Advocating For Animals
Taking up the cause of those who cannot speak for themselves has a price. It sometimes requires suffering and ridicule. For some, like Dian Fossey, it meant the violent death of a martyr for trying to help those of her friends who happened to be members of another species. However we are told, “…if you suffer for doing good and endure it, this is commendable before God.” (1 Peter 2:20) This passage applies to animals as it does to us. The only difference is their innocence. Animals cannot deserve suffering.
If we truly and sincerely believe that other living beings are God’s creatures and deserving of our love, compassion, mercy and justice, and yet do nothing about it, take no action, then, as the Lord’s brother taught, our faith is dead...If, with Francis of Assisi, we look upon other creatures as our brothers and sisters, do we not have an obligation to bring that ruthless exploitation to an end? James makes it very clear that “Anyone who knows the good he ought to do, and doesn’t do it, sins.” (James 4:17)
It is obvious that the Biblical authors simply did not agree and were of two minds about (animal) sacrifice. Sometimes God was perceived as seeking, demanding and approving sacrifice, while at other times neither wanting nor desiring it and treating it as irrelevant.
From the animals’ point of view, it was through (the prophet Hosea) that Yahweh made one of the most important statements in the Bible. “…I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6)
The author (of Hebrews) drew upon Psalm 40:6-8 to reiterate that God did not desire, and was not pleased with animal sacrifice. Jesus quoted this scripture; one reason Christianity never practiced animal sacrifice. “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.” (Hebrews 10:5-6)
It may shock pious readers that burnt offerings were not always animals. Sometimes the victims were human and included entire communities. If wicked men arose in a town and tried to lead, or led the people to worship other gods, the punishment was to be absolute. (The) righteous frequently died with the wicked. As usual, the animals, innocent of any wrong, also perished.”
The sacrifice of the wicked was detestable to (God), and the animals offered by such people were sacrificed in vain. Something else was necessary to obtain forgiveness (such as) a broken spirit, a contrite heart, praise, thanksgiving and the prayer of the upright.
If a sacrifice was taken from the poor, the offence to God was so great that the person making the offering might as well have killed a son before his father’s eyes! Many animal lives might have been saved if sinful people had chosen to keep the law, heed the commandments, return kindness, give alms, refrain from wickedness and forsake unrighteousness. All of these could obtain atonement and, more to the point, were the equivalent of sacrifice.
It was the essence of fellowship offerings that the people participated with their God and his priests by consuming the victim. Christianity took this up in the form of Holy Communion. Jesus associated himself with the sacrificial victim and his title “Lamb of God” indicates why his body and blood were, and still are, offered to God by priests and consumed by worshippers in the Eucharist.
Jesus never preached animal sacrifice. As far as we know, he didn’t encourage it, condone it, explain it or participate in it.
Animal Suffering & Human Sin
It is a fundamental theme of the Bible that other species are forced to suffer because of human sin. The innocent died at the hands of the ruthless for crimes they did not commit and for which the animals and infants were clearly blameless.
Together with the other animals, innocent of both good and evil, we experience the same life-giving sunshine and rain. But with them we also suffer the effects of floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, famines, drought, infestation, predation and other natural disasters. Some of these may be the acts of a sovereign Deity, although none are competitive with Him. The neutral, inter-acting elements of nature and the laws of physics cause others. Some are accidents. Others are the direct result of human behaviour. When we cause ecological disruptions and bring natural disasters on ourselves we reap the rewards of our own folly. But the animals, in every case, are forced to suffer along with us through no fault of their own, something made clear over and over in the Old Testament.
Human beings and animals continue to suffer in horrible ways and while we may be able to protect ourselves from the predator/prey relationship, most animals cannot. They are forced to live with the constant threat of a terrible and unimaginably agonizing death.
Animals and God
God cares about oxen, the shepherd’s lost sheep, the working animals for whom he decreed a day of rest, the mountain goats giving birth, the denizens of the Nile, nestlings crying for their parent to return, the lions of the desert, majestic eagles, Balaam’s mistreated donkey and the cattle of Nineveh – all his creatures.
The Scriptures make it very clear that God communicates with his non-human creatures.
(Animals) are aware of God, they hear him when he speaks and are conscious of his presence. And we should not have the arrogance to claim otherwise, since we do not possess the ability or technology to understand the workings of their minds or comprehend their methods of communication.
...we have no reason to assume that animals do not appeal for divine help because they do not possess a verbal language and communicate with their Creator in a manner about which we know nothing.
From the point of view of other species, Psalm 36 provides us with one of the most theologically important passages in the Bible; a clear statement that God preserves and protects animals just as he does human beings.
The author of the 104th Psalm also tells us that while it is YHWH to whom the animals look for food, he terrifies them when he conceals himself. He causes their natural death on the one hand and his Spirit creates them and gives them life on the other.
Otherwise pious and caring human beings frequently claim the Lord is not concerned with animals. He is concerned only with us, they argue, indicating they have not read Isaiah very carefully. None of the animals will be forgotten by their Creator. The natural order is God’s. They are brought together by the Spirit of God. He arranges for their needs. He makes sure they are evenly distributed and provides them with the environment in which they live and which they are destined to possess.
