What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.
A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy
The recent old-earth/young-earth discussion on Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable? podcast revealed a number of differences and similarities between Ken Ham and me. Two important areas of agreement are that we both care deeply about the authority of Scripture,1 and we both want to spread the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. Of our disagreements, the most significant relates to the topic of animal death. Ham thinks humanity is responsible for animal death. I think that ultimately, God shoulders that responsibility. Regardless of our differences when it comes to the old-earth/young-earth debate, it is imperative that we think rightly about God’s character. Since our views on animal death affect how we think about God, I thought it important to explore what Scripture has to say on this topic more deeply.
Agreement on Human Death
One more point of agreement merits mention because it was unclear during the podcast. We both agree on our hermeneutic (or how to interpret Scripture) as well as the impact of human sin on humanity. I abide by the grammatico-historical method that Ham espoused during our discussion. And we both agree that Adam and Eve’s sin is responsible for all human death and disease. Humanity’s disobedience in the garden of Eden brought physical death, disease, hardship, and most importantly, spiritual death to all humanity. Interestingly, the Bible verses Mr. Ham quotes regarding this issue place the blame for those consequences on humanity (Romans 5:12) and God (Romans 8:22 when taken in context—see Romans 8:20).
Ken Ham’s View on Animal Death
According to Ken Ham’s article about the podcast, animal death began after Adam and Eve disobeyed God. If animal death occurred before, he says, then “death and suffering are simply part of the design of God’s creation from the very beginning. Such an idea undermines the gospel . . . and calls into question the character and goodness of God.” More directly, Ham states that “if the earth is millions of years old, there is nobody else to blame in this regard! Humans weren’t around to break God’s very good creation, so it must be God’s fault.”
He says that any biblical interpretation allowing the earth to be billions of years old compromises the authority of Scripture and attacks the character of God. As he states, “Once you start compromising, as Jeff does, on the clear teaching of Scripture, you’re forced to reinterpret other parts of God’s Word to make them fit with your beliefs. Believing in millions of years is actually an attack on the character of our God. (And yes, I said that during the radio debate.)”
I have tried to use Ham’s own words to properly state his view. If I have misunderstood his position, please let me know and I will correct my misunderstanding.
My View on Animal Death
While we agree regarding the impact of Adam and Eve’s sin on humanity, we disagree on the extent of animal death. Specifically, we disagree on whether animals died before humanity’s sin in the garden and on who is responsible for that animal death. I would argue that the Bible places ultimate responsibility for animal death on God’s shoulders, regardless of whether animal death started before or after humanity’s sin. My position is that animals died before humanity disobeyed God.
Ham exhorts us: “instead of adding man’s ideas into Scripture, let’s start with God’s Word—in all areas—and interpret what we see in the world through the lens of Scripture.” I agree! So, does the Bible say that man “broke” God’s very good creation regarding animal death? Or does Scripture portray animal death as part of God’s very good creation?
Biblical Statements Related to Animal Death
1. God chose to create a world where humans, including Jesus Christ, would die.
John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Acts 2:23: “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”
Unless we want to deny God’s omniscience or sovereignty, God created knowing that humans would sin. Scripture makes it clear that God loved us so much that he created this universe knowing that he would send his Son so that we might have eternal life.
2. “Very good” does not mean perfect.
Genesis 3:1: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden”?’”
Revelation 21:27: “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
Whatever “very good” means, it cannot mean “perfect.” Eden was corruptible as history clearly shows. That fact stands in stark contrast to the incorruptible nature of the new creation.
3. God killed animals to provide clothes for Adam and Eve, and Jesus killed a herd of pigs.
Genesis 3:21: “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”
Matthew 8:32: “He said to them, ‘Go!’ So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water.”
4. God made the darkness for lions to prowl.
Psalm 104:19–22: “He made the moon for the seasons; the sun knows the place of its setting. You appoint darkness and it becomes night, in which all the beasts of the forest prowl about. The young lions roar after their prey and seek their food from God. When the sun rises they withdraw and lie down in their dens.”
Virtually every commentary recognizes Psalm 104 as a parallel description of the creation week. Specifically, the psalmist declares that part of God’s order is light and dark. Furthermore, God ordained the dark to provide food for the carnivorous creatures he made.
5. The psalmist praises God for his provision for and destruction of animals.
Psalm 104:24–31: “O LORD, how many are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all; the earth is full of Your possessions. There is the sea, great and broad, in which are swarms without number, animals both small and great. There the ships move along, and Leviathan, which You have formed to sport in it. They all wait for You to give them their food in due season. You give to them, they gather it up; you open Your hand, they are satisfied with good. You hide Your face, they are dismayed; you take away their spirit, they expire and return to their dust. You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; and You renew the face of the ground. Let the glory of the LORD endure forever; let the LORD be glad in His works.”
6. The Bible repeatedly uses a lion as a metaphor for God.
Hosea 5:14: “For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, like a great lion to Judah. I will tear them to pieces and go away; I will carry them off, with no one to rescue them.”
The Bottom Line
The Bible tells an unmistakable narrative of God creating a world where humanity would sin and Jesus would redeem us by his death on the cross. Repeatedly, the biblical authors use carnivorous creatures as metaphors for God, praise God for carnivorous activity, and describe God killing animals outside of atoning sacrifices. Looking just at what the Bible has to say, I find it difficult to come to the conclusion that animal death results from man’s breaking God’s “very good” creation. The Bible is clear: God created everything and is in control of all that happens—including animal death. Because of this important truth, nothing can stand in God’s way. He will accomplish his sovereign purposes. Now that’s a God worth worshipping!
- Ken Ham’s review of the debate says that it is, in fact, “a debate over authority,” but that’s not correct. I hold to the authority of Scripture as described in places like the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and in articles 2–5 of the Belgic Confession. Also, Ham inaccurately describes my motives on at least one occasion. He states that “the only reason people like Dr. Zweerink try to add those years in Genesis is because of influences outside the Bible.” That is not true. In fact, there are many biblical reasons I think the days in Genesis are much longer. You can see some of those in this article. I take no offense that Ken Ham disagrees with me. However, I do object to the way he questioned the character of a Christian brother by falsely assigning incorrect motives.