It Was Very Good
I am biologist who is very fond of the biodiversity on earth but I’m also a committed Christian who wants to think and act biblically on this important topic. I don’t want to be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine of the green movement. So what does the Bible say about biodiversity? As is the case on almost every important topic, the answers start in Genesis. Genesis 1:31 says, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”
We see earlier in chapter 1 that God created the plants (day 3) and animals (sea creatures and birds on day 5 and beasts of the earth, livestock, creeping things and man on day 6). In verse 31 he clearly states that all the life (along with everything else) “was very good”. This verse is extremely important because it’s foundational to shaping our opinion of creation. In order for us to have a good and proper assessment of all of life in all of its diversity, it behooves us to first know God’s valuation of his own work. If God painted a picture on a canvas it would be prudent of us to first see what he thinks of it before we go shooting off our mouth about it. Some Christians are eager to make judgments on God’s artwork, namely certain particulars he put on the canvas of this globe as if they know better about what should or shouldn’t have been created. Some of my brothers and sisters aren’t too keen on a variety of creatures for various reasons, e.g. yellow jackets, spiders, cockroaches, mosquitoes, etc. We say they’re dangerous, gross, damaging to our property, a health hazard, nuisance, etc. Keep in mind that many were altered (in a variety of unpleasant ways) after the fall and we need to realize that his statement, “it was very good” was pronounced before he cursed his masterpiece of Creation, i.e. thorns and thistles, predator-prey, parasite or pathogen-host relationships. We are all under the curse but it appears that some plants and animals are more accursed than others. We are reminded of that fact when we shell out hard-earned cash for pest control. We jokingly (sometimes not so jokingly) mutter to ourselves that God must have created them after the fall. By the way it needs to be said that many of our problematic species wouldn’t be problematic if they were in the right place and in the right quantities. Often the problem boils down to poor management (which is to say poor dominion) more than the cussedness of the species. Due to our actions (deliberate or accidental) even good animals can be a pain-in-the-neck if they are too abundant and/or in the wrong place.
All humanity is bent and ruined by the fall. We long for the salvation of sinners through the preaching of the gospel. We aren’t on a crusade to exterminate them. Consider this parallel even though evangelism is much more important than conservation. The Creation (including the living part) is also bent and ruined to various degrees due to the curse. Romans 8:22 says, “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now”. Thankfully we can with certainty look forward to its future glory. “The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God”(Romans 8:21). Shouldn’t we conform our attitude to this promise? Should Christians be apathetic about biodiversity or should we work toward its ultimate redemption and long for a global restoration and enhancement of all degraded ecosystems on planet earth? We are excited about man’s redemption and rightly so but we also need to take note how wide-sweeping God is in his redemptive plans. Remember, “The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption…” Let’s think God’s lavish thoughts after him rather than in our own niggardly categories.
My main point is that we need to conform our view of biodiversity to God’s view. We too often think the primary value of any particular species (or nature as a whole) is derived from man’s opinion rather than God’s. Christians should not think this way. Its primary (or absolute) value isn’t derived by being valuable to humanity in some way (ecological, aesthetic, utilitarian, or scientific). How humanity values life on earth is relative and hinges on anything from irrational phobias, to what we know about it, and whether we deem it useful. Its primary value is much more intrinsic and is derived from God’s act of creation and his immediate appraisal of it. I think snakes are beautiful and amazing but I can talk till I’m blue in the face to people who don’t share my opinion and my fierce and lucid argumentation won’t budge them a bit…and that’s fine. What matters is what God proclaimed after day 6 (the day He made, among other things, all the creeping animals). We might not think this or that creature is particularly useful, particularly pretty, particularly interesting (heck, we might not know it particularly exists) but we know it has value simply because God made it and said he did a very good job when he finished.
In short, for the Christian, creatures need not have to justify their existence to us by having some obvious list of humanitarian benefits they can bestow on society. Nor do they need to have some mysterious, ecological trait that enhances some ecosystem in some subtle way (and they probably do). Neither should they require an advocate to ceaselessly champion their rightful place on earth. Their value is divinely granted at creation. It is not dependent on our benevolent attitude toward them (although that helps). Their primary value and written charter for existence are in the words spoken in Genesis, “and he saw all that he made, and it was very good”.