The Bible clearly maintains that a form of communication exists between Creator and creature. When he commands them to do something they always carry out the command. They never attempt to back out of the obligation, never arguing, never refusing, never resisting. No matter how highly developed or how lowly, they are obedient. And if they receive a divine command to turn against human beings, they will obey and there is no escape. (In the story of Jonah) Yahweh used a non-human being for a specific purpose. The fish wasn’t forced to swallow Jonah, nor was he compelled to regurgitate the prophet onto the shore. He was given a divine command, and like all non-humans in the Bible, obeyed.
Animals and Human Beings
Animals are both our biological and social fellow beings. We have the same Creator God. Many of them are our companions. We share the same environment. Our genetic make-up is extremely similar to theirs. As the unlocking of the human genome has proved, Chimpanzees and human beings are almost genetically identical. And of the 30-35,000 genes that make up a man or a mouse, we differ from our tiny fellow mammals in only a few of those genes.
Animals and birds live with us in our towns and cities, sharing our farms and homes. They work for us, depress our loneliness and contribute to our mental health. They have helped us fight our wars. They have saved human lives and committed acts of great bravery and self-sacrifice in the process. God brought them into existence before us, of the same substance and with the same Spirit-infused breath of life. Our origins and destinies, in the view of Biblical authors like Qoheleth of Ecclesiastes, are the same. Yahweh is our God. He is also their God, and they must give an accounting of themselves to Him just as we must do.
No matter how highly developed, we are mammals. This is an exceedingly uncomfortable reality for those Christians who insist there is an enormous difference between our species and all others. Such a position allows them to classify our biological cousins so far below themselves that while they may be living, sentient beings, they are of no real consequence. Otherwise religious and pious Christians can continue to exploit other species while assuring themselves there are no religious or spiritual consequences. This position is not Biblical.
The sensation of being surrounded by predators and filled with paralyzing terror is an experience common to prey animals. It can also be a human nightmare.
Job includes one of the more important theological statements in Scripture when considering our relationship with other species. Animals cannot belong to us because, “Everything under heaven belongs to me,” (Job 41:11) And they are not only his in some vague, general sense: He knows them personally. . “I know every bird on the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine.” (Job 50:11)
There is no situation in Scripture where God fails to weight a person’s motives if they are interacting with animals instead of human beings.
When dealing with animals we should simply ask ourselves: Is this right and just?
...since it is obvious that animals are also our neighbours, we should follow Solomon’s advice, treat them as such, and: “Do not plot harm against your neighbour, who lives trustingly near you.” (Proverbs 3:29)
Human beings are woefully lacking in empathy, the ability to put ourselves in another individual’s shoes and learn from the experience. When we protest how horrible it was that people were “treated like animals”, you’d think we would re-evaluate the way we treat other species. If being hunted, abandoned, trapped or caught in nets are terrifying experiences for animals, and we suffer in similar circumstances, our response should be obvious. We must exercise compassion and stop placing animals in such situations.
The Old Testament tells us that God has a separate and unique covenant with the animals just as he does with our species. They are undeniably our neighbours, just as we are neighbours to one another. All this considered, and even if human beings have priority, the Royal Law (as the Lord’s brother James defined Leviticus 19:18) can legitimately be understood, “Love your neighbour as yourself – regardless of his or her species.”
Along with love of God and neighbour, Jesus taught that the heart of the law is justice, mercy and faithfulness. If we truly live by the essence of his teaching, we will be just with all our neighbours, merciful to all individuals and faithful to both them and our mutual Creator and God.
Animals and The Law
In many cases, animals whose rights, interests or concerns we ignore are not just similar to us, but have vastly superior, God-given abilities and skills. We simply cannot assign ourselves rights, and assure the protection of those rights under the law, without extending somewhat similar benefits to (animals).
…if the law provides for murder in the first and second degrees for killing human beings, it should provide for murder in the third degree for taking the lives of individuals closely genetically related to human beings. At a bare minimum, stiffer penalties for killing them must be given serious consideration by our legislators based on our extremely close biological ties.
Sadly, our judicial system is neither just nor impartial when it comes to the penalties for cruelty to animals. If a man takes a length of two-by-four and assaults another man with the intention of doing him bodily harm, he may find himself in jail for years. Further, the victim can charge the offender in a civil action, claim damages and extract a financial settlement for his pain and injuries. If the same man takes the same two-by-four and with exactly the same intention assaults an animal, the penalty is a minor fine. In rare cases a jail term is imposed, often measurable in days. The victim can claim nothing, even through a human being acting on his or her behalf. Sometimes an owner can claim damages, usually for veterinary bills or, if the animal is killed or has to be euthanized, for the replacement cost of that animal. But he can make no claim for the victim’s suffering or loss of life. The intent in both cases is the same. The weapon is the same. The crime is the same. But our courts literally pass judgement on the species of the victim rather than the motives and actions of the criminal…
While not suggesting that penalties for the mistreatment of animals and human beings should be equal, I trust that the movement to establish the interests and concerns of animals, if not their rights, will finally succeed in convincing our legislators that they must finally be defined and included in our laws.
