[Originally published as The goodness of God’s design]
Back in March, I went to see the documentary The Riot and the Dance with Gordon Wilson, and I was deeply moved by what I saw (read my thoughts here). I really had no idea what to expect from the movie, but what I got was a joy, a thrill, a celebration of God’s wonders in creation.
I can’t even put my feelings into words. I want it to change not just the way I think but the way I am. I want to react and feel and perceive and eventually think about creation as the amazing splendor of a loving Creator. I want Gordon’s perception of creation to become so natural to me it’s just a reflex.
I think putting my reaction to The Riot and the Dance into words doesn’t do the movie justice. This is a film you should experience.
That doesn’t mean people won’t try to review the film, though, and that’s understandable. Ronny Nalin’s reaction on the GRI blog was one such attempt that tried to boil down the emotion of the film to propositional truth. Like me, he enjoyed the film’s focus on the Creator, and he also found the interviews at the end really disconnected from what came before. What caught my eye, though, was his reaction to the inherent tension of the film:
the contrast of riot vs. dance
In Gordon’s parlance, the dance is the creation as God originally intended: a benevolent, wondrous world, absent the death of animals. The riot is more the other extreme: brutal, cunning, and above all, deadly.
In this film, snakes become kind of a running gag. Gordon is clearly enamored with them (and who can blame him?), but they represent in some sense the pinnacle of the fallen creation. It was a serpent that tempted and deceived Eve and brought us this world of death. All snakes today are carnivores. None live as vegetarians. Snakes are without exception crafty hunters, and they are well-designed to do so. Gordon promises to deal with them throughout the film, and when he does, he only offers us hope of redemption as he reminds us that the kingdom of God will still have cobras.
It’s not just snakes either. We could say the same thing about the design of mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, spiders, and a myriad other creatures that possess amazing features that let them hunt and kill.
This isn’t a minor issue. Creation is full of designed death.
As Gordon alternately celebrates God’s design in death and reminds us that this was not creation as God intended, Nalin senses a contradiction: How could there be a distinction between riot and dance, when the riot is often well-choreographed? As Nalin says it, Gordon
appears to embrace the world as it is: “How much of this world does God love? How much has He given to us? The answer is the same: all of it. Every prickle and every pebble, every storm and every breeze, every insect and every lizard.” There is something tragic in the scene where a crested serpent eagle engages in an extenuating fight to kill a land monitor, but geckos preying on termites are apparently ok: God “makes them desperately want what He has already arranged to give them. Feast little lizards.” Maybe this tension is indeed where we should situate ourselves as Christian scientists in reading the message of the world around us.
Perhaps that’s the point. We can affirm that this creation, as it is, is God’s good design. I think we creationists too often get caught in the trap of thinking that God “withdrew” at the Fall and allowed His creation to take its own course, but the Bible proclaims Jesus Christ as Creator and Sustainer of creation. I suppose sometimes, from our perspective, God appears to have withdrawn from Creation. The Bible describes, for example, God’s withdrawal from protecting Jerusalem when Nebuchadnezzar’s army came to conquer. Withdrawal is a legitimate word to describe the Fall.
But it is not the only word, and maybe it’s not even the best word. God sent His servant Nebuchadnezzar to judge Jerusalem, and here in creation, God sends prey to feed the lions and the snakes and the spiders. The amazing ecological cycles enabled by the death of animals are as much a part of God’s design as the Babylonian (and later the Roman) destruction of the walls and temple of Jerusalem.
It’s not a “Plan B” either, at least not in the sense of God being taken by surprise and slapping together something that He never really wanted. No, this design, with all its death and decay, is God’s good plan for creation. God was not surprised by the sin of Adam any more than He is surprised by our sin. Death isn’t just God’s punishment for sin. Death, especially Jesus’ death, is part of God’s plan for our redemption and our eventual resurrection.
That should leave us in a tension, a place of contradiction, as we watch the beautiful riot of this present world but still long for the day when the dance will prevail again.
Could the creation have been something else, something without the sting of death, if Adam and Eve had not sinned? Yes, and that would have been God’s good design as well. The world of death and the world of life are both God’s good designs, and if that is more than we can comprehend, perhaps we should just rest in the hope of the Resurrection when the tensions disappear in the bright presence of God’s glory.