IN Nature, then, we sum up all that was created by God—all creature being. This was pronounced good: "And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1: 31). There was no evil in the Creation, nothing adverse to the Divine purpose.
But it is said by many in our day that physical science, and particularly Geology, contradicts this, and finds proof of evil in the earth before man. A few words must be said upon this point. But before we can rightly examine it, we must keep clearly in mind the distinction between physical and moral evil.
If we speak of evil in the inorganic realm, we are to note that here evil is only material disorder; it can properly be called evil only as it injuriously affects animal or human life. If there were destructive tempests and earthquakes, if the ground brought forth thorns and thistles, if there were terrible monsters in sea and on land, before man was on earth, this had no moral significance, and was of no real moment. But
after man came, all that took place in the material world was to be judged of as good or evil by its relation to him. As man's moral and spiritual education is the great end of God, we may well believe that He will so control all material and external forces as to conduce to this end. It is difficult to see how, without such control, there can be a moral government, a government which rewards the good and punishes the evil.
What, then, are the proofs that the earth gives of physical evil? These are summed up at great length in the Essay on Nature, by J. S. Mill, who comes to the conclusion that the earth could not have been made by a good and all-powerful God. If good, He is not all-powerful; if all-powerful, He is not good.
When we come to analyse the supposed proofs of evil before man's advent, we find them either in the inorganic realm or the lower realm of animal life. But as to the former, they are of no importance. If the earth in its formation was subject to violent convulsions,—the mighty forces struggling in its bosom for mastery, the heavens red with volcanic fire, the solid land shaken by its incessant earthquakes, the seas raging and furiously dashing against their dissolving shores— all this simply points to the process by which our orb was fitted for man's habitation. For us to find evil in this process is folly.
But we turn to the realm of animal life, for as the Bible tells us, the creation of animals preceded that of man. And what proofs of evil do we find here? These, it is said, are found in the existence of the monsters in the sea and upon the land, and of poisonous serpents and reptiles, and of beasts that prey upon one another. The same is true of all the vegetable poisons, and of everything that is destructive of life, or causes pain and suffering.
It will be kept clearly in mind that we are speaking of animal life before man appeared upon the stage, where the evil complained of is chiefly one of physical pain. How much pain animals feel is wholly unknown to us, but it is most probable that even those of the highest organisation are far less sensitive than the lowest of men, and that the lower are wholly insensible to it, and as there is no knowledge of death there is no fear of it.
The question then resolves itself into this: What relations should God have established among the irrational animals? Those who object to animal death should ask themselves what kind of a world would this be if animal life were immortal? As to disease, pains, and sufferings preceding death, whatever their degree, we only know that they are not the fruit of sin as in the case of man, but the natural conditions of existence which God in His wisdom has established. To ask why He made the Carnivora, is the same as to ask why man was so made as to eat animal flesh.
Some who find proofs of the existence of evil in the earth before man, see a solution in God's foresight of man's sin. It is said by Dr. Bushnell: "As certainly as sin is to be encountered in God's plan, its marks and consequences will be appearing anticipatively." This is doubtless true. We may find an illustration in St. Peter's words, when he speaks of the earth as "stored up for fire, being reserved against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men" (2 Peter 3: 7, R. V.). An illustration of this Divine foresight of the possibilities of evil through sin, and provision made for them, appears in the physical constitution of man. He was not when created under the law of death, yet was so constituted that he might die. In his creation, he was made a compound being, and in the constituent elements was the possibility of separation. This separation, or death, was made dependent upon his obedience or disobedience; and because disobedient, he came under the law of death. God thus anticipates the future, and provides for it. The earth, as the theatre where good and evil were to strive for mastery, was provided at its creation with symbols expressive of the Divine acts both of judgment and mercy, and with forces powerful to effect them.
There are some who find in the earth's history, in the many cataclysms and catastrophes through which it has passed, proofs of Satan's activity and power. Upon this point nothing positive can be said. Geology affirms that in the process of the earth's formation many powerful forces were at work, "floods and whirlwinds of tempestuous fire"; but what control over these evil angels may have had we cannot say. Satan is always the opposer or antagonist of God in all His works, and although he cannot destroy, he can mar and corrupt.
We may then conclude that in view of the Divine purpose of the moral trial of man, there was nothing in the earth as constituted by God for his habitation, to impugn Divine wisdom or goodness or power. All that He made was made by Him in foresight of the whole future of the race, and was good. As made for man, and the place where his education, mental and moral, was to be carried on till the Perfect was reached, we may well believe that the several stages of its physical condition would be suited in Divine wisdom to this end, and each stage be adapted to the measure of his moral development.
Thus God, to whom as a Moral Governor the moral is far more important than the material, can through new combinations of elements, wholly unknown to us, change the Natural, or the good, into the Unnatural, or the evil, and then into the Supernatural and perfect.