God created the higher primates, the great apes, before he created Man. And if you examine the irrefutable scientific facts, you are obliged to admit that he made us almost genetically identical. The difference is less than two percent. Therefore, if we deserve consideration and protection under the law, they are deserving of similar consideration and protection. Yet the consideration and protection afforded them under our laws is so minimal it would be laughable if it weren’t so tragically disproportionate.
It is not the species of the individual who suffers or benefits from our actions (that matters), but the nature of the deed itself and the motives behind it.
Reading the New Testament you cannot help but notice that the Saviour paid a great deal of attention to birds. He used them frequently in his parables and sermons (and) told his listeners that God not only cares for them but actually feeds them. This claim that God feeds the birds and animals is not unique to the New Testament. It is mentioned in Job and other books of the Hebrew Bible. It is also raised in an Epistle to the Corinthians by one of the early Church Fathers. Clement not only claimed that animals were supplied with food by their Creator, but unlike us, do not complain about what they receive.
There is no doubt that Y’shuah (Jesus) considered human beings of greater value than birds and asked his disciples, “Are you not more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26) However, he did not say that birds were without value, or exist only for human beings to either enjoy or exploit. They are his Father’s creatures, of value to God, and hence, of value to him. If God recognizes their value – to the point of concerning himself with feeding them – we surely should follow His example.
Jesus encouraged charity to the poor and disadvantaged, telling his followers, “…when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.” (Luke 14:13) He didn’t say, “But if a starving or crippled dog shows up at the kitchen door, don’t feed him.” or “If you find an injured bird, don’t care for it.” Since his Father cares for his creatures and feeds them, we can be sure Jesus did the same. We should follow God’s example with the assurance that we will be blessed for helping animals as surely as when we help our fellow human beings.
Jesus undoubtedly sympathized with the unfortunate animals who were about to die (at the Passover). He was resolutely striding down a road that would end with him joining those helpless victims – the Lamb that would become a principal symbol of the Christian faith. When he broke the bread it was a foreshadowing of the breaking of his own body, just as the bodies of the lambs were “broken”. When he passed around the common cup of wine, it foreshadowed the shedding of his own blood just as the blood of the lambs at the Temple was poured out.
In the world Yahweh created there was no predation, no necessity to hunt and no need to use violence to obtain food. Living beings did not fear each other since, according to the Divine Imperative, there was no reason to kill and eat their fellow creatures. Their God decreed that all living things were to be vegetarian.
God said he would remove his blessing from anyone who ate blood and banish such people from the community. In Exodus, blood was utterly excluded. No human being was to consume it. To this prohibition, Leviticus adds fat...a prohibition intended to last for all generations and apply to the faithful everywhere, even though most of us pay no attention to it today.
It is obvious to us today, and has always been obvious to God, that it is impossible to remove all the blood or fat from the carcasses of animals. Consuming meat entails eating blood and fat. However, based on the limited biological knowledge of the times, people believed what they saw. If they drained the blood from an animal until it died and then cut away the visible fat from the carcass, they weren’t consuming blood or fat if they ate the flesh. They were grossly mistaken. The only way to follow this commandment would be to return to the original diet ordained by God and exclude all meat from the diet.
…nowhere in the scriptures does (Jesus) command his followers to eat meat. He doesn’t comment on the subject in the New Testament or in the extra-Biblical records of his sayings that have survived. No gospel tells us he ate meat with the exception of a piece of broiled fish after his resurrection to prove he was as real as his disciples.
If you doubt the rightness of eating meat, or the killing of your fellow creatures for food, or any other purpose for that matter, consider: “…the man who doubts is condemned if he eats because his eating is not from faith, and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23) If you have faith that it is right to eat meat; you cannot be condemned for eating it. But if you doubt that it is right, and still eat it, you are sinning. You would be doing something not done in faith, which you do not believe to be right or have come to question.
Dominion or Responsibility
Those familiar with Biblical translations that use the term “dominion” may find stewardship an uncomfortable alternative. However, a sense of over-riding responsibility is the true meaning of the original Hebrew. Our role is to look after Creation...not dominate it.
A great deal of grief has come to our companion species due to the interpretation of the phrase “ruling over”. It doesn’t mean “dominate” and cannot be translated, “Do as you please with them.” It is a vice-regal authority given by the Ultimate Ruler, and makes us accountable to him for the well being of his creatures. And as we will discover, it carries the requirement that we treat them with justice, mercy, kindness, love and compassion.
Following the Divine Example
The overwhelming weight of the New Testament evidence (as with the Old) dictates that we should follow the example of the God who cares about the welfare and destiny of the tiniest sparrow. We must include our Creator’s non-human creatures among our neighbours, and treat them with the same love, justice, mercy and compassion He demands of us and with which we would wish to be treated were our positions reversed.
Gentleness and Humility
No person who is truly gentle and humble turns away from the burdened and weary animal any more than he turns away from his burdened and weary fellow human being.
Godís Holy Spirit
...God is so close to animals that his imminent Spirit is a part of their consciousness (and) they are aware of his existence. They obediently carry out his instructions and if they cry out to him, arguably a form of prayer, he may answer. He knows when they give birth. He is there when it happens. He didn’t just create them; he is intimately involved in their lives...
God loves every creature, not just human creatures, and his Spirit is present in all living beings.
