loved one over a hard loss.


This doesn’t really concern me. Life is suffering, essentially, and that’s the world we live in. Christ suffered, we suffer. I see no reason why anyone corrupted under their own sin or who isn’t in paradise after the return of Christ should be free from the tragedy of life, the message of Christ to us is to pick up our crosses and confront the tragedy of the world, and then die for it.

If there was no suffering in this world, we would lose something that makes us human. We would lose any sense of purpose, or meaning, because suffering is the only reason for people to adopt any responsibility in the first place. It’s the point of the cycle of life, and confronting the chaos of the world is the message of the cross.


And if I don’t mind since I just remembered …

Powerful! I like that a sentence lot.:ok_hand:

I kind of disagree with this. I think our sense of purpose is to glorify God in all we do with the gifts He blessed us with. Easing suffering or having compassion on those who are suffering is one of the means to go about doing that, but not the only means.

I kind of disagree with this. I think our sense of purpose is to glorify God in all we do with the gifts He blessed us with. Easing suffering or having compassion on those who are suffering is one of the means to go about doing that, but not the only means.

Well, you’re right, but glorifying God isn’t all that distinguishable from the message of suffering in Christianity – we are told to take up our crosses to follow Christ. Now that means quite a lot of suffering and sacrifice, eh? So while I will allow for that correction, I think suffering is perhaps the primary connotation of what it means to give yourself as devotion for God – by allowing yourself to suffer for a higher purpose, you have truly demonstrated you are willing to accept and live by that higher purpose, since there is no reality more real and undeniable for a human being in this lifetime than suffering.

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True, it’s kind of semantics, but i think the distinction is important. Those who believe in the substitutionary Jesus I think fall into that ‘trap’, as I did until my eyes were opened with Christus Victor from N.T Wright.

I like that you added “in Christianity”, and didn’t end with “suffering”. It’s not like God wants us to be sadomasochistic, and get pleasure from pain. Nor is He one who is appeased by the suffering of others. Rather those who endure sufferings with the goal/mindset of doing it for God’s glory pleases Him. So for me, that caveat “in Christianity” is HUGE!

Walking across hot coals to reach the end will cause pain , not just standing on hot coals, because pain.

For 20 some years I believed the Bible taught Jesus had to suffer (stand on coals) to appease God and feel God’s wrath. Recently I now see that Jesus was willing to suffer (walk the coals) to please God, and we are to do the same.

It’s kind of sickening to realize I once viewed God in that way, and attributed that to His “love” and Him being forced to condemn us to eternal suffering, and instead watching His Son suffer appeased His wrath.

For brevity sake, I think you left those key words (“in Christianity”) out here, it I’m sure you meant it.

Though my earlier “correction” was in my thinking of Adam before the fruit. What was His purpose? Was their suffering and tragedies for him to confront? Maybe Eve eating the fruit and Him joining, rather than confronting that tragedy was the first? Prior to banishment from the Eden, I think they were both given the purpose of glorifying God through using their gifts and blessings as the ruler the earth and animals. Perhaps to confront animal suffering at the expense of their own comforts was God will for them?

When I look for our purpose now, I have to look before the banishment, and see our purpose then, because I don’t think it ever changed. That is why I had a hard time accepting your statement about our purpose is to “confront the tragedies of this world”. I basically see that as the second greatest commandment, that is surmounted only by the first, to Love God. Which as you said, isn’t all that distinguishable, which I mostly agree with.

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Agreed. If I should make a point, it appears to be that Genesis is an allegorical account, so I wouldn’t get too concerned with the specific chronology and implications of each event done by Adam and Eve as if they were real figures.

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That may or may not be. But my point was to life/purpose before the banishment/fall. Was our purpose to confront the tragedies before that? What tragedies were there?

I guess this cements my beliefs more that Adam and Eve were just like Moses, or just like Israelites. In that they were a selected group, that the others in world would be blessed through, that they were the only actual image bearers in their time (everyone else being potential IB’s), and the ideal intent was for them to confront the tragedies of this world, be a light the rest of the nations would see, and also desire to and then become IB’s and come to know God through them. But Adam, Noah, Israel all failed to be that light, and finally Jesus succeeded in what they could not. He was the true light of the world, and those who see Him, want what He had, and if you ask, He gives it freely.

But this would make an interesting thought about heaven. Once all is made right, are we still to confront the tragedies of the world? What tragedies will there be? Will our purpose change? Was this always our purpose?

Maybe in heaven or on this new earth, there will still be droughts and floods and venomous snakes? Paul was bit by a venomous snake but was not harmed due to his faith and calling.

In the new Earth, with the love of God in every one, we will all give the shirts off our backs, and that person will also be fully trusting and relying on God. So, though heaven will be full of “tragedies” (according to what earthly man thinks of as one anyway), but since we will all hope the hope of God and we will all be His perfect image bearers, the tragedies will be a beautiful representation/opportunity for God to receive more glory. It does say there will be no tears, but I don’t think it says there will be no hard times/tragedies?

