Another in our intermittent series of questions and answers.
Question: Genesis 1 says man and all the animals were created as plant-eaters. The Bible also says that death entered the world from Adam’s sin (Romans 5). Christians who believe the earth is young (a few thousand years old) say that the sin of man resulted in carnivorous animals. If so, why did God punish the animal kingdom, making the animals kill each other, due to the sin of man? Also, Christians who believe the earth is old (billions of years), why is it that the fossils show carnivorous animals existed before man?
Answer: These are legitimate questions, which we often do not get from the skeptical camp. For the answer, we will not get into the sequencing of fossils. For our immediate purpose, we will accept the fossil sequence commonly understood by the questions.
Genesis 1 does indeed that God gave man and all animals were given “every green herb for food.” While the passage does not say that man and animals were prevented from eating meat, the common understanding of the passage is that meat-eating did not occur in the garden of Eden. Further, the Bible also tells us that death came into the world through the sin of Adam. This event is commonly referred to as the fall, and is a very important part of Christian theology. Before the fall mankind was in fellowship with God, but man fell due to sin, and lost fellowship with the holy God. Only through reconciliation through Jesus can we again have fellowship with God.
The main point of Genesis 1:29-30 is not what was given as food, but rather that God gave it. The emphasis is on God saying “I have given . . .” rather than on the prevention of eating certain things. The text does not expressly say that man could not eat meat. Nevertheless, the two questions remain.
As for why God punished the animals due to the sin of mankind, the answer has several points. First, in our day we trivialize holiness, and therefore we understand neither the pure holiness that existed prior to the fall nor the ugliness of sin after the fall. When man sinned, he created a vast chasm between himself and the holy God, a crime much greater than we can realize or fully explain. The severity of the crime of sin is against a holy God, which created the cause of the death. The sin against God is the key to much of the Bible, including these chapters in Genesis. For more on the significance of holiness and sin, click here.
Second, we must understand the concept of Biblical death. Death in the Bible means separation, not annihilation. When Adam sinned, he did not cease to exist, but became separated from God. Since God is the source of life and goodness, becoming separated resulted in death and evil.
Third, the crime against the holy God and the separation were so great that it impacted more than merely Adam and Eve. Just as today, our sin often causes grief on the people around us. If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that our own prideful rebellion causes pain and suffering from innocent people around us. It also results in our own suffering, for we shoulder the consequences of our actions.
Fourth, no where in the Bible passage does it say that God made the animals kill each other. Neither does it say that God made Adam willfully disobey God then blame Eve for it. Rather, Adam did that on his own. Just as the separation from God’s goodness resulted in Adam suffering, the separation from God impacted the world around Adam also. We live in a world separated from God, which results in evil, pain, and suffering.
But someone will ask ‘could not God have stayed in fellowship with the animals and plants, and not Adam?’ No, God could not, because of the severity of Adam’s crime. If Adam would have enjoyed the same amount of earth’s fruitfulness, God would have been guilty of not dealing justly with evil, a crime that skeptics are also quick to accuse against God. The skeptic cannot have it both ways, with God not punishing evil and also dealing fairly with it. Plus, Adam had already rebelled against God, he no doubt did so against the animals as well, further infusing evil into the created world.
So the answer to the first question is that God did not make the animals kill each other, but animal death was the result of the separation from God due to sin, and the resulting lack of God’s good influence in the world. It is only by God’s mercy that He leaves us with any grace at all.
The second question, regarding the old earth creationists’ view of animal death, is commonly answered by merely pointing out that the death mentioned in Romans 5 is perfectly interpreted as a spiritual death that results in a physical death. With the primary topic of the passage being the spiritual condition of man, and animals being without the spiritual image of God (Genesis 1:26), old earth Christians merely hold that animals are in a different category than man and could devour each other without regard to man’s fall. Creatures without the image of God cannot be separated from God in the same way humans can. Further, as we said earlier, command for allowable animal foods and the sequence of animal death is not clearly presented in the Bible, for this not the main point of the passage.
A greater question for the skeptic is that if God does not exist, why is the universal human experience that of struggle? Why, if there is no fall away from God, do humans and animals suffer through existence, instead of just having a feeling of normalcy? Everything about us screams that something in the world is amiss, and without the account of Genesis 3, the world makes no sense. With the story of the Bible, we have an account for why the world is the way it is, and the joy of knowing that it will someday be made right again.