Predators and Prey: Was Death Part of God's Plan All Along?

Here’s an article from Christianity Today about a topic that comes up a lot here. It’s an interview with theologian Bethany Sollereder (who also appeared in an episode of the Language of God podcast earlier this year), talking about death and suffering and how it fits into creation.

This quote reminded me of some of the back-and-forth we sometimes have on this forum about engineering vs. biological perspectives:

I used to think of God primarily as the cosmic architect who carefully planned, measured, and built everything, like an engineer. But engineers and architects tend to work with non-living materials. You use dead wood; you use stone.

But when I looked in Scripture, most of the analogies are organic: They’re God as king, God as parent, God as lover. Then you’re not working with a dead thing that you can plan and calculate and position. You’re working with dynamic entities who have their own modes of being. And so I sort of laid down a lot of the views of God planning so much as God accompanying, coaching, loving, growing.


Wow, good for CT; they are brave and relevant! I got my issue but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. Thanks.

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Thanks for sharing. I’ve been thinking about Romans 8:20 a lot, especially since hearing her speak at the most recent BioLogos conference and reading the new IVP book on Scientific Theories of Origins. Is that speaking about the origin creation? There’s not much reason in the text to think that it is referring to the fall other than some presuppositions that I don’t think the text supports there. That is that God created the original good creation that was subject to futility.


The Bible begins with the Beginning. The universe has a Beginning because it is finite. It is finite because it is not God.

Humans and other living beings are not infinite, are not God. We have a beginning called birth, and we have an ending called death.

God also made human beings moral creatures. That means that our decisions have consequences, good and not so good. We cannot have good and evil without death and suffering.

Evolution is not caused by competition for scarce resources. Evolution is created by living beings coexisting on a changing planet. Evolution makes it possible for more different creatures to exist over time, not one set of creatures to exist for all time.

Death is a result of the character of the universe, not because of God’s plan. God’s plan creates the maximum benefit for the maximum number of creatures. Sin and death are a part of God’s plan because they are a part of Life.

This is an interesting article. Thanks for posting it.

A couple of things jumped out at me:

" [Theologian] Christopher Southgate pulls from Gerard Manley Hopkins’s view of “selving,” and he sort of sees God celebrating each creature becoming itself, and even transcending itself, as part of God’s purpose. The purpose of God in creation is a lot wider than just humans, and because the Bible is really mostly interested in humans, we don’t hear the rest of that story. So we have to speculate. This may not have the stamp of inspired approval, but I think it’s an important thing to do, especially in this moment of ecological crisis."

“you can take it to mean something like what [philosopher] Holmes Rolston says: that all of creation is cruciform, that what you’re seeing playing out in Jesus’ life is true of the whole world.”

I believe in the preexistent soul, so the first quote ties in with that. It’s the idea that God gives us a brief opportunity to explore our soul nature (and God’s nature) by living for a short time as incarnated beings with bodies made of baryonic matter (matter which is, after all, only a small percentage of the total energy in the universe). How can one watch National Geographic specials about the amazing abundance of life on Planet Earth and not marvel at all the unique attributes of creatures and their niche contributions to the planet as a whole? Together, we create something good, even if our time here is short because it’s not our true and eternal Home.

On the second point, about the cruciform creation, I do see God’s universe this way. I see cruciform patterns everywhere, patterns that insist we look at the balanced “whole” and not at the teleological end point.

I very much appreciate the imagery you quote about God accompanying, coaching, loving, growing. This is how it feels to me.

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I think to often we judge God’s creation and suggest that death and suffering of animals and even us are not part of what we believe OUR God should be like. So we blame it on ourselves as indeed we are sinners. But, Job teaches us a lesson - who are we to question the goodness of God’s creation? The bible teaches us that our God is sovereign, and suffering and death exist, so as followers we should just accept that this is part of God’s plant that leads to us to salvation. Perhaps it is good, if the result is salvation. If we lived in a world with no pain and suffering, would we not be just like spoiled children and never grow. And for animals even, perhaps God knows that this death is needed in the natural world, in which we are taught to grow.

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An interesting article. I also downloaded the Evangelism ebook while I was there.

YEC’s generally have the view that there was no death before the fall although CMI distinguishes between the biological definition of life and the Biblical definition.

The biblical answer to the question of life and non-life can be found in that foundational document: the book of Genesis. There, it is tied intrinsically to the Hebrew word nephesh (נפש), meaning ‘living being’ or ‘soul’. We can therefore understand that if nephesh defines life, then only the nephesh creatures are subject to death as a result of the Fall.

Insects and other invertebrates are likely not regarded as nephesh creatures. While the group translated as ‘creeping things’ in Genesis 1:24 ( remes ) are regarded as nephesh , this is referring to small vertebrates such as lizards, frogs, mice, etc. This term is not used to refer to insects or other invertebrates.
See Nephesh chayyāh

As I said somewhere else in this forum perhaps when God described his creation as very good it was in terms of being a balanced functioning ecosystem.

What is clear from the Bible is that Human death came about as a result of The Fall.

can you clarify? I thought that “in the day you shall eat of it, you shall surely die” meant spiritual death–that they didn’t actually die that day .Thanks.

Adam did not die on the day he ate the fruit, but lived for 930 years (Genesis 5:3–5). So was God speaking the truth when He said they would die, or was Satan when he said they would not (Genesis 3:4)?

Two things need to be said. First, a literal translation of the Hebrew of Genesis 2:17 is, ‘in the day you eat thereof, dying you shall die’. The second is that in the Bible the concept of ‘death’ in the spiritual sense has the meaning of separation from God rather than of annihilation.

In the Garden of Eden, on the day that they sinned, Adam and Eve were no longer innocent and holy. They now had a sinful nature. Their former fellowship with God was broken. There was a very real separation of their souls from God, and because of this, on that day, spiritually they died. They continued to live physically, but from that day on their human bodies began to die—a process which continued until the day that there was a separation between their souls and their bodies in physical death.

Therefore, on the day that they ate the fruit, literally, ‘dying they died’!
Why did God impose the death penalty for sin?

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Dear Chris,
The definition of sin is death - spiritual death. Let me explain. As soon as Adam disobeyed God, he was dead, i.e. separated from God’s eternal life. Jesus came to reconnect us with God’s eternal Life. Only through Jesus, can we achieve this connection back to God.

After Adam and Eve fell from God’s Grace, they were cast out of Paradise into the physical world, which if full of physical death. But the spirit can achieve eternal life, even though the physical body dies.
Best Wishes, Shawn

“Spiritual death” is generally my understanding of what the verse means, which is why I don’t see this as speaking to whether or not there was physical death before the fall, as the death referred to here is not of the material sort.


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