An Apologetic for Gross Things

August 21, 2010

I study the worst of God’s creation as a hobby. It could be due to my own skepticism looking for chinks in nature to see if the world really is good or not. It’s easy to look at a beautiful tree and see the majesty of a great Mind but it would be cheating to only allow that evidence into the trial of general revelation. The gross creatures came from the mind of God and I find it enlightening as soon as I get off the first base of my skeptical culture.

Behold the glorious maggot, the ant and the great white shark, for they display an economy of life and death that rivals the works of Shakespeare. Up close animals are savage in their ruthlessness. There are wasps that lay their eggs in the living bodies of spiders, caterpillars and other helpless critters that only serve as hosts to disgusting offspring that devour their landlords in a grizzly living sacrifice. Earth’s economy of the living is a story of dealing with death, even using death, to create more life. Without the sacrifice of innocence there can be no life on earth. Likewise, we couldn’t even drive our cars without a few billion years of dead cool dinosaurs to create the fuel in the first place.

One can try to avoid killing animals by embracing the Vegan way, but you’ll still have to eat plants to survive. Our bodies use bacteria and enzymes that essentially process life to keep us from dying. Even the kindest Vegan is a life-eater. In fact, given I prefer eating plants that aren’t rotting with death, I’m even more of a life eater than your average maggot. Maggots eat death so we don’t have to deal with it.

My Scoutmaster served in Viet Nam and our favorite story of his was how the medics used “clean” disinfected maggots to eat out rotting flesh from war injuries. A soldier had an infected wound on his arm and the medical team scattered maggots on his arm and covered them with a bandage. The maggots ate only his dead flesh and wouldn’t touch the living skin cells. Maggot debridement therapy is still used today. But let the skeptic hold up the maggot as exhibit A against a cute, tree-making God and he’ll come up short for not only could the soldier die without such a therapy, so we all would die within months without the death eaters.

It is estimated that ants process death so well and are so plentiful, that if ants ceased to exist today, Earth could no longer sustain life within 3 months. We would literally rot to death. Even in the biological microcosm, if death is ignored it will wipe out all of life. Man’s great problem with death isn’t just physical, for the physical world follows the non-physical world too. Maggots don’t go to discredit God’s reputation as an amazing creator, they actually display His mastery over even death to serve his better purpose.

There is another simple truth that comes to mind when I think about parasites, ants and gross things, that death is a second thing that requires the first thing of life for it to exist. In short, life comes first. The positive case for the good comes before death can happen. God creates the world out of nothing and he made life first. You have to do something to get life. The natural degradation of things comes second. Earth is like a charged battery we find that demands a divine, non-physical Battery Charger. Or if you prefer, it’s like finding a hot cup of coffee sitting on the kitchen table. When we find such a cup, we don’t assume it got there by accident of its own accord. We know that a causative agent must have put it there, a finite amount of time ago, because life is not automatic, self-creating, or eternally existent in the past.

So here’s to the death eaters. Without some living things that process death, life in this earthly economy would be impossible. Death is a problem that doesn’t go away because we wish it away. It’s here and must be negotiated with or it will consume even the living and every living thing must pay a price for life. Life is not free. For life to exist some other form of life must die and that life form likely did nothing to deserve its death. Innocent life dies that others may live. Get it?


19 Responses to “An Apologetic for Gross Things”

  1. anita Palmer Says:

    This is brilliant. It takes the scales off my eyes. What I see isn’t pleasant, but its true. Thanks.

  2. Patrick Says:

    What the hammer? what the chain,
    In what furnace was thy brain?
    What the anvil? what dread grasp.
    Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

    When the stars threw down their spears
    And watered heaven with their tears:
    Did he smile His work to see?
    Did he who made the lamb make thee?

    Tiger Tiger burning bright,
    In the forests of the night:
    What immortal hand or eye,
    Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

    The Tiger
    William Blake

    Tho’ nature red in tooth and claw
    With ravine, shriek’d against his creed

    In Memoriam A.H.H.
    Lord Tennyson

    The creator of the lamb and the Harp Seal pup and Bambi (the cute little spotted Bambi – I’m quite sure the adult beantlered buck-once-known-as-Bambi made sure his little forest friends never called him Bambi) was also the creator of the tiger, the shark, the snake, and all the swarming, stinging, biting insects and grubs and worms, etc. etc. A god just of the lamb and the seal pup is a cartoon god. Which is why any natural theology that extols the beauty and perfections of nature must also admit to the Fall in nature, not just the original created goodness of a tree or a flower. If not, we are in danger of believing a false creed, a straw man easily torn to shreds by the materialists among us.

    Nice job, Sir! Now where did I put those Harp Seal slippers…?