We know everything is made for His glory, so maybe when we see a person born without arms, and we see it as a tragedy, it is actually an opportunity for us to love and glorify the Father. Maybe when that armless one goes to heaven, his glorified body will still not have arms, and God will continue to be glorified in how His IB’s live and help those who need it, when fully trusting in His loving provision and will.

It makes me wonder how ‘perfect’ heaven will be. If it is too perfect, we won’t need to interact or help anyone.

It kind of goes back to the OP and the thread title. There can be no hope, were there is no despair. These ‘horrible’ animals/insects/diseases allow us to be able to rely on God, and to be able to help our brother and sister in need who were harmed by them. Or should disgust is with the depravity of what some of these insects do to each other, and drive us from ever acting like this towards one another. All of creation exist to point us to God and to glorify Him!

There is a song by Natalie Grant

Do you want the healing, or the healer? I don’t want heaven to be a perfect world in no need of God. I want it to be a world were we need to fully rely on God. The only difference between here and heaven is in heaven, there will be the lack of the ‘devil on the shoulder’ flesh that drives us to put our desires before His.

Just kind of thinking aloud, food for thought…

It depends on what you mean by fall. If in fact Adam and Eve are allegorical figures, then what was the ‘fall’ exactly? Perhaps it was the first time a human with the image of God sinned. What about the tragedies before that? Well … what about them?

But this would make an interesting thought about heaven. Once all is made right, are we still to confront the tragedies of the world? What tragedies will there be? Will our purpose change? Was this always our purpose?

I think our purpose will change, since heaven must be the absence of tragedy and sin. In the Genesis story, we hear about the tree of life, the fruits of which make your life never-ending if you eat. Adam and Eve could have eaten from it, but they didn’t, they just went for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But in the end of Revelation, we hear once more that the coming kingdom of God will be filled with these trees of life, and all sin will be destroyed.

Heaven is the story of Adam and Eve before the fall.

And unless you believe there was no death before the fall, from trees or animals, or natural disasters then you believe there will be the same in heaven?

I think the only difference in heaven will be no potential IBs to witness to, because we will all be IBs. And we won’t have desires of the flesh.

I agree there, no tears, no sin, no hunger. But are there no tears because we will have Jesus on our side, like not fearing a man when you have an army? Or no fear because there is literally nothing to fear, nothing to tear from literally, or just our security and joy in God will cause no tears or fears or console us in them. Will we not need God if nothing bad happens?

Doesn’t it even say “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.“ in Rev 21:4? Wiping a tear away, not no tears.

This wold we live in we strive for no suffering, but unfortunately try of our own strength for that. Maybe suffering is anything outside of God’s will. So in heaven there will be no suffering or death or sin, but does that necessarily mean a utopia as we think in human terms?

I would rather be with a perfect God, than my ideal of a perfect world.

Someone brought up the botfly to me in a debate , so I dug around for the balance , and indeed , the robber fly eats it …
I assume most things serve a purpose , we don’t always understand it’s purpose because we have limited perspectives .
It is my opinion that God provided a set of checks and balances in our natural world , when they get out of sync , it’s probably due to mankind .

No one likes mosquitos outright , they can carry dangerous diseases to humans , yet a common bat can eat 1000+ in one night …without the mosquito , what happens to the bat ?

We wholesale kill species , often without thought to balance because we find a specific species unpleasant , that smacks of selfishness .

Is the crocodile bad because he will feed on mankind ? Or is man stupid for getting in the water ?

Just my perspective on it

Is it a “horrid natural reality,” as Denis Lamoureux suggests in his course on evolution and faith?
We often label things “bad” because we really, really don’t like them. In Africa, frequently crocodile victims are women who have to go to the river to get water. My father had nightmares of bathing in an Ethiopian river–that’s the only place they had at the time he was there (thank goodness, I grew up in a near-desert situation near the Sahara; there were no year-round rivers). I guess there are cases where we can’t avoid danger, but label it bad–in retrospect, not because it’s truly with evil intent, but just the way it is.
Good thoughts. Thanks.


In a way, but the trajectory of the biblical story is not circular, indicating merely a return to pre-Fall conditions; rather, the trajectory of the biblical narrative is one in which “Eden” encompasses the whole earth. The end is greater than the beginning. At least, that’s how I read it.

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Agreed , often because we fail to find a better way , unfortunate things occur .
One would think a hand pump and a little piping could draw water from a river , well away from crocodiles .
It seems to me God provided us with what we need , we just fail to utilize it .
I frequently hear " what about the starving children ? " From non religious folks .
My answer is usually the same .
There is food available in nearly every environment , we turn our noses up to most of it .
Dandelion , plantain , chicory , lambs quarter , mallow , catail , wild mushroom , cactus , seaweed , etc etc etc …
Even insects , often equal in protein to beef .
One can even farm flies , with a bucket of water , rabbit wire , a jar lid , and rotting biomatter .
Doesn’t sound as appealing as locust and honey , but survival is survival .
When in doubt , God gave you feet to move with .

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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