Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Argument from God’s Creational Battles

Greetings my erudite internet friends,

I’m in the process of summarizing my defense of my claim that “natural” evil can only be adequately accounted for if we accept that fallen spirits have, to some extent, interfered with God’s good creational design for nature. So far I’ve given my “Argument from Animal Suffering” and my “Argument From Demonically Influenced Infirmities” (see the previous two posts). Today I offer my “Argument From God’s Creational Battles.”

When people think of the Bible’s creation story, they naturally think of Genesis 1 and 2. What most don’t realize, however, is that Old Testament scholars generally agree that there are dozens of other passages that refer to God’s act of creation. And what’s significant about these other creation accounts is that they all involve God battling forces of evil and/or chaos. This is what scholars refer to as the chaoskampf (meaning, “conflict with chaos”) motif of the Old Testament.

Some of these passages explicitly state they are describing creation, while others are determined by scholars to be creational accounts on the basis of the way they parallel the creation accounts of Israel’s ancient near eastern neighbors. As I describe in my book God at War (chapters 2-3), some of these accounts depict God battling hostile personified waters that were believed to encompass the earth, while others talk of cosmic beasts (e.g. Leviathan, Rahab, Yamm) that all ancient near eastern people believed threatened creation (see, eg. Ps. 29:3-4; 104:3-9; 74:10-13. 89:9-10; Prov. 8: 27-29; Job 9:13; 38:6-11; Hab 3:8-15). Biblical authors are uniformly confident that Yahweh can handle these cosmic foes. Yet, his victory is considered praiseworthy precisely because these foes are real and formidable.

Now, the language of God resisting hostile waters or cosmic monsters is obviously mythic. Yet, if we accept this material as divinely inspired, as I do, we have to ask the question, “What do these mythic portrayals convey?” And whatever else we might say in response to this question, we would have to conclude that these passages teach that God faces opposition on a cosmic level when he creates and preserves the world.

How are we to reconcile these passages with the Genesis creation account where there seems to be no conflict? It’s not clear. In God at War and Satan and the Problem of Evil, I argued we can plausibly insert them between verses 1 and 2 of Genesis 1 (this is known as “the gap theory,” since it posits a gap between these two verses). As an exegetical argument I think this works great. But, as I admitted in a blog several weeks, this view runs into difficulties on the scientific end of things.

The way one ends up reconciling these various creation accounts will depend on how they read Genesis (there are at least four fundamentally different interpretations accepted among Evangelicals) and how they read the scientific evidence. But this need not concern us presently, for it doesn’t affect the more fundamental point that the Bible depicts creation as being laid siege by hostile forces that God must resist to bring about and preserve creation.

The chaoskampf material never addresses where the forces of chaos came from, but I submit that the New Testament provides us with a ready answer. For here we learn about the rebellion of various angels, headed up by Satan (2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6; cf. I Tim. 3:6; Mt 25:41). We’re not told when these angels rebelled, but given the chaoskampf material, and given the scientific evidence for a suffering-filled creation long before the advent of humans, it seems evident they fell long before humans were created.

In light of all this, I see no reason to assume that nature as we now find it is in every respect nature as God intended it to be. Rather, it seems reasonable to me to conclude that the warfare between good and evil permeates the very fabric of the creation. C.S. Lewis said somewhere that “every square inch of the creation is at every moment claimed by Satan and counterclaimed by God.” Given the material we’ve just reviewed, I don’t regard it as an absurd claim to make. C.S. Lewis also speculated somewhere that the violence in evolutionary history might be plausibly explained by the influence of anti-God forces. And given the material we’ve just reviewed, I don’t regard this as an absurd claim either.

Still more to come. Stay tuned.