This week’s question:
What is hands down the most compelling and powerful verse in the Bible that promises God's love towards all his creatures? How do you suggest I apply that in my conversations to those who A. might not believe in God but love animals and/or B. might not love animals but believe in God?
The good news is that the Bible is bursting with verses that indicate God’s love and care for the whole of Creation, and many verses compel us to care for God’s creation, including animals. The Bible tells us that God calls creation good, that the whole of the earth is God’s, and that God is actively working to reconcile this broken world back to its Creator. A friend of CreatureKind once said, “Animals worship God, and I don’t eat my fellow worshippers.”
Here is just a tiny sample of verses that talk about relationships amongst God, humans, and animals, beginning in Genesis 1, especially verses 20-31:
“And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”
- God knows and is in charge of all the animals: “For every wild animal of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the air, and all that moves in the field is mine.” Psalm 50:10
- Animals are called to praise God in Psalm 104: “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. … These all look to you. … When you hide your face, they are dismayed ….”
- And in Psalm 148:7-13: “Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! … Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds! … Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.”
- And in Psalm 150:6 “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!”
- Ecclesiastes 3:19 tells us that humans and animals are all creatures. The passage might counter those who claim that humans can dominate or oppress animals: “For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity.”
- God has compassion for animals (Isaiah 1:11), and the murder of an ox and a human are equally despicable (Isaiah 66:3).
- God will call all creatures to safety, from flies and bees to sheep and cows (Isaiah 7:18-25).
- Isaiah 11:3-9 and 65:25 give us a vision for a reconciled future: a peaceful kingdom in which the wolf lies down with the lamb, and a child leads them. Hurt and destruction are no longer a part of the daily reality of this new life to come.
- God’s covenant is with all of creation, according to Hosea 2:18: “I will make for you a covenant on that day with the wild animals, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground; and I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land; and I will make you lie down in safety.”
Here’s the problem with plucking verses out of the Bible, though. None of the verses (above or below) stand alone. Scripture is the living word of God, what we learn about this word changes, our interpretation changes. Just as you wouldn’t build your theology of animals on any single verse above, you wouldn’t want someone using any of the following verses to do the same:
- “And the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will hand over all of them, slain, to Israel; you shall hamstring their horses, and burn their chariots with fire.’ (Joshua 11:6)
- Any verse detailing the temple sacrifice system.
- “Some people believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.” (Romans 14:2)
- “Get up, Peter, kill and eat.” (Acts 10:13)
When we’re talking with people, whether they are Christian or not, about the place of animals in Christian faith, we have found that rather than trading verses, focusing on the bigger picture is a better way to go. There are two main reasons for this:
First, ALL scripture was written in a particular time and place, for people in a particular time and place. Before extrapolating meaning from particular verses, it’s critical to understand the context of the verse. Doing so, as you probably know, will let you know that Peter’s vision wasn’t an instruction to eat all the animals, it was an instruction to go to the home of a Gentile, to fellowship with “the other.” Proper exegesis (scriptural interpretation) always starts with an analysis of the context of any particular verse.
Second, we know that people are often persuaded by emotional connections than competing lists of verses.
The heart of this person’s question is beautiful: a desire to bridge the divide between people’s values (love of God and love of animals) and their actions. We make these connections by telling the stories of God's love, provision, and justice-minded compassion for the whole world; Jesus’ life of radical inclusion, love for the most marginalized, and call to a new kind of righteousness; the Holy Spirit’s work of reconciliation in the world as expressed by the early church...We can make those connections by telling the scriptural stories of God’s love, like the protection of Rahab; the description of God’s love as a mother hen; Jesus’ tender care of the sick; or the death of Jesus. These are the stories that connect our values of love, compassion, justice, mercy, and hope to our actions. These are the stories that will help us not only to respond to today’s treatment of animals in accordance with God’s love, but will also inspire us to continually reach out to people who are different than us, to fellowship and serve with a community of believers, to work for a world “on earth, as it is in heaven.”
Romans 8:37-39 “...in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Finally, a word about demonstrating to a nonChristian that Christianity is a faith compatible with animal protection: these conversations are incredible opportunities to demonstrate the counter-cultural reality of a life in Christ. Your life and actions will probably speak louder than your words here, and pointing out the many, many examples of God’s provision for animals can certainly be eye-opening for many people (even those who have read the Bible cover to cover!). We can take heart knowing that each of us are not alone. There are hundreds of examples now available of not only of Christians doing good work for animals in the past (i.e. St. Francis, William Wilberforce), but individuals and organizations making a significant impact today (i.e. CreatureKind (not that we’re biased), the HSUS Faith Outreach Campaign, Rooterville, The Christian Vegetarian Association, and many many many more).
When it comes right down to it, caring for animals in contemporary situations, like those who are used and abused in factory farms, is a powerful way to reflect God’s love. As Christians, as disciples of the Savior who spent his earthly ministry demonstrating God’s love, we must continually discern what God’s love looks like in each new situation we encounter. This incarnational ministry is a fleshy one that doesn’t depend on a list of verses in favor or against a certain way of thinking, but that allows us to reflect God’s love in changing contexts, meeting people where they are for dialogue, relationship, and healing.
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