The fact that the Spirit chose a bird as the form in which to appear, given millions of species from which to select, forever honors the avian world. And it may have been deliberate symbolism, connecting the incarnation of the Holy Spirit to the dove released from the ark by Noah. Taking this moment as inspiration, Christian art has depicted the Holy Spirit almost exclusively as a radiant, descending white dove. The modern world adapted this symbolism to create the Dove of Peace with an olive branch in her beak.
We do not know the process or mechanism by which Yahweh communicates with his non-human creation, but if he is indeed omnipresent, as we claim, he is as close to each of them as he is to us. I can only conclude that on an elemental level of which we have absolutely no concept, animals are profoundly conscious of the indwelling Spirit.
How our world would be stood on its ear if we had to respect the God in other creatures as we are expected to respect the God in ourselves! If we had to see every creature as the temple of God’s spirit, it would utterly change the way we treat them, permanently alter the way we interact with other species and perhaps, change the way we relate to each other.
God communicates with the non-human creation through his imminent Holy Spirit. As divinely created living beings, they have a much higher purpose than just to be caught and destroyed as (the author of 2 Peter) believed. However, he went on to include in his essay the famous Old Testament story of Balaam, claiming…that God, who gave the donkey the power to speak and knew it had the intelligence to utilize that power, used an animal to affect his purposes. It also informs us that communication between creature and Creator, and their obedience to the divine will, was not just an Old Testament belief but was carried, centuries later, into Christianity.
Are we expected to believe there actually were, or are, angelic horses? We have been told several times (in the Bible) that there are. If we hold the Scriptures to be literally true, we are obliged to believe that along with angels, elders and living creatures such as the Cherubim, there are horses in heaven.
Again we discover there are equine spirits in heaven. In Revelation 19:11&14, John envisioned Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, mounted (as was his entire army) on horses, bringing to mind the heavenly horses that appear elsewhere in Scripture.
How Christians Should Treat Animals
(We are) faced with an unimaginably diverse panorama of life forms, beautiful and terrible, gentle and violent, simple and intelligent, and capable of feelings and emotions like our own. (They have) brains, eyes and hearts like ours. They are sentient, as we are, with sophisticated nervous systems capable of sensing pain and pleasure. Biologically and genetically they are our relatives, and, if we take Francis of Assisi as a spiritual exemplar – as John Paul II advocated – they are also our brothers and sisters. How then does God want us to relate to these living examples of his invisible qualities, power and divine nature? We don’t have to look very far. It is everywhere in the scriptures: with love, compassion, mercy, justice, kindness and gentleness, qualities that inevitably result in empathy, that rare and most sophisticated of emotions.
Human Moral Evil
God hates wickedness, violence in any form and those who seek blood regardless of the species of their victims...
Many Christians imagine that the way we treat animals is of little consequence to God. Cruelty is merely a regrettable reality, especially when it comes to hunting and fishing, once a necessity for human survival that we have converted to recreational sport. Recreation is a composite word, re-creation. I have always found it hard to understand how any activity whose primary activity is killing other living things can be re-creative. Even people who hold kindness and compassion to be primary virtues accept cruelty in such sports as an unavoidable necessity. They accept cruelty in the testing of consumer products, the manufacture of fur coats and slaughterhouse practices (while) cruelty is ignored by entire populations in cases of national or group “cultural” activities such as cock fighting, dog fighting and bull fighting.
Whatever we buy and use should first be put to the divine test. Does this express love, compassion, kindness, gentleness, mercy and the requirements of elemental justice or exploitation, cruelty and brutality? To borrow a modern slogan, “Cruelty-free” is the only possible Christian choice.
Confronting cruelty to animals means bucking the system, being inconvenienced, having to give up something we previously enjoyed, being embarrassed or thought slightly odd. We don’t want to think about cruelty, we dislike talking about it and certainly don’t want to look at it...Raising issues like these frustrates people and often gets you that squirming response, “But they’re only animals…” You never hear such people saying, “But they’re only God’s creatures…”
Cruelty is morally evil, and evil in any form should not be acceptable to Christians. It is certainly not acceptable to God, from whom it cannot be concealed, and Jesus was very clear that, “…whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open.” (Mark 4:22) He also taught that we will be judged by our actions in a precise and absolutely just fashion....If we measure out cruelty and abuse, we will endure cruelty and abuse. If we act without compassion, we will be treated without compassion and may ultimately find ourselves suffering as our victims have suffered.
Cruelty, ruthlessness and mercilessness are, in and of themselves, evil. The species of the victim is irrelevant. God does not tolerate any form of evil. Without repentance and forgiveness in Christ, those who practise cruelty (whether towards other human beings or animals) can expect no mercy from their Creator for “…the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (3:12)
All mercilessness, injustice and ruthless exploitation will be exposed. These are morally evil aspects of the human character. The species of the victims is irrelevant. Divine awareness of every action, thought and motive is inescapable.
The cruel may be able to conceal their cruelty from human beings but they cannot hide either their acts or their thought processes from their Creator.
Frequently, the motive for the exploitation of animals is profit. At other times it is nothing but vanity, sadistic pleasure, public entertainment, sport, or the weakest of all arguments, tradition. ‘My grandfather did it. My father did it. So I do it.’
