Here’s a thoughtful post from Scot McKnight discussing a recent interview with N.T. Wright in which he’s asked the question: “Why would a God whose loving character is revealed in Jesus create us through a process of suffering and death, which evolution evidently is?”
Wright responds first by saying that suffering and death don’t seem to be a problem in the animal kingdom. Death is a natural process like the changing of the seasons. (I would add that without self-consciousness, animals are unable to worry about death the way we humans do. And isn’t that a large part of what makes human suffering so painful?) Moreover, suffering and death leading up to Adam and Eve are only a problem if we divorce evolution from God’s loving involvement in creation. We moderns or postmoderns have adopted an Epicurean worldview that says that this life is all there is; God is nowhere to be found; so we’d better enjoy life while we can.
According to such a worldview, death can only be an unwelcome intruder which destroys life’s meaning.
Over against that it seems to me, the Christian has to hang onto a biblical vision which is of a God who is both other than the world and strangely involved in the world. And the strange involvement of God in the world is precisely a loving involvement, which means that it isn’t simply a matter of God making a machine. It’s a matter of God’s generosity, of God letting be: Let there be light, let there be whales, let there be trees, humans, whatever. And when God let’s there be, there is a sense of God saying “Get on with it guys. I want you to be autonomous in that sense, not that you’re outside my world, not that you’re outside my love, but that I want you to be real creatures and not just puppets.” And so, all the sorts of questions we have rise out of that rather complicated but very important view of creation. The thing to hold on to is the generous love of God, that’s where it all comes down to.
This seems exactly right to me. We want to say, “All this suffering and death is meaningless and wasteful.” But it’s not meaningless or wasteful if it’s being directed by God toward God’s good ends. Besides, if it had happened any other way, we wouldn’t be who we are. And don’t we like who we are? And all life, no matter how long or short, is good, and God loves his creatures. We humans weren’t around to enjoy dinosaurs, but God was.
Finally, I like the way Wright affirms the historicity of the first couple, Adam and Eve. He gives, I believe, an historically plausible explanation for them: that it doesn’t matter whether they were the first humans, or that there were other humans around. What mattered is that God called these two to a special task, just as he later called Noah or Abraham and Sarah.
What happens with Genesis 3; and I do think there is a historical correlate. OK, Genesis one, two, and three is wonderful picture language, but I do think there was a primal pair in a world of emerging hominids, that’s the way I read that. … But it seems to me that just as God called Abraham and Sarah out of a welter of wandering nations and said I’ve got a special purpose for you, the way that I see it is that God called one pair of hominids and said “OK, this place is a bit chaotic, you and I together, we’re going to have a project. We’re going to plant this garden and we’re going to go out from here and this is how it’s going to be.” So when Cain goes off he founds a city. Excuse me, who else is in the city? … And ancient Jewish readers knew this perfectly well, they knew that this was not the first ever humans or anything like them.