Cruelty in nature highlights the problem of pain and suffering. When asked about the elegance of biological systems, Charles Darwin retorted, “What a book a devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low, and horribly cruel work of nature!”
This issue keeps many skeptics and seekers from the Christian faith and troubles some believers. Scientific research can help us understand the purpose for the supposed “cruel work of nature.” For example, ecologists note that many ecosystems are poised to collapse as top predators go extinct. Carnivores play crucial roles in stabilizing ecosystems and promoting biodiversity. Pain and suffering play a benefi cial role, too. A recent study shows that squid experience heightened sensitivity to pain after injury, which helps them to avoid predation in the future.
But can we really understand nature’s harsher aspects as part of God’s “good” design? The Bible itself records praise for God providing prey for predators (Psalm 104:20–22 or Job 38:39–41). Psalm 104:27–30 celebrates God’s role in nature’s cycle of life and death. These passages treat animal death as part of the natural order established by God from the beginning.
We also need to remember that God may have a higher purpose for pain, suffering, and death. The Creator is also the Redeemer. Consequently, I believe creation displays redemptive analogies. One theme is life’s coming from death. Death does more than allow carnivores to exist; it stabilizes ecosystems and makes life possible throughout our planet. This theme is also central to the New Testament. It is through Jesus’ death on the cross that we have eternal life. Christians no longer live but Christ lives within us. We must continually die to ourselves so we may be transformed into Christ’s image.
When we apprehend these ideas, the concern that keeps many people from the Christian faith can be used to point them to the hope of the Gospel.