by Josie Smith.
I observed my cat one recent morning ruining a newly-planted flower bed in the course of pursuing a frog near the adjacent pond in my garden. This is the nature of cats, I realise, but seeing her doing this raised questions in my mind, not for the first time. She often suggests questions to me which are also both simple and profound.
(We have had a few simple yet profound Monday morning questions of late in Theology Everywhere, where the only possible answer was ‘both / and’.)
Can anyone tell me how to reconcile the concept ‘loving God’ with the predatory hierarchy, AKA food chain which appears to be a necessary part of the design of the created order?
I know about that rather charming word picture about lions lying down with lambs, but lions and lambs have different digestive arrangements and neither could be sustained by the other’s diet. The whole of nature, it seems, is designed so that the stronger, faster, cleverer or more toxic beasts live by killing and eating those lower down the food chain. (Though there are enlightened cultures in which hunters will apologise to the animal they have just speared to death and ask its forgiveness, showing respect to their prey before consuming its strength to maintain and enhance their own.)
How do we differ? Genetically we, lions and lambs, cats and humans alike, are all made of the same stuff of life.
Are we in fact different from the rest of the natural world? My football team has to be capable of beating yours, our child needs to have better exam marks than yours, and so on. In international relations it would seem that the food-chain principle has always applied. A diplomat would put it more delicately perhaps, and a dictator in other terms, but recent world events have furnished many examples – one could express it as ‘My tribe is stronger and better than yours so I propose to gobble up your land if I have to kill your population in the process.’
My generation was taught to believe that the human race (then known as ‘Man’) differed from all other created beings in having a soul, and more words have been written on this theme than ever angels have danced on pinheads. But we now know that trees can communicate with other trees, that all sorts of creatures have recognisable language, and only recently someone with very sensitive recording equipment has picked up sound communication from a living mushroom.
The more we learn about other living things – the close family relationships of elephants, communication systems of bees, design and construction skills of ants, birds and beavers, navigational skills of butterflies – the more we respect and marvel. I am a cat person, but dog lovers will tell you of the devotion a dog will give its owner. (Cats don’t have owners – it is cats who have humans, but they too are capable of a genuine relationship with another species, often us.) And crows, for example, are very good at problem solving. As are some squirrels.
What is the soul, and why do we think we are alone in having it?
We have faith in a creator God, otherwise why are we reading – even writing for – Theology Everywhere? And our mythical ancestor whom we call Eve was born with a silver question mark in her mouth, thus giving rise to the sciences which grew alongside theology. Wondering ‘What if?’ leads to experiment, which may lead anywhere and sometimes in unexpected directions.
So I worship God, and (not ‘but!’) I also ask a lot of questions.
I am not able to answer – or find answers to – many of the questions I meet every day. The best questions don’t have answers, but lead to deeper questions. A Catholic priest I used to know turned questions aside by using the word ‘mystery’, but I prefer to understand life by the both/and principle. My theology is not ‘systematic’, but proceeds by flashes of insight and by niggling doubts.
And perhaps especially by walking with those who have also encountered the God whose name and nature is Love.