    • tennapel Says:

      You’re quoting William Blake which gives me a total art boner. You’re a deadly thinker, Patrick and The Tiger is one of my favorite all time poems. I first read that in college and was perhaps my first thoughts about death and life.

      I’ll part company though on the idea that physical animal death came with the fall. I’m not convinced and it’s where I part ways with a lot of my fellow Christians. I’m pretty sure that there was physical death before the Fall of Man. When Adam “dies” from eating the fruit I believe it’s the mandate for the death of the soul, while his body would already die and he’d just automatically return to the bosom of God.

      At the very least, if the world didn’t experience death before the fall it would couldn’t operate by any of our physical laws. We’re in the deep waters and as usual, I’m thinking out of my league. Ah, nautical humor.

      • Patrick Says:

        Actually, I don’t think physical death came about from the fall, my view is a little more nuanced (which means its probably just inconsistent, ambiguous and generally incoherent – I love that necessary third member of all lists that define by exhaustion: it’s like finally hitting that satisfying root chord in a progression)… however, in a lame sorta way, I’m not sure my view actually justifies what I wrote, so I may have to beg your forgiveness for slipping back into the knee-jerk YEC of my formative years.

        So I’m good with the whole physical death before sin thing. No problem there. However, I suspect (not a lot to cite here in support… just a synthesis of penumbras of shadows of ideas from scripture) that men would have lived forever (not die from old age) unless he was killed (decapitated, falls off a cliff, drowns… you get the idea). After all (okay, just one prooftext – can’t help it) God did say that they would die when they ate of the fruit – if this was meant to be a warning, and God didn’t elaborate on the whole Spiritual vs Physical thing, it wouldn’t seem to be much of a warning.

        So since there was death before Adam (wow, it’s amazing how heretical it feels to type those words!), animals, plants, bacteria died, decayed, were consumed by worms, ants, whatever. But… were animals created to consume one another…? It’s hard to imagine what spiders did before the fall if not… did they catch tasty leaves and twigs in their webs? But it does seem as though the point of Revelation (sorry, forgot to sound the prooftext alert…) is to show the earth as a renewed Eden… and the lion and lamb play bocce together, that sorta thing… which seems to imply that they were buds before this whole Fall thing came between them and the lion realized how tasty his little pal could be slow roasted with a little mint sauce on the side. So what was Simba noshing on before the Fall – grass? Cantaloupe instead of antelope? So yeah, somehow I suspect that the Fall had something to do with the whole animals-finding-other-animals-tasty sorta thing… but then again, it seems as though they were created to hunt their little fluffy friends and to tear their little furry body parts to shreds and gnaw on their bones (Hey, Frank, remember that time we were gathered around the kill like this and you laughed so hard an antler came out your nose?)… so why were they created that way if they were supposed to eat Wheaties and brinjal? Yeah I’m still trying sort all that out.

        So, like I said, I’m a recovering YEC… which probably explains most of my confusion. I do think the antiquity of man is much younger than scientists want to make it out to be (in the low tens of thousands of years at most is my suspicion), but I’m perfectly okay with an older earth (4.5 billion…? hmmmm maybe, maybe not… I think the YECs have some good points about the whole determination of age based on decaying isotopes procedures… a lot of assumptions and circular reasoning can, I think, be legitimately questioned there…) and I am very comfortable with an ancient observable universe produced by a Big Bang from a singularity some 13.5 billion years ago. In fact, there’s a lot there for Christians to like. Most Christians don’t realize that the accepted scientific model for the existence of the universe at the time the Big Bang theory was developed and debated was the Steady State model, which was very antithetical to any reasonable interpretation of Genesis. The Big Bang means there was a beginning! I get so frustrated by YECs who won’t countenance an apologetic that includes the Big Bang, and actually go so far as to insinuate that anyone who would is compromising scripture and may actually be a closet atheist.

        I hope you’ll forgive the logorrhea, but since I did start out my last post with a poem, I’d like to end this one with my favorite poem of all time, one that is actually quite apposite:

        Glory be to God for dappled things—
        For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
        For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
        Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
        Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
        And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
        All things counter, original, spare, strange;
        Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
        With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
        He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him.

        Pied Beauty
        Gerard Manley Hopkins

  3. Bill Abell Says:

    In view of this context of life eating death so that others may live, it’s not surprising that the non-physical world (spiritual reality) would function exactly the same way. We were created by God to live and be infused with goodness, but as evidenced by the condition of the world today, we create a culture of spiritual death and spend our days living it out. In order for us to live as was intended, something (or someone) has to “eat” this death from us, take the decay upon itself so that we can live. So God sent…himself. In the person of Jesus Christ, he took on all the death and decay and evil we live in, and “ate it” for us. Unfortunate that so many choose to ignore it, deny it, forego it… Life. (see John 10:10 in the Bible)

  4. Kathy Fullerton Says:

    Let’s take it one step further, Doug. He is the creator of Satan and evil. He allows and wills it for His good purpose. The picture of His personality is not seen without life and death, good and evil.

