From Nothing—Part 4


I earlier shared three passages (as Parts 1, 2, and 3) from the Intro to Lutheran theologian Ian McFarland’s From Nothing: A Theology of Creation. I was later happy to run across this passage in which he seems to argue that mortality (entropy/decay) is a God-given feature of an evolving world. It’s a minority position, but one I find preferable to the majority position (the majority position being that entropy and decay are evils that result from a primordial fall).

And yet part of the ambiguity surrounding the human experience of creatures’ diversity is bound up with the fact that the multiplication of creatures is coupled with (and from a purely biological perspective, needed to compensate for) their regular destruction; rather than persisting in the capacious environments that God provides, living creatures, whether considered as individuals or as classes, die, so that, for example, only a small fraction of the terrestrial species that have existed in the half-billion years since the emergence of multicellular life survive today. Yet this fact in itself need not be viewed as inconsistent with creation’s goodness. Although death has most often been viewed in Christian tradition as a punishment for Adam’s transgression, Genesis 3:19, 22 (cf. 6:3) may also be read as teaching that humans (and by extension, other earth creatures) naturally return to the dust from which they were taken unless some other factor intervenes (see Gen. 2:7, 17 Ps. 103:13-16; Eccl. 3:19-20). Certainly there is nothing inconsistent with the goodness of creation that the “place” occupied by every creature should have temporal as well as spatial boundaries, entailing a limited life span no less than limited bodily dimensions; indeed, such temporal limits actually enhance the capaciousness of creation, since two creatures can occupy the same space if they do so at different times. Death can certainly be experienced as a violation of life and so as a curse, but Scripture also can speak of a kind of death that is a life’s natural conclusion, in which an individual dies “old and full of days’ (Gen. 35;29; 1Chr. 29:28: Job 42;17; cf. gen. 25;8; Isa. 65:20). Insofar as extinction of a species is the analogue to the death of an individual creature, one might equally conceive of classes of creatures—trilobites or dinosaurs, say, both of which thrived for tens of millions of years before becoming extinct—as having experience this sort of death. In this way we can understand death as temporal finitude, as a means by which the fullness of creation is arranged along a temporal axis as well as within contemporary physical spaces….


Why do I think mortality (entropy/decay) are not evil consequences of a primeval fall but the way creation was given by God from the get-go? From a previous post:

For the rather simple reason that there is (for us) no coming into the fullness of being which is not a coming into to the truth of being, and part of our truth is our absolute contingency, gratuity, and dependency upon God. This entails, of necessity, embracing the truth of the nothingness out of which God calls us into being. This is a truth we cannot comprehend apart from an experience of mortality. So, mortality is the possibility of our relating the truth of our finitude to the immortal God, and this is the truth we must come to terms with en route to fully participating in the grace of eternal life. So to the extent it is true that we are nothing in ourselves – mortality is a grace, however temporary a mode of being it was meant to be. Mortality becomes death “the enemy” when we choose to misrelate despairingly to our finitude and to respond to it by turning our attention and energies to securing a meaningful existence this side of the Void.

One comment on “From Nothing—Part 4

  1. John Sobert Sylvest says:

    I forget what I responded on twitter, but this is logically consistent in its statement of the problem, i.e. mortality’s origin, with a number of other good approaches. The solution it offers makes total sense as it’s just The Gospel with no need of some culpa that’s felix.


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