A Lion and a Lamb Walk Into a Bar

In his article “All Will Be Well,” Denys Turner addresses a topic much discussed in the comboxes of Eclectic Orthodoxy—the problem of evil. Readers will find the first step of his “solution” especially provocative, as he basically removes what many—including our esteemed David Bentley Hart—deem “natural evils” from the equation. These “evils” are inevitable in a universe populated by bodies. And as far as the second step of his argument addressing moral evils … you’ll just have to read the entire article. Read and discuss!

I know that others (including my wife) have different convictions than I do about the matter, but I have personally never had a theological problem with lions eating antelopes, though it is impossible not to feel sorry for the panicking beasts as they flee their predators in such wonderfully graceful leaps and bounds. Of course it is distressing that lions seem as unlikely as ever to get round to lying down with lambs, as Isaiah had hoped they would, but I cannot be troubled about God because they don’t. Lions lying down with lambs would of course be good news for lambs, but it would be terrible news for lions. Eating lambs goes with being a lion; being a lamb-eating machine is more or less what a lion is. And more generally nature seems to require a level of raw indifference in matters of tooth and claw. If there is to be variety and complexity in the natural world we know, including large carnivorous cats, the lambs, alas, are going to have to pay for it with their lives. “Did he who made the lamb make thee?” asks William Blake of the tiger burning bright. The question is rhetorical and the answer is yes: God did make tigers, and consistency would require of those who have a problem of this kind that they consider what alternative world they have in mind that doesn’t replace a problem for lambs being eaten with a problem for carnivores being starved for want of ovine nutrition….

You can guarantee safety for lambs only on the condition of wimpishly vegetarian tigers and lions. You can have an earthquake-free cosmos only on the condition that there are no reliable physical laws to govern it. You can have a world free of physical pain only if it is also a world free of physical pleasure—in short, only if it is a world without nervous systems, which is to say, without bodies. Given the kind of world fit for bodies that we have, these pains are necessary evils where they are not necessary goods. And so it is hard to see why the existence of them is regarded as providing rational evidence against God. Indeed, they seem just as plausibly to be evidence for a providential benevolence within creation.

Read the entire article

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24 Responses to A Lion and a Lamb Walk Into a Bar

  1. Tom says:

    Got my coffee and notepad. Pulling up my chair to listen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pretty Lamb says:

      I believe that all animals were once vegetarian. At some point the earth stopped producing sufficiently nourishing herbs, so the animals took to eating each other instead. I also believe there’s a spiritual element involved here, and that the chaos in the animal kingdom is an outgrowth of the chaos within humanity. Evidence of this would be the powerful pacifying effect holy men have said to have had over animals.

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  2. Excellent piece 🙏🏻

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  3. brian says:

    I’m not sure how one could know that something other than innocent automata is possible, but all our key ideas about sin, death, perfection, love are inadequate conceptions borne as pilgrims in status via. I do think the proleptic assurance of the eschaton in spite of unavoidable ignorance is in the right direction of response. Seems to me sin is behoovely because Christ has done something definitive to transform fallen time. If one takes Turner fully seriously, is he not coming close to a reversal of Hart’s Doors of the Sea? The metaphysical necessity of evil for a particular beauty does not seem compatible with the Goodness of a God who creates ex nihilo. There may be a complex beauty of the pleroma inaccessibIe apart from the temporary endurance of the tares amidst the wheat, but that thought is endurable under the assumption that finite creatures are apt to wander from the mysterious Good. They are apt to approach God wrongly, with insufficient trust; apt to try to domesticate the divine fire. I don’t agree that good news for antelopes has to be be bad news for lions. Turner assumes the essence of the beasts is sufficiently undistorted by evil that one can make that judgment. I rather think one will know much more about the glory of the lamb and the lion when they live peaceably in the eternal kingdom.

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  4. DBH says:

    Turner’s argument starts by combining the worst aspects of Leibnizian theodicy and manual Thomist “naturalism,” but without the logical rigor of either. It’s a bracingly non-Christian vision, and would be perfectly coherent if God were only a demiurge. But it would still make the scandal of moral evil disappear too.

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  5. Iain Lovejoy says:

    The article seems to be based on the premise of God turning up to an already-formed world much as it is now and then trying to fix it piecemeal without making any fundamental changes. Lions exist as they are as lions through millions of years of evolutionary process driven by death and suffering. Effectively it is death that causes lions, so one cannot excuse the existence of death by the necessity to cater for the continuation of the very things it has brought about. Creation’s very nature is fundamentally poisoned and changed by some primordial cosmic “fall” whose literal nature is obscure, and if lions are to lie down with lambs it will be because their very nature has been transformed to something else, not because we try and nourish them as they are now on straw.

