A purpose in all things is not possible to discern, but that such exists in all nature is so. The world is indeed subject to futility and as such cannot in every happening be scrutinized for import. But something as regular and universal as excretion must have some theological significance.
For Milan Kundera, the writer of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the very fact that we poop means that man could never have been made in the image of God. For Ernest Becker, our excretion brought us in contact with our finitude. Peter J. Leithart, who references Becker, writes briefly about this “scandal” at First Things.
What does Becker mean when he says it brings us in touch with our “abject finitude?” We must go to nature, for the natural or biological reality may contain clues to meaning. We expel because we use and intake. That is, we eat and derive energy from eating. Duh! How does that help?
An infinite being does not eat because such a being has no need of sustenance. Such a being is already self-sustaining. But a finite being not only eats but excretes, and it must do both! For there are two other alternatives. One is that an finite person+food would become self-sufficient. But food is used up as energy, not in the sense of magic, but in the sense of limited destruction, separation, and appropriation. Not all of a food product is digestible. The only other possibility is that such a being would continue to grow and grow, that even the healthiest consumer would grow a little bit every time he or she consumed!
Excretion is part of a biological process of recovery and growth. It teaches us that even at our most fundamental state we are relational dependent beings who cannot survive on our own. We depend on our environment. We are in a relationship with the world in which we find ourselves. It reveals an Aristotelian activity of poihsis in which one thing becomes like another (food is made into cells and other parts of the person or consumer). Finally, it reminds us of our unity in sin!