    My daughter and I had a mind blowing conversation about this while she was home this summer. Takes maturity and faith to take it all in.


    • tennapel Says:

      It is not in his nature to create evil. He can’t. It’s the rock too big that even He can’t lift. Satan wasn’t created as Satan, he was created as a beautiful being that of his own free will, chose to be evil. That same deal is offered to everyone.

      “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Or as Aristotle put it, A cannot be both A and not A at the same time in the same way. The definition of evil being not-God or not-what-God-would-do so when God does it, it couldn’t be called “evil”.

      So you’re forced to see everything we both know is evil and call it good… which makes the word meaningless. Or you can say that God allows for non-God events and beings to exist, which is more likely in my view.

      Physical death is different than spiritual death. I think the life and death we see and experience are likely dimmer and less stark than supernatural life and death.

      On another tangent, the atheist claims we invent stories about the supernatural based on “real” forms of life and death we experience here. But it’s more likely that physical life and death are reflections of perfect ideals going on elsewhere. Plato’s Theory of the Forms and all that.

      • Benjamin (Benmanben) Says:

        This is a tricky subject.
        Now it is interesting how you dealt with it in the Neverhood.
        You see, as you should have, you merely represented things. Meaning Hoborg was not displayed as omnicient, or omnipotent. Now obviously only God can be those two things. One God. Our father.

        He must have known this. It was well written by C.S. Lewis, as he used Judas as an example. Judas acted with evil. Now God had it planned that way. It was part of Christ dying for our sins. God intended that, and everything. It was still evil of Judas.

        Now, we must also keep in mind that the bible says we must not say that God has tempted us. Now perhaps I should catch myself before saying that God intended evil in this way, because a little miss might make it might imply that false notion.

        Surely it is that God loves good, and it pleases him. He made good, parts fell to evil, as he knew they would, but everything works out for good in the end. And that is all he really needed. Good in the end. Because he is not restricted by time, he may live infinitely with good. That is what he wants. He knows how everything works out for the best, just the way he made it. So in that way, each thing is good through him.

        (Only 18, so please quote scripture that you think I may have missed that would explain some of this.)

  5. Lina Maini Says:

    I got your last note’s last sentence a long time ago but this post and follow up commentary gives way to many more questions. I’ll think on those but your comment on our current experiences (life and death) being dimmer and less stark… is correct. Deniability is not always a bad thing. Without mental, emotional… buffers, the physical imprints on our brains alone would be too intense and immense. Souls are carefully crafted, requiring multi-dimensional and -level understanding before transitioning.

    Refractive and or reflective, nonetheless, skewed versions of perfect ideals.. I can see that.

  6. Tim Says:

    Great posts Doug. So glad you’re blogging again!

  7. AllenWJones Says:

    “Likewise, we couldn’t even drive our cars without a few billion years of dead cool dinosaurs to create the fuel in the first place.”

    I disagree with your assumption of age, but overall the article was insightful and concise.

    As to the age of the dinosaurs, I would suggest that both coal and oil were formed during or soon after the Great Flood of Noah.. coal was the compressed plant matter and oil came from animals such as the dinosaurs.

    This would suggest an age of approximately 4,500 years, not billions.

    May God bless you and His will be done!

  8. DHaynes Says:

    Hey Doug, do you believe in ghosts?

    • tennapel Says:

      I don’t. I’m not 100% settled on it, but there isn’t any viable, harmonizing testimony for ghosts in the same way we have none for aliens.

      I do think people may see ghostly looking beings, but they don’t necessarily have to be ghosts. They could be demonic (which I do believe in) or people just seeing things that aren’t there. But I’m open to the idea of ghosts. I think the afterlife is a lot more orderly than to just let spirits go floating all around willie nillie. Our souls need a body to stay within.

      • Peter Says:

        Ghosts seem to have some scriptural evidence. Samuel was called up from the grave to speak to Saul. The disciples were afraid that Jesus walking on water was just a ghost, which makes me wonder if ghosts had a place in the Jewish theology of the day.

        That said, I completely agree regarding an orderly afterlife (though I’m guessing it’s a lot more involved and nuanced than is usually imagined).

        Just read Ghostopolis, by the way. Thanks for giving us such a fun ride!

      • Chris Says:

        (This is really a reply to Peter’s comment about ghosts, but I didn’t see a reply button at the bottom of his post, so I defaulted to the next tier up.)