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  6. Tom says:

    A lion and a lamb walk into a bar. The lion says, “Hey, I’m having some lambs over for dinner. Wanna be a part?” And the lamb says….

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    • JBG says:

      And the lamb says: “Hey, anything I can do to make the “kindness within creation” more apparent—and there is no more of an obvious way than undergoing the pain of you tearing me limb from limb and eating me alive. Thank you for allowing me to serve as evidence of such tenderheartedness.”

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  7. James Gayaldo says:

    I think there is a kernel of truth here, but his disregard for the excessive and at times seemingly intentionally capricious infliction of suffering in animals shows a lack of moral attunement. My brother who from a young age loved the natural world and works in the natural sciences has impressed this point on me. He surely would have abandoned Christianity long ago if this view were correct.

    That said, there is something to be said for the possibility that had the fall not taken place there still would have been ‘death’ in the form of one life making room for another, for dynamic equilibrium are the stuff of natural cycles. But it’s foolish to absolutize this thought or identify it with the evolutionary process as it has occurred.

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    • donald says:

      Lack of moral attunemeant is correct. I lost interest in his views when I read his frivolous dismissal of animal pain and terror. It is a problem. I accept that earth is 4.5 billion years old and animals capable of suffering have been around for at least hundreds of millions of those years. I am willing to accept that I won’t know the answer in this life.

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  8. Arthur says:

    Just look at domesticated dogs – I am fascinated sometimes when, cuddling up or playing with my dogs, even the small mini-Schnauzers, just how much pain and injury they could inflict with their teeth, if they chose. Yet, I have no fear at all, none, because they have never expressed the slightest aggression and show nothing but concern and care for me (perhaps, even, just the faintest echo of a trait we could call ‘love?’). Is there not something inherently beautiful in an animal that has the vestige of a primal tool but totally without the desire to use it for ill towards another? Sure Ken Ham’s notion that the T-Rex was a vegetarian in actual history is absurd … but wouldn’t a domesticated T-Rex be beautiful in the sheer contrast between power and peacefulness?

    Lewis talks about this idea somewhere – that man’s responsibility is to ‘lift its fellow creatures towards God,’ drawing them ‘up,’ too, into the divine.

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  9. I think we all cringe in horror at the suffering and bloodshed in the animal kingdom. Turner seems to think that the groaning of the lamb is beautiful in light of the “common good” instead of an instance of the animal kingdom groaning for the new creation (Romans 8).

    Pushing Irenaeus’ ideas to their limit, I would say that only initially is this state of destruction and limitation necessary for a created order of beings. We must emphasize the word “initially.” Initially the lion is a lamb-eating machine. But its eschatological meaning is quite the opposite and will overcome the fallen meaning we thrust onto him.

    Going beyond Irenaeus, N. Berdyaev speculates that creation initially had to pass through this age of limitation, destruction, and even sin before the end. Because creatures are created ex nihilo, that “nihil” will run its course only to finally be destroyed forever in Christ. Every being is born casting its own unique shadow inherited from that maternal darkness. This is what it means to begin to be for all creatures. Only after the darkness has run its course finding its fever pitch in the crucified man and his mystical body will these sufferings and sins come to an end.

    Then we will see that the lion does not mean a “lamb-eating machine” but the loving beast that Isaiah pictures, wherein both lion and lamb participate in the Lion of Judah, the Lamb slain before the foundations of the world.

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    • Grant says:

      Having discussed this before, to make death a necessary characteristic of creation’s coming from non-being towards partipation into divinity makes death, and suffering and evil a co-creator with God in forging creation into it’s full form. It becomes not His enemy, but His helper, His handmadien, His essential tool to forge creation and us into what he desires, and therefore He is the author of all natural evil, and since that very twisted natural system produces us, our bodies, natures, temperments, instincts, which are therefore already fallen, makes our Fall in any sense inevitable and intended, and therefore, also God’s direct intention and responsiblity. All cancers, disease, all nautral calamities, all extinctions etc, all His responsiblity, using the tool to produced the ulitmate Kingdom. The suffering of the child, the mountain of death and pain, is the foundation and heart for the Paradise to come, it’s hidden and dirty secret, rendering all such Paradise a horrific farce, in fact, revealing it to be hell instead. In fact, it could reveal suffering is a direct revelation of God, and not against Him at all, in which case, what assurance of salvation (or one we could ever see as salvation and not damnation do we have)? And as said, a Paradise built on that suffering, much as a father beating his children to make them better adults, even if it succeeds would be a twisted horror and a hell.

