A Little Theology of Dinosaurs

A Little Theology of Dinosaurs

Psalm 104 gives a good sense of what dinosaur-inspired praise might sound like. Here, the psalmist marvels not only at the gentle beauty of God’s creation — flowing streams and singing birds — but also at its harder edges: the young lions roaring for prey and, strikingly, even Leviathan himself sporting in sea (Psalm 104:2126). Some may hold the bones of long-lost species and see only “a meaningless swarm of life,” Derek Kidner writes. But the psalmist teaches us to see them “as giving some inkling of the Creator’s wealth, and the range and precision of his thought” (Psalms 73–150, 405).

I’ve been spending a lot of time with Tyrannosaurus Rex these days — and StegosaurusTriceratops, and Velociraptor. I’ve also made the acquaintance of some less-familiar figures, like the long-necked, small-brained Diplodocus and the head-crested Parasaurolophus (which actually rolls off the tongue once you get the hang of it).

I’m no paleontologist or museum curator. I haven’t seen the latest installment of the Jurassic saga. I’m just dad to a 2-year-old boy. And like so many young boys, he reads, plays, and roars dinosaur.

Over the last months, his dino shirts and books (and figures and stickers) have dug up old fascinations, mostly buried since The Land Before Time and a book of Brontosauruses I thumbed through as a kid. They’ve also unearthed some new questions, especially as I try to help my son trace God’s design in the dinosaurs.

If the heavens declare God’s glory (Psalm 19:1), and his wondrous works proclaim his praise (Psalm 104:24), then surely these long-extinct giant reptiles say something spectacular about him. But what?

These Old Bones?

What we tell our children about dinosaurs will be shaped, of course, by whether we think they roamed the earth millions of years ago or relatively recently. Both perspectives have biblical merit; both also have their difficulties. I have my own leanings on the question, as most of us do, but for the purposes of this article, I’m going to sidestep that matter entirely.

I won’t mind much whether my son embraces a young-earth or old-earth view of creation; I will mind greatly whether he sees dinosaurs (and all the earth) in relation to the God who made them. And the most important lessons dinosaurs teach, it seems to me, have little to do with the age of their bones. Whether they lived in the Mesozoic Era or the days of Noah, much remains the same: Many were fierce. Many were fantastical. And many were absolutely enormous.

What then can we learn from such incredible creatures? Among other lessons, consider three.

Trust the God of Wisdom

Steve Brusatte’s popular 2018 book The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs tells an absorbing history of the dinosaurs’ reign. Unfortunately, it also represents and reinforces the popular view that dinosaurs have nothing to do with God. Naturalistic evolution plays the deity in Brusatte’s telling — a blind and brainless force somehow endowed with tremendous foresight: “evolution created” beasts like the behemoth sauropods (108); “evolution assembled all of the pieces [and] put them together in the right order” (117); T. Rex and his ilk were “incredible feats of evolution” (225).

The naturalistic worldview may be relatively new; the underlying impulse on display here, however, is anything but. God’s people have always needed to confess God’s handiwork over against popular myths. In the ancient world, Israel’s Canaanite neighbors considered the tannînîm (fearsome sea creatures, sometimes translated as “serpents,” “dragons,” or “monsters”) to represent “the powers of chaos confronting Baal in the beginning” (Derek Kidner, Genesis, 54). Moses, meanwhile, writes in Genesis 1:21 that “God created the great sea creatures [tannînîm].” The Canaanites can say what they want. We know that even the monsters are God’s masterpieces.

In similar fashion, God’s final speech in Job takes a massive land animal, Behemoth, and a fierce water beast, Leviathan (another monster of Canaanite lore), and describes them as God’s creatures: “Behold, Behemoth, which I made” (Job 40:15); “Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine” (Job 41:11).

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