        Not really. As I understand it, Jewish theology was that of Sheol, where shades (spirits) went after death and just slept there in darkness forever. At least before bodily resurrection was made clear. Now the pagan religions in and around Israel must have believed in ghosts, and I think ghosts have always played a part in pagan religions. Samuel, however, was not a “ghost” in the typical meaning of the word. Rather, God allowed him to make an appearance to deliver a message that chastised Saul. You never see a “ghost” again in Scripture, but only the messengers of God (angels).

        “Jewish Theology” is a big term as well. I’m sure ghosts may have been accepted in some aspects of it, just like demonology and the more mystic aspects of Judaism, but clearly none of them are grounded in Scripture. Stuff like that probably gained prevalence during the latter parts of Israel’s history where God was utterly forsaken, or at best (least worst?) just another God sitting on the mantle to call upon when one needed him. Or so I would assume.

      • Peter Says:

        Thanks for the response, Chris.

        What gets me about Samuel is that if you take the text literally, Samuel blamed Saul for “disturb[ing] me by bringing me up”, without referencing God at all. It also seems like the medium had some experience in calling spirits, though we don’t get the down and dirty on her method or her past. I just think it appears too simple to say God sent him up based on the text. God allowed him, certainly, but I don’t know if He sent him.

        I wonder if, at least before the Harrowing of Hell (however it’s interpreted), the interplay between our world and the afterlife may have been a little more sketchy than we like to think. Because of what happened to Samuel, I can’t come down hard and fast by saying spiritual experiences, here or after, come down only to demonic or holy activity.

        Thanks for the insight on Jewish theology. That makes sense.

      • Chris Says:

        Yes, but you must realize that from a Christian perspective, God is the end-all-be-all. Nothing happens without His hand. And to say that God didn’t send Samuel is to say that wicked spirits and other men have a lot of control over your soul, which is completely false. Saying this would ensure eternal damnation for all since no evil being would ever allow you to be resurrected through Christ.

        Of course the witch had experience “summoning spirits”, for that was her job. But remember too that even she was frightened by the appearance of Samuel. I can be experienced in mindless rituals without them actually having an effect. But with her, one of two things may have happened — 1.) It actually “worked” this time, and she was frightened by that, or 2.) Samuel, a righteous man of God, appeared instead of the demons she was use to seeing.

        Also, I think when you say that “the interplay between our world and the afterlife may have been a little more sketchy”, you are sort of implying God’s weakness in the matter. Like it was an afterthought that caught Him by suprise, so He just shoved all souls in the spiritual closet while He could think about what to do. If Elijah and Enoch were both taken up into Heaven before death, I think it’s safe to say other righteous men and women were also taken up after death.

        Catholics seem to believe Sheol was the place of all dead, and when Jesus died, He went there too, and brought up all the righteous into Heaven and opened Heaven’s gates to all upon His resurrection. I don’t buy that because of the Elijah/Enoch thing. Also, 1 Peter 3:19 mentions nothing about bringing salvation to the dead or opening Heaven to the righteous, but only preaching “to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago.” How I see that is that those who went to Hell before Christ’s coming weren’t going to get away with not hearing about Him and what He’s done. They now know their complete doom at the last judgment, while those who were in the Kingdom rejoiced at knowing their winning defense.

        Some of this is stuff we’ll only know after passing into Heaven, and it’s nothing to form divisions over. Merely neat stuff to discuss. But some, I think, can really reflect one’s view and opinion of who and what God is. Choose wisely. :)

      • Peter Says:

        Thanks, Chris. I appreciate your time and thoughts. Most of what I’m saying is my thinking through it all. I’m glad you’re solid on this issue, because it makes it easier to bounce ideas off of you.

        I think a third option for the witch was that she was terrified that Saul would kill her since he had earlier banned all the mediums under penalty of death.

        As you said, God has ultimate control, which is why I said he certainly allowed Samuel to be called up, though I doubt it was in His perfect will that Saul should have consulted him.

        That Samuel’s spirit rose up from the ground leads me to believe that there was a holding place for some who were righteous in Sheol, but you have a good point about Elijah and Enoch. I know many Protestant theologians also hold to the idea of Sheol once being a place of paradise for the righteous on one side, Abraham’s Bosom, until Christ died and rose, and temporary punishment for the wicked on the other, until Judgment Day comes and the Lake of Fire. I haven’t decided what I think on that yet.

        When I said that some of the supernatural stuff was sketchy, I should have said it’s not easy to understand it on our side of the veil. I personally think that the supernatural and the afterlife are too neatly divided and cataloged with our limited knowledge. From your last statement, I think we agree (thanks for your concern, btw). Ultimately, God is in control, and we are in His hands, dead or alive.

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