The Canaanite genocide just became less of a problem for me. The conquest stories of the book of Joshua (in the Bible) have troubled me for a long time. But it’s recently occurred to me that the problem really lies somewhere else — much deeper in the fabric of nature.
Imagine you’re a slave, and somehow you’ve managed to get free — you and several thousand of your friends. What happens next? I mean, really? You need a new place to be. If you’re a biological organism, you need territory. But you look around for land that can support human life, and all such land has already been claimed. What do you do? Do you just roll over and die? The natural solution is that you find territory you want, and you do whatever you have to do to take it from whoever currently claims it. Either that, or die.
This is not just a human problem, either. Every living thing competes for space with every other living thing. That’s the way it’s been on this planet for 3 billion years. Granted, for most animals competing for territory, it usually doesn’t result in genocide. The scale of the violence may be different, but the fact remains the same: On our planet, violence is ultimately how you survive. We claim territory and defend it, to the death if necessary. Within this territory, we hunt, kill, and eat, and we teach our offspring to hunt, kill, and eat. If we don’t excel at this, natural selection will weed us out and replace us with someone better at it.
Death is the engine that runs Life. It has been like this for 3 billion years.
However God interacts with the process of evolution, my question remains: Couldn’t God have done better than this? The problem of human violence lies not with Joshua, but with nature itself.
I have no intention of going back to being a creationist who believes that death resulted from “the Fall.” That idea is behind me. I trust the data. Like the Renaissance astronomers who had to deal with the unexpected discovery that the Earth was not the center of the universe, I have some serious theological re-thinking to do. The data now tells me that the God I believe in has created a world of Life fueled by Death, and I’m really not sure how to deal with that. That’s where my thinking process now has to start.
I am appreciating the work being done at the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, particularly some promising research being done by Robert John Russell, Christopher Southgate, and Nancy Murphy. I’ll report back on how my thinking evolves from here on.
But for now, here’s what I know:
In the beginning, God separated the Light from the Darkness, the Water from the Sky, the Land from the Sea, the Day from the Night. God made palm trees and porcupines and people, and on the Seventh Day, he rested.
And then on the Eighth Day, on one particular Sunday morning, God began the long process of separating Death from Life.
Death may be where we have come from, but Life is where we are going. Stay tuned!