      And if on the other hand, non-being itself somehow mysterious exterts this power necessarily against God’s will, that makes non-being and death itself some kind of shadowy equal to God, still His co-creator, helping forge creation in their contest, it’s chaos to His order, a mysterious counter evil, God’s own Angra Mainyu. Even as He many succeed in the end with this struggle with chaos, who emerges will be as much what it helped forge in that struggle, and a testament to to, and everlasting share into enterity, and monument to it’s legacy.

      Anything that makes the Fall inevitable, necessary or to be created that way with no action or choice to lead to this Fall, to my mind brings about massive violence to the Christian claims about God and HIs nature. The Fall is always going to be a hard issue to face, but the instinct of a aboriginal disaster and fallen, misguided choices (both human and angelic) resulting in catastrophe for themselves and creation to be the correct instinct. How we understand that is the challenge urgently facing Christians now.

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      • rephinia says:

        Brilliantly written – and completely correct (although for me the Fall isn’t such a hard issue as it is for those tainted by a kind of unconscious materialism)

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        • Grant says:

          Again I do understand what you are saying (layman though I am) but if God is God then He creates freely under no restrictions, all causes of that creation, most of all in it’s most initial and fundamental nature (death, decay and suffering an inherent feature not a possible and destructive fall back towards non-being) that effect is an inherent aspect of creation called into being by God knowingly and international in His creative act. You cannot divorce Him for those effects where is written into the DNA of creation, even if only a provisional state, if it is a feature of limitation then God is the intentional author of all evil (including ours as that follows and is formed and incubated by the calling of this form of creation into being). Again the slaughter bench is the feature not a big, we are saved from God by God from the wolves He tossed us to.

          Either that or He isn’t God, but a demiurge working with resistant matter to form the Good or if such non-being imposes these effects against His will it, death, is His shadowy equal and helping form creation, it’s final form being a monument to it as much as to this god.

          And in all cases death remains as a necessary feature of limitation God’s tool, co-creator or equal, rival or partner. Paradise is built and formed on that suffering and death, on the screaming and tortured child, the abused masses beaten into the state to be rescued into Paradise. It would be a horrific farce, hell in fact, and the true heart of reality, it’s dirty secret. So again, anything making the Fall necessary or unavoidable does great violence in my mind to Christian claims about God and His nature.

          (Written on my phone so apologies for more than usual issues).

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      • Grant, I feel the force of your objection and have been beating my head against it for a few years now. I feel the attraction of the gnostic musings that are very near heresy without (I hope) falling into the dualisms of those numerous sects. Still, I think you are misunderstanding the paradigm I’m proposing, no doubt due to the inadequate expression of my thoughts. To be candid, I’m not sure what the alternative could be given the horrific, meat-grinder that this cosmos is.

        First I’ll address a misunderstanding. A deficit may be necessary for an effect without making it necessary for the cause (although I think the analogy of cause/effect is inadequate to the relation between creation and creator). For instance, if God creates a cosmos, that cosmos must be, at least in some way, limited. That’s just what it means to be created. It does not follow that God is dependent on these limitations nor does it mean the reification of these limitations. But it does mean that in order to rescue that cosmos from the evils which follow upon those limitations God will have to divinize the cosmos. And in the spirit of Irenaeus I speculate that this will require time for man who is, according to Bulgakov, by nature a historic being. N.B. this still preserves the truth that death is an enemy to be overcome, not the great slaughter bench of history that Hegel (at least popularly understood) needed for god to become God.

        My step towards the gnostic musings (not absolute dualism) is to say that just as limitations are one with the beginning of creation so is the deficit of being we call the fall. To be created without divinization is to be in fallen history. The limits of the created order include the limits of the goods which can only be obtained through overcoming these deficits in time and, ultimately, in Christ and his Body.

        This leads me to the problem with the alternative you are proposing. If the fall were just one possible outcome of creation, Christ’s Passion would be plan B. Christ would not have been slain before the foundations of the world. More importantly, this alternative would entail that God could have stopped the fall but chose not to stop it. This would certainly call into question God’s goodness.