Do those who eat animals not participate in the horrors of the slaughterhouse? Do those who eat game birds not participate in shooting them out of the sky? Do those who wear fur not participate in the cruelty of the traps? Do those who refuse to neuter their companion animals not bear responsibility for the annual euthanasia of millions of unwanted pets?
How the relationship between human beings and animals would change utterly and forever if we turned to our fellow creatures with over-riding love instead of a gun, a knife, a club, a trap, a recipe, a cage, a needle, a scalpel, a poison, a chain, a whip or a boot.
It is hard to imagine the God who brought all living things into existence failing to care about what happens to them. “But they’re only animals!” will not make them of less consequence or concern to their Creator. Those who react this way to anyone who tries to advance the welfare of animals tend to believe that the way human beings treat other species is a non-issue. As long as our cruelty and abuse is discreetly hidden, as it is behind the walls of secrecy surrounding experimental laboratories, or justified by current laws that consider animals only as property or “game” (a total denial that they have rights, interests and concerns of their own) we believe there will be no spiritual consequences. However, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must all give account.” (Hebrews 4:13) And God, who is concerned about the fate of even the most insignificant sparrow, demands that we be universally loving, kind, just, merciful and compassionate.
…the followers of Christ don’t have to look very far for the fruits of wickedness and evil – the ways our Creator would not have us treat his creatures: Abuse, Anger, Bloodthirstiness, Brutality, Cruelty, Exploitation, Greed, Hate, Heartlessness, Ignorance, Injustice, Pride, Ruthlessness, Vanity and Violence.
Israelís Animal Symbolism
Even though scriptural evidence indicates it should have been the Sheep, the animal the Israelites believed to be most symbolic of their character was the Lion...the most feared of all the animals of the ancient world, associated with pagan gods, terrifying enemies, awesome kings, Israel, Judah, the ultimate Enemy and even YHWH himself.
Israel is frequently portrayed as a Dove in the nation’s religious literature. This imagery is also used in one remarkable passage in Ezra’s prayers. He names both the bird and the mammal that God chose from all other species to represent his people. They weren’t the eagle or the lion, but the dove and the sheep.
Jesusí Communication with Animals
Some people think the wild animals (with whom he spent 40 days) were a threat to Jesus, and the desert a hostile place. However, this image of the Messiah alone with animals like lions, jackals, wild goats and eagles may indicate that he spent some of this solitary time in communion with the non-human beings who inhabited the desert. This is not an unusual image for those familiar with the tales about his early years from gospels outside the New Testament, in which animals were aware of Jesus’ divinity even as a child.
In Christian theology, this central sacrifice differs from that of ancient Judaism in that it is not a sacrifice to God but a sacrifice by God. It is not the ritual deaths of innocent, sinless animals, but the final, redemptive death of an innocent and sinless incarnation of Him.
Each time this memorial (the Eucharist, Lord’s Supper or Communion) is enacted in churches all over the world, the participants should take a moment to remember that his sacrifice had two effects. It redeemed all humanity from sin by reconciling God with mankind. It also made all further animal sacrifice obsolete. He saved us. He also saved them.
Jesus ended the shedding of animal blood by the shedding of his own, the other, rarely considered effect of his ordeal on the cross. While theologians agree that he died to save us from our sins, they seldom mention the secondary and fortunate fact that his death effectively brought animal sacrifice to an end by making it obsolete. In effect, he became both our high priest and theirs.
Many people believe, given our ruthless record of exploiting animals, that little can be done to change human attitudes to other species. Perhaps there is only one way this can ultimately be achieved, by appeal to divine justice and mercy.
Do nothing unjust – no matter which individuals or of what species your actions will affect.
Next to love and mercy, the Bible recognizes justice as one of the most important of divine attributes (although) when the psalms claim the Lord provides justice for all the oppressed, the word “all” is so easy to overlook. Many otherwise pious believers persist in arguing that God meant only our species, but in Psalm 145 where Yahweh is gracious, compassionate, patient and loving, his virtues are all-inclusive. “The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all that he has made.
The essence of the Humane Movement is kindness to animals. Jesus taught that God’s kindness has no bounds. It even includes the ungrateful and the wicked. He also commands us to be merciful, not just in limited, human terms, but in every situation, as God himself. He also taught his followers that they should not judge others if they wished to avoid being judged. It was not only, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful,” (Luke 6:36) but do not condemn to avoid being condemned, give if you expect to receive and so on. All these teachings are universal; apply everywhere, at all times, and under all circumstances. Therefore, they apply not only to our fellow human beings, but to all other sentient beings as well.
Kindness is universal. Those who are kind, regardless of their circumstances, or the origin, gender or species of the recipient, will continue in God’s kindness. Those who are not kind will be ‘cut off’
…how does a person whose life is love treat his or her fellow human beings? With love. And how does such a person treat God’s other creatures? It hardly needs repeating. With love.
According to (the Apostle) Paul, everything not done in faith is sin, and this can be applied universally to all human behaviour that involves interacting with Creation, the environment and other species. If we sincerely believe something is right, and act on that belief, we are not consciously sinning. If we believe that same thing is wrong, or suspect it might be wrong, and still do it, we are sinning consciously.
