The deadly marine wonder, the Portuguese man o’ war, resembles a jellyfish with its beautiful blue and purple ship-shaped bladder and impressive 30-foot stinging tentacles. What may at first appear to be a single organism is actually a colony of four completely different types of polyp, working together so closely that they are not able to survive apart.

In stark contrast, stories of people versus each other or people versus nature often dominate narratives in the public arena. Headlines announce wars, acts of terrorism, mass movements of refugees, and discussions about environmental degradation on a global scale. We know that people can work together in incredible ways, but it doesn't take a newspaper to show us that we often fail. Any parent is familiar with the battlegrounds that can develop so quickly when human selfishness takes over.

We are often confronted by pain and death in the living world, but there is so much to learn from the way that organisms work together. Creation groans, but we can also see evidence of beauty and harmony, from the smallest cell to the most sophisticated society. In biological terms, there is survival of the fittest, but there is also cooperation on a grand scale. We need to be aware of both these dynamics if we are to have a balanced view of God’s world, and what it can teach us about his character and purposes.

Our media may focus on death and predation in the natural world today, but this has not always been the way things are communicated. At one time, Western society celebrated the beauty and wonder of nature, seeing trees, rabbits and waterfalls through the sentimental, rose-tinted glasses of Romanticism. The English cleric Thomas Malthus’s emphasis on “struggle ...

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