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        • Grant says:

          No I understand you, but I don’t think you escape what I raise above at all. If those limitations are such as necessitating death and suffering then they either a – are the tool God uses to bring about Paradise, the slaughter bench being the feature not the bug, God’s handmadien not His enemy, the parent throwing his babies to the wolves to grow strong. And I don’t see conceptually why emergence from nothing into divinity would involve suffering and death, unless it is part of who He is, not His enemy (and again makes God the direct author of all evil, so we are rescued by God from God). Or b – He is constrained by some equal shadow power of non-being, and so is not God.

          Also the Lamb slain before the world needs to be qualified by such things as God is Light and in Him there is no darkness, that He is the enemy of death, He is Love itself, and so on. The Son is the Lamb slain before the world from fallen creation’s perspective, that to a hurting and malformed creation is how His nature shows itself, in His self-giving love and rescue (God so loved to world that He gave His only Son, that on the Cross He was reconciling the world to Himself etc). To us that is how the self-giving love is displayed, how the hurting Jew robbed saw Jis Samaritan rescuer.

          But if you are saying the torture and death in the Cross are part of who the Son is in Himself, and who therefore the Father is, you are saying death and suffering aren’t against God but a part of who He is, not evil but again intended, a revelation of His nature. Created we and all creation to participate in that suffering, even with later glorification makes God’s love twisted into something datkly narcissistic, cruel and masochistic. And again makes suffering the key tool and co-creator and Paradise an eternal dystopian hell built on that dirty secret of abuse.

          (Written on my tablet so probably lots of errors, sorry for that).

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          • Grant, I agree with much of what you have written. I’ll try to narrow it down so I can understand where I might be wrong. You wrote: “I don’t see conceptually why emergence from nothing into divinity would involve suffering and death, unless it is part of who He is…”

            This seems to me to be a non sequitur. I don’t see why everything attributed to an effect should be attributed to the cause. The created order, at least initially, is limited. This does not entail that limitation is part of God.

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  10. Matthew Kirby says:

    Here’s another possibility. The Creation’s Biosphere was originally intended to operate ab initio under the more direct guidance of “angelic” intelligences, some of whom the Scriptures imply have such a role in Nature. In other words, Nature on Earth was never meant to be purely natural, anymore than it’s pinnacle, Man, is. A primordial angelic Fall deletes and/or distorts this element, allowing evolution to be as it is, (partly?) “unguided” (not outside Providence, of course, but stripped of its own version of the grace of original righteousness). The sign in early Genesis of this pre-human fall is the representation of the Adversary as an animal.

    Thus natural evil is related to the first Fall. This, as many will see, is effectively the theodicy of Tolkien’s Silmarillion. However, it seems to me the elements of it are able to be assembled from Scriptural hints. Mascall thought the same.

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  11. Matthew Kirby says:

    And I think CS Lewis had similar ideas in his Sci-Fi trilogy and elsewhere, from memory.

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  12. Myshkin says:

    Lord help me for I’m a living Id10t example, but I thought of this discussion whilst considering the story of Jonah this morning. How does the allegory / inspired legend of Jonah speak to the question of evil. The Assyrians were wicked and visited grave evil and suffering upon the Children of Israel, but this story describes the amazing depths of God’s salvific will. The natural evil of the storm is understood as terrifying and to the sailors as evil, was it? And if it truly was what does that mean? The giant fish like Christ’s grave swallows Jonah, this too from our perspective must be seen as evil, how does this inform the meaning of evil? Again I realize the story is legend / allegory, but it must be read as Scripture, and I can’t pretend like I have anything other than questions, but the the one phrase that hangs in the air as I contemplate these things is Felix Culpa.

    Finally I would add that I am not trying to dismiss evil; my childhood was defined by the daily manifestation of assault /abuse against my innocence. The infernalist fundamentalist atmosphere that I lived in left me often looking into the middle of a campfire and trying to reconcile that god and my parents, who made me and “loved” me were perfectly happy to consider those flames as my eternal home. In response to this terror / trauma I accepted junk’s embrace and the attendant degradation that slavery always brings. Finally I have known the loss of a child and the resulting madness, grief and wailing. All of this ridiculous self disclosure is a way to say that Felix Culpa, for me, comes from a terrible cost. None of these tragedies makes me right, again, I’m a living pebcac error, but these are just my anecdotal reflections on evil and the attempt to understand.

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