This is from something I wrote which is a lot longer, but I’ve just taken out the key points. We have a clearly stated Biblical principle that God’s power is perfected in weakness, which encourages us to accept the Scriptural evidence that a sub-optimal world inhabited by imperfect creatures, was not only the divine plan from the beginning but was precisely the world which God brought into being. The humble ostrich instructs us powerfully on this subject.
God deprived her of wisdom
Among the descriptions of the mighty and powerful creatures with which Job is contrasted ignominiously, is the ostrich. Given what God starts by saying about the ostrich, it would seem to be a curious choice.
13 “The wings of the ostrich flap with joy, but are they the pinions and plumage of a stork?
14 For she leaves her eggs on the ground, and lets them be warmed on the soil.
15 She forgets that a foot might crush them, or that a wild animal might trample them.
16 She is harsh with her young, as if they were not hers; she is unconcerned about the uselessness of her labor.
17 For God deprived her of wisdom, and did not impart understanding to her.
18 But as soon as she springs up, she laughs at the horse and its rider.
Unlike all the other descriptions, God first spends several sentences describing the ostrich’s weaknesses, and the least noble aspects of its character. Yet He points out to Job that despite all this the ostrich still bests him; the speed and agility of the ostrich outstrip even the horse and its rider.
What is remarkable about this description is the strength of language with which God criticizes His own creation; she has wings which flap but don’t fly, she carelessly leaves her eggs in harm’s way, she is forgetful, she is ‘harsh with her young’ as if they weren’t even hers, her work is useless and she doesn’t care, and she lacks intelligence because God deliberately didn’t give her any.
It may seem incongruous for the very creator of the humble ostrich to critique her in such scathing terms, saying she is forgetful, careless, harsh with her young, her work is useless, and she’s unintelligent. Yet God is not only fully aware of her shortcomings but brings them to our attention with extremely forceful language.
Were a human writer to pen such words of one of God’s creatures we may consider them ill-advised to say the least, but God is clearly unconcerned by the strength of the description; the ostrich is far from perfect, and God Himself has listed its weakest features. Why would God describe one of His own creatures in such a negative manner, singling out almost every aspect of it for criticism? Although the answer is not given explicitly in this passage, it is clear that God is telling us that His creatures are not perfect, and He is unconcerned by this; it is all part of His plan.
Not only gold and silver vessels, but also wood and clay
2 Timothy 2:
20 Now in a wealthy home there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also ones made of wood and of clay, and some are for honorable use, but others for ignoble use.
Of all God’s creation, humans are uniquely gifted in our capacity to comprehend and appreciate the beauty, complexity, and wonder of His creatures. The horse has no concept of its majesty in our eyes, nor does the elephant feel our awe at its immense strength.
And yet we are prudently selective in our appreciation. The eyesight of the eagle is so extraordinary that it has become proverbial, due to its 340 degree field of vision, a retina with five times as many detail detection cells (foveal cells), as the human retina, and its ability to see objects at 100 metres which only become detectable to us at 20 metres.
But other animals are not so gifted; some have eyes which cannot detect colour or which have very low visual acuity, some have ears which are very poor at hearing, while others are totally blind or totally deaf. We do not praise the deafness of the squid, or the blindness of the blind mole rat; we see these as weaknesses rather than strengths, and instead comment favourably on what we might refer to as their more comely parts.
Nevertheless, neither do we pretend the less favourable features of these animals do not exist; we do not deny the squid cannot hear, or that the blind mole rat cannot see. We understand that this arrangement is in some way part of God’s overall plan, and we do not consider it does Him any disservice to describe them honestly; it is no assault on God’s character to note that almost no bird species have any sense of smell, and that all marine mammals are colourblind.
To some extent, this challenging issue can be addressed by what could be called the ‘cost of creation’. In simple terms, the making of any mortal creature is necessarily an exercise in compromise. The ability to fly or swim places limitations on the physical size of an animal, its shape, and its anatomy. The larger an animal is, the slower its metabolism. The larger and more complex the brain, the more oxygen it requires (the human brain requires a massive 25% of the body’s oxygen budget), and the less oxygen is available for other parts of the body (human lungs could not support both our brain and the muscles required to fly). The nerves must share space in the body with veins, arteries tendons, and ligaments resulting in multiple independent bundles of electrical wiring, plumbing, and cabling which cannot all be positioned with 100% efficiency; the path each system takes is limited by the space required by all the other systems.
However, this argument cannot account for specific examples such as those described here; the position of the recurrent laryngeal nerve is not due to space restrictions, and there is no constraint requiring the spotted hyena to have such a destructive and lethal birth canal. Nor does it explain why the parents of so many species eat their own young (such as various species of birds and monkeys, as well as mice, gerbils, and lions), or are eaten alive by their young (some species of spider), or regularly practice cannibalism, and murder members of their own species (especially various species of monkey), or regularly practice rape of their own species (dolphins, orangutans, fruit bats, and various species of bird).
My power is made perfect in weakness
Nevertheless, Genesis 1 itself shows us that although God is directly responsible for initiating the creative process, He is not directly responsible for the animals resulting from that process. They are the product of an earthly process resulting in an extremely broad range of creatures with numerous different features, and since that process is earthly it is imperfect and its results are sub-optimal. There is divine law and order behind the process, but there is no specific divine guidance, planning, and design of each individual creature; they are of the earth, earthy, and bear the image of that which is made from dust.
Their sub-optimal features and imperfections are product of the earthly process which made them; God is not the one responsible. In the same way, a human baby born with a hole in its heart, or with additional fingers, or missing a limb, is not the direct creation of God, although He was responsible for initiating the creative process from which the child came. No one would claim God designed this child with a hole in its heart, and then attempt to find ways to justify why He did so; they would accept that the process by which the child was born is earthly, imperfect, and prone to error, though it was instituted by God, and that sub-optimal results are occasionally the product of this process.
Instead of trying to deny the existence of sub-optimal features in the natural world, and attempting lengthy and complicated arguments to defend them, we should acknowledge God’s own comment on creatures such as the ostrich, and accept that the natural creation is neither perfect nor completely optimal. God has made the natural creation in a specific manner for His purposes, and we would be wise to accept that.