God’s love is not restricted to us; it is universal in scope and encompasses all living creatures.
It is both an Old and New Testament concept that merciful people are shown mercy by God while merciless people will be denied mercy. In my experience, truly merciful people apply mercy universally, and automatically extend it to all living creatures. Merciless people do not.
In one of the most crucial New Testament moments for animals, Jesus quoted the prophet Hosea, reinforcing the commandment to be merciful and telling his followers that regardless of the smoking altars of the Temple: “…go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’” (Matthew 9:13) We find him repeating the divine disdain for sacrifice in Matthew 12:7, once again establishing the pre-eminence of mercy. “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ you would not have condemned the innocent.
Merciful people are invariably merciful to animals. Merciless people are just as invariably cruel to animals. Based on over two decades of research by Humane Societies, there is an undeniable connection between cruelty to animals and cruelty to people. One graduates into the other. Parents should give serious consideration to the hard evidence. Those children who are cruel to animals become adults who are cruel to human beings.
Might not Right
We (treat animals) as we please because we have the might, not the right. We take advantage of the weak of other species because it serves our “superior” interests. As a friend and scientist told me, “We exploit animals for human knowledge not because we have the right, but because we have the need. In doing so, we avoid the issue of their interests and rights at all cost. We have no moral or ethical excuse for much of what we do to them outside our own selfish interests, especially where money is involved. Experimental projects involving live animals are much more likely to be financed than those using existing tissue samples and computer models.
Misuse of the Bible to Justify Exploitation of Animals
Whatever people are doing to other species – killing them for sport, exploiting them for entertainment, torturing them in religious festivals, slaughtering them en masse for food, experimenting on them in laboratories – ask for moral justification and you are frequently told that the Bible gives us the right. However, this position...ignores the later commandments restricting the types of animals the Hebrews were allowed to eat and the love, compassion, justice, mercy and kindness the balance of the Bible tells us we are commanded to extend to them.
Ephesians reinforces Paul’s teachings about the importance of peace. When the great Day of the Lord comes, God will reinstate the conditions that existed at Creation, causing a new heaven and a new earth to come into being free of violence. Predation will end. Nature will no longer be red in tooth and claw. The Lord himself will be our peace.
If we consider the other creatures who are our partners in this existence as Christ, we may find ourselves obliged to rethink our attitude towards all other living beings and begin to treat them as Jesus himself. Then, the Lord’s amazing statement, “Whatever you do to the least of these you do to me,” takes on an entirely new, much grander and more inclusive meaning.
Along with mercy, compassion, justice and other divine virtues, Jesus stressed the primacy of peace, ordering his disciples to be at peace with one another. It is therefore not difficult to determine from his emphasis on universal harmony how he would have responded to the question, “And how would you have us behave towards your other creatures?” The answer would most assuredly have been, “Be at peace with one another.
Acting on (Jesus’) words, and in his name and memory, we must strive to bring universal peace to the world. This does not mean peace between members of our own species to the exclusion of all others. We will only realize Christ’s peace if all living creatures are embraced by that peace.
Sexism, Racism and Speciesism
While we have made some strides in overcoming sexism (“Males are superior and the only sex that matters”) we have been less successful with racism (“Our race is superior and the only race that matters”) and have yet to overcome speciesism (“Our species is the only species that matters”). On the evidence of the Bible, God holds none of these views. He values men and women equally. He values all human beings equally. In his eyes, there is only one human race – the one he created. And he values even small, drab, common species, regardless of the fact they are worth little to human beings. Jesus told his followers that the individual destinies of these creatures are dependent upon God’s will. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.” (Matthew 10:29)
The Animal Soul
Modern Jews and Christians routinely deny that other creatures have souls. This is not scriptural but something vague called common belief. “It is having a soul that separates us from the animals,” is the usual argument, but the Bible does not support that position. In the earliest stages of the Judaeo-Christian religious tradition, animals were perceived as living individuals created by God who possessed a soul or spirit given them by their Creator or they simply couldn’t be alive!
Death is the Lord’s decree for all flesh. Whatever comes from the earth returns to the earth. One element of each creature returns to the earth and another returns to God – the element that came from God. This is clear reinforcement that all living creatures have a nephesh, an immaterial spiritual element possessed by all living beings that is “breathed” into them by a Creator of whom they are all aware.
For animals, the most important segments of 1 Corinthians are the following two passages that substantiate the fact that all living creatures have a soul or spirit. First Paul stated the biological reality. We all have physical bodies. “…to each kind of seed (God) gives its own body. All flesh is not the same. Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another, and fish another.” (1 Corinthians 15:39) Then, (in verse 44) he wrote this incredible statement, emphasis added: “If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” (The) conclusion is inescapable. If a living being, a creature of flesh, has a body, it also has a spirit.
Taking the Bible as our authority, there is no doubt that animals possess a spiritual faculty through which they communicate with their Creator and He with them, even if that faculty is less sophisticated than, or takes a different form from our own.
