Introducing the CreatureKind Corner, a series where we’ll answer questions submitted by readers about Christian theology and animal protection. If you’ve ever wondered what God thinks of animals, whether it’s okay to help animals when there are so many human problems in the world, or what to say to someone who says “But, Jesus ate meat!”, this is the spot for you. We hope it’s useful. And feel free to submit your own question!
Question: Is there a specific passage in the Bible where Jesus instructs us to be good stewards of God’s creatures?
Wouldn’t it be cool if one of the Beatitudes were “Blessed are the vegetarian, for they will receive much tofu?”
While the Gospels don’t record much from Jesus about animals, it’s important to remember that Jesus wasn’t a blank slate. He was raised learning the Hebrew scriptures and laws, he was steeped in them. So, in addition to the few passages we’ll discuss below, know that Jesus was profoundly influenced by the very clear and direct instructions in the Old Testament to care for animals (i.e. the provisions for rest and care in Deuteronomy, Proverbs 12:10, etc.).
We should also keep in mind the overarching message of scripture and the crucial part that Jesus plays in the story of humanity on earth. We learn from the Bible that God the creator gave humans a world of abundant plant and animal life to watch over and protect, a vegetarian world in which humans, animals, and God were intimately connected. Sin broke those connections, animals came to fear humans (and rightfully so, since they were now being eaten!). But the scripture also tells us that God will reconcile the whole groaning creation back to the Creator and that, one day, lions and lambs and people will live in harmony again. The incarnation of God in Jesus marks a pivotal step towards this eventual reconciliation. It is also significant that Jesus’ death marked the end of sacrifices (and we’ll go deeper into that hard question in the coming weeks).
But what did Jesus say, directly, about animals? Three particular passages come immediately to mind:
Matthew 6:26—”Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (also Luke 12:24)
First, note that Jesus is saying “look at the birds.” Many of us now live lives of hurry. We may be far removed from nature. We get only glimpses of the vast and abundant creation through a window, or while we urge the dog to hurry up so we can go back inside to the dishes, laundry, and bills that await us at the end of the day. The Creator has provided for the birds, and will also provide for us. Look at how they conduct their daily business and see how God’s provision sustains. Jesus is not only saying to appreciate the birds, to look at them, but that we can learn from their relationship with God. That seems pretty revolutionary. How often do we remember that we can learn from that which is smaller or less powerful than us? How often do we think we can learn from someone who doesn’t speak our language? Jesus is asking us to do just that!
Matthew 23:37—”Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (also Luke 13:34)
This is a favorite passage of ours where, again, Jesus points to a small being of little human value as an example to learn from. Many of us who work in animal protection have seen hens interacting with their chicks. We’ve watched mamas lead their brood to food, water, shelter. We’ve shared photos of hens with cute little baby heads popping out from underneath their wings. And we’ve read the heartbreaking stories of mama birds who used their whole bodies to shield their babies from predators, and died in the process. What a vivid image Jesus chooses to talk about God’s protecting, abundant love.
Mark 1:12-13—”And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”
Let’s consider different ways of being with. How can this idea of being with animals be instructive for us today? Perhaps we can view animals, and not just dogs and cats but all animals, as companions. Perhaps we can cooperate with animals for a more peaceful and flourishing life for all creation. Perhaps instead of trying to subjugate, we can simply be with animals as Jesus was all those years ago.
Of course, in addition to these texts where Jesus addresses animals directly in his teachings, we should also take note of wider implications of his teaching. Christians have long been inspired by Jesus' command to “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36) to show mercy to animals, for example, and by the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37) to think of compassion for animal neighbors.
Questions about what Jesus said about animals naturally lead to questions about Jesus eating fish, and why in the world he cast demons into that herd of pigs. We’ll keep exploring together.
Got a question? Submit it now!