By the greatness and the beauty of the creatures, proportionately the Maker of them is seen.
Athanasius (297-373), Against the Heathen 45:1-2
Does that mean if you think some creatures are ugly or useless, you think God is ugly and useless? Yes, I think it does. Lots of people don’t like certain creatures like snakes, bugs. In particular I’ve singled out mosquitoes, scorpions and wasps for disdain. What purpose do they serve besides frightening my wife (yeah, my wife that’s it ; P) and keeping pesticide companies in business? I can’t tell you exactly what purpose they serve, but in an ecosystem every creature has a role. There are no wasted life forms.
For example, one of a bat’s favorite food is mosquito. So they are a natural bug zapper. Their feces also makes really rich fertilizer. A lot of people don’t like bats, but they serve a purpose. But what purpose do the mosquitoes serve? Bats wouldn’t serve a purpose if we didn’t have those pests, right? Probably wrong.
I think Athanasius was trying to get at something in this quote, but missed the mark. It seems like he was probably saying that humanity, as the pinnacle of creation revealed God most fully. But God can also be seen throughout the beauty of creation. Athanasius, like most of us, was a speciesist. He valued his own species above all others. Usually this goes to the extent of separating humans from the natural world, which we have done a really good job of.
The problem is that God is also revealed in the mundane, the ugly and the apparently useless. The difference is that it takes more effort to understand the creation and creatures around us in order to see God in their relationship to the rest of the ecosystem. But that’s the only way to understand the world God created.
This is an ongoing series exploring Teachings on Creation Through the Ages. Quotes are taken from the article of that name in The Green Bible.