Modern environmentalists have been telling us all along what (the prophet Micah) knew over two millennia ago. “The earth will become desolate because of its inhabitants, as a result of their deeds.” (Micah 7:13)
God also claimed through (the prophet Habakkuk) that the destruction of animals was one of the things that would overwhelm the guilty and force them to drink from what Habakkuk called the cup of shame. He first told the Israelites their disgrace would cover their glory, and then quoted the Lord: “The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you and your destruction of animals will terrify you.” (Habakkuk 2:16-17)
When Israel fell into paganism, sacrificed to false gods and committed an array of sins like faithlessness, lovelessness, cursing, lying, murder, stealing and adultery, their disobedience affected all other living beings. “Because of this the land mourns and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying.” (Hosea 4:3)
(Those) who pollute and destroy the environment would do well to heed Revelation 11:18: “The time has come for…destroying those who destroy the earth.
It isn’t the animals that pollute the earth.
The Extinction of Species
In the first century, the idea that a species would – or could – become extinct had probably not entered a single human mind. It would have been unthinkable. Surely something God created couldn’t entirely cease to exist! Biodiversity wasn’t something desirable; it was the way things were. No one considered the possibility that humans would one day be responsible for annihilating an ever-expanding array of life forms.
Nowhere does the Bible allow, suggest, or even contemplate the destruction of entire species. Such a blasphemy (equivalent to slapping their Creator in the face) was incomprehensible to the Biblical writers.
We have utterly frustrated God’s design – a blatant and undisguised blasphemy. By the turn of the 21st century, our species had annihilated 20% of all life forms on earth. And in many countries, we continue to so totally devastate the environment that those who remain are on the inevitable path to extinction. This includes species that are wiped out before they are even discovered!
The Golden Rule
Along with the Royal Law that we love our neighbours as ourselves, Jesus also taught what we call the “Golden Rule”. Intended to be applied universally, it includes not only all circumstances, but all forms of life. Y’shuah did not exclude animals from the benefits of the ultimate moral law. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31) A crystallization of the Hebrew Law and Prophets, this commandment was not unique to Jesus. It also appears prominently in the teachings of every great religion and philosophy that has withstood the test of time. However, it was utterly revolutionary when Jesus also told his followers to love their enemies and do good to them, indicating the over-riding, transcendent emotion that was at the very core of his message. And if he taught that we should love our enemies, his attitude to other species that are not our enemies and animals that are our friends can be easily deduced.
The Great Commission
When Jesus sent his disciples out to preach the gospel, he gave them authority over all living things. He even told them that if they picked up snakes with their hands, his power over his creatures would continue to be expressed through them and the serpents would not harm them. He also gave his disciples what is called The Great Commission. Mark 16:15 tells us he didn’t command them to preach to “all people” or “all nations” or even “all human beings”. What he said was: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.
(When) we find Jesus telling his disciples to go into the world and preach the gospel to all Creation…it is impossible not to notice that…the preaching is to be done not to every human being, people or nation, but every creature – that is every living, created being.
The Great Metaphor
The image of YHWH as a shepherd caring for his people as a human shepherd cares for his sheep is the most significant and important metaphor in both Old and New Testaments... “The LORD is my shepherd…” is a universally understood image extending well beyond the Judaeo-Christian tradition.
The predominant Biblical metaphor returns once again when Isaiah tells us, echoing the divine conversation with Job, that God’s compassion is evident in the way he tends his flock. “He gathers the lambs in his arms and carried them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young,” (Isaiah 40:11). The inference is obvious. If this is the way the Sovereign Lord behaves, we should do likewise.
The animal with which Jesus shared the most intimate and compassionate affinity was sheep. This will be no surprise to those familiar with the Old Testament and its endless references to Israel as God’s sheepfold, the Israelites as the sheep and YHWH himself as the Shepherd. When Jesus gave up his life he made the sacrifice of non-human animals obsolete by becoming the ultimate sacrificial lamb.
Jesus used (the sheep/Shepherd) metaphor so many times it must have been one thing about him that none of his followers could forget. It tied the Old Testament idea of Israel as the sheep and Yahweh as the shepherd to Jesus. And it survived the telling of his story over the decades that followed his earthly ministry until Mark wrote (the) first version of his words and deeds.
Compassion motivated Jesus, and he understood the fate of harassed and helpless animals only too well. He not only associated himself and the people of Judea with these creatures, but applied the same imagery to his disciples, telling them: “I am sending you out as sheep among wolves.” (Matthew 10:16)
(In) Y’shuah’s view to help an animal was not only a righteous act, but we should automatically assist them when they are in distress. The obligation is entrenched in the Hebrew Scriptures and was so self-evident that to Jesus it took precedence over religious obligations such as keeping the Sabbath.
This image (in Revelation) of the heavenly Messiah presents us, once again, with the most common metaphor for Jesus in the New Testament. The Lamb at the center of the throne is mysteriously – simultaneously – inexplicably – Lamb, Man and God.
Whether you believe the Messiah is yet to come (the Jewish view) or has come and will return (the Christian), he (is) the Lord of all living beings, not just human beings.
…human and non-human species alike, indeed everything in Creation, is subject to the promised Messiah.
The Messianic Age
Christianity is the religion of hope, and there is great hope in this apocalypse, both for our fellow, earth-born creatures and ourselves. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
God will ultimately dissolve the world as we know it and re-establish the universal peace of the original Creation, in which there was neither violence nor predation...In this new Eden, animals will finally be released from the hunter/hunted, predator/prey, killer/victim lifestyle in which they are so agonizingly locked. The wolf, the lamb, the lion and the ox will eat together (and) even snakes may finally be set free of the curse pronounced in Eden, since Isaiah 25:7-8 tells us, ‘The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces…’
In the transformed Messianic world, all species will live in universal peace.
The Nature of Animals
Obeying their Creator, all non-human beings live their lives in perfect synchronization with God’s will. Only human beings choose to disobey him. Absolute obedience to the divine Nature is inherent in all animals. It would never occur to them to deny their nature, as we do, and behave in a way their Creator might deem disobedience. And yet, through no fault of their own, they are also fallen creatures, evidenced by the predator/prey relationship that is so utterly opposed to the original intentions of their Creator.
Each created being plays his or her interconnected role in the fabric of Nature, maintaining the essential survival space suitable to their kind.
The Old Testament abounds with stories in which God’s creatures carried out specific functions he commanded them to perform.
Only one incident in the Bible describes an animal defying the will of his Creator, the serpent in the story of Adam and Eve. Even that, tradition maintains, was not the fault of the creature himself for he was acting under an evil influence.
...giants among Biblical thinkers (like Solomon) believed that even small and simple creatures could reason.
Along with Solomon and other prominent Biblical figures, (Isaiah) recognized animal intelligence (an intelligence not due simply to instinct, but reason and memory) which many people persist in denying to other species. From the divine perspective, it was superior to that of God’s own people!
(Animals) are not only intelligent and offer him praise, but are capable of grasping concepts as abstract as honour (and) must be aware there is a God to honour. And they don’t just honour him; they obey Him without complaint or exception.
Animal lives have extremely high value in God’s eyes, second only to our own.
Even though the Scriptures tell us that animals were held responsible for their own behaviour...the overwhelming evidence of the Bible leads to the conclusion that animals cannot sin and do not make the same kind of moral judgements we do. No justification for this is either offered or necessary. God is their Creator. He chose to design them that way...
All His creatures are enjoined to worship him, praise him, exalt him and bless him in lines that were immortalized in a famous hymn. “Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.
To the God who created them, blessed them, communicates with them, created a human steward to care for them, has a covenant with them, and to whom they are individually accountable, animals are nothing less than holy. So holy in fact that the only offering capable of atoning for human sin was the life of one of his creatures by an act of sacrifice that returned to Him the sacred element of that creature, its spirit or soul. I do not believe it was the death of the sacrificial victim that was being offered to God. Nor do I believe it was the animal’s life. That ended the moment he or she died. I am compelled to the conclusion that it was not a material offering at all, but a spiritual one.
Even those who disparage other species know that animals have brains. They are quick to qualify this, however, by claiming that these brains are inferior to ours. They employ expressions like “brute beasts” or “dumb animals”, inferring that other species have no intelligence. Yet many animals have larger brains than we do. Further, some animal brains are more complex than our own, especially those of the cetaceans, the whales and dolphins. Their brains have additional lobes and a complex sonar function utterly beyond human capabilities and comprehension.
Animals are ‘true’ since they are incapable of being false to their own, God-given natures. Many of them are noble: few people would deny a lion ‘nobility’. They are right, since they cannot be wrong and pure because they cannot be corrupted, except by human beings. Many of them are lovely to behold – one only has to think about the wings of a butterfly, the plumage of a Bird of Paradise or the Blue Jays and Cardinals outside a winter window. In their fidelity to their species and devotion to their offspring, for whom they are often prepared to die, many of them are truly admirable. Like many aspects of the created Order, they represent absolute excellence because they are the handiwork of God, and exhibit skills and abilities we can only find praiseworthy and will never naturally possess.
It is reasonable to assume that some species of lower animals do not have the capacity to reason due to the simplicity of their brains and central nervous systems. These creatures may indeed live primarily by the instincts given them by their Creator… However, higher animals do reason and use the capacity to solve complicated problems, often outsmarting human beings.
…all creatures are from God, exist through God and are dedicated to God.
Imagine how the plight of other species would be changed if human beings possessed the love of paired swans, the peace of the great whales, the patience of the spiders, the joy of young otters, the exuberance of dolphins, the courage of mother bears, the faithfulness of old dogs, the gentleness of fawns and the self-control of performing elephants!
Trapping, Snaring & Hunting
Trapping and snaring are despised in the Bible and depicted as a wicked or evil practise. The Bible considers traps instruments of deception, torture and death; the snares used by fowlers being particularly condemned.
In my considerable life experience, peaceful, compassionate and merciful people do not derive pleasure, recreation, occupation or profit from activities that cause fear, suffering and death. I have long agonized over this issue and can find moral justification for hunting and trapping under only one circumstance – dire necessity – where moral choice is neutralized by the demands of survival. The person who hunts for food because he or she has no other means to obtain it is morally justified in the same manner as when, in self-defense, we have no choice but to kill to preserve our own life, or the life of an innocent person under attack.
Since animals are compelled to work for human gain, a lifetime of involuntary servitude, they have a right to expect, and deserve in return, something that is important to them and commensurate with the value of their work.