Jesus and the Dinosaurs
My married daughter calls my living room the Jesus Room because there are nearly a dozen framed prints of the life of Christ hanging from the walls, including Jan Van Eyck’s Annunciation, Fra Angelico’s The Adoration of the Magi, a print reproduction of a batik by Noirin Mooney depicting Christ as the Suffering Servant, Salvador Dali’s The Last Supper, and an assortment of reproductions of anonymous icons, such as the one shown on the left, often called Christ the Teacher. I not only find these aesthetically pleasing, they are also constant reminders to me of the embodied, historical reality of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, truly God and truly Man. That Jesus lived and breathed and was crucified and three days later bodily raised from the dead is as certain as any fact of ancient history can be.
In my office the decorating scheme is a bit different. On the walls hang several maps, of places I have been and places I would like to go. And tucked here and there on the bookshelves are a few fossils—mostly trilobites, some small plastic dinosaur figures, including a Velociraptor and a Stegosaurus, and a 1/10 scale museum quality reproduction of a fossil Tyrannosaurus skull. I like these for the reason every little boy, of whatever age, likes them. Because fossils and dinosaurs are cool. And they too, especially the Tyrannosaurus skull, are constant reminders of an equally embodied, historical reality. That Tyrannosaurus Rex lived and hunted and went extinct forever is as certain as any fact of natural history can be.
I have a pretty good idea from the Gospels, the prophets, and the apostles what it says about God that Jesus walked among us. What does it say about God that Tyrannosaurus Rex walked the Earth? I think I have also figured out fairly well what Athens and Jerusalem have to do with each other. What about Jesus and the Dinosaurs?
Charles Darwin was famously incensed at the thought that a good God would deliberately design something so seemingly gruesome and cruel as parasitic wasps who laid their eggs in caterpillars, the hatched young slowly eating their hosts alive from the inside out. So God did no such thing, if indeed there be a God. How much more would he have objected to God designing a 40 ft. predatory carnivore, with banana-sized serrated teeth perfectly suited for tearing large chunks of living flesh from terrified prey? Ironic, isn’t it, that the theory of evolution—Darwin’s version of it, anyway—began as a theological argument. Equally ironic is the odd claim that Tyrannosaurus Rex, all his cousins, Great White sharks, Bengal Tigers, Polar Bears, and indeed, every carnivore that exists gained their sharp, predatory prowess from sudden wholesale changes in their teeth, body design, digestion, and behavior, supposedly caused by sin and the Fall. Yet these supposed abrupt changes left no record behind, either in Scripture or the fossil record.
The English poet William Blake pondered the meaning of God’s design of seemingly cruel realities in The Tiger:
Tiger, Tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could form thy fearful symmetry?
Blake wonders what kind of dread Designer could imagine the fire and sharpness of such a creation as the Tiger, but he does not question the design’s perfection, its “fearful symmetry”—its embodiment of the deliberate intentions of its Maker. Likewise, I do not doubt that God, the same God incarnate in Jesus Christ, made Tyrannosaurus to be just as it was, and rejoiced in what he had made. “The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God” (Ps. 104:21), and so did the dinosaurs. I also would not hesitate to call a Tyrannosaurus Rex beautiful. A harsh beauty like the tiger or shark, perhaps, but beautiful nonetheless. Blake finally asks, ”Did he who made the Lamb make thee?” Indeed, he did. The whole story of natural life chronicles a history of wild glory and a sometimes harsh beauty. A mysterium tremendum et fascinans—a terrifying yet entrancing mystery. The edge of holiness. Maybe life is dangerous because God is dangerous—“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). I would not trifle with a T. Rex, or a tiger, or a Great White shark, all creatures of God, perfect in fearful symmetry. And I will not trifle with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, perfect in love, and power, and fearful purity.