You probably heard about the MN dentist who, in July, paid $50,000 to hunt and kill a popular lion from Zimbabwe named Cecil. You may not have heard, however, about the TX businessman who, just two months earlier, paid $350,000 to kill an endangered black Rhino in Namibia. Talk about big bucks for big game.
Both of these incidents, the Cecil episode in particular, sparked a firestorm of media coverage and public outrage. As a result, the issue of animal welfare, like