Early in my faith-seeking, I realized how attractive the idea had become to me that the world was created with human beings especially in mind. Later on, my take on the sciences suggested giving up on the idea altogether. Contemplating doing so left me feeling angry and sad.
Then theology came along, and with it the encouragement to look at the idea a little differently. With the help of the eighth Psalm, I began to see that God can still be God and be “mindful” of human beings without being especially mindful of them. God’s mind is on the whole of things, in which we can have an important place without having to be at the center of it all.
This accommodation comes with difficulties, however. For one thing, it can leave people deeply troubled whenever they get a feeling of living in an order of nature whose center is not holding. For another, there is a lot about nature that seems anything but a fit habitat for human beings. She “wrongs” us too often, whether from earthquakes, sunamis, famine, disease, or errant asteroids.
It just may be, though, that her seeming wrongdoing — “natural evil,” as philosophers talk about it — is not in fact something intrinsic to the working out of her natural laws. Our positing of it may stem more from a stubborn refusal to accept her either on her own terms or God’s.
By taking issue with the earth and the universe being just what they are and doing just what they do, we can all too easily lose the capacity to take wonder and delight from them. Instead, we demand participation in the natural order on our own terms, and become mired in feelings of anxiety, and loss when nature fails us.
With all due respect to the Priestly writer’s account of creation in Genesis 1, striving to “subdue” the earth is not the most fruitful way to relate to it. The Jahwist understood the relationship more in terms of “caring” for the earth, tenderly. (Genesis 2) I like his idea better.
Natural evil does not lie in natural things and processes themselves. Like feelings, these are neither good nor bad. They just “are.” When we acknowledge and respect them in their own right, and not for what we want from them, the “evil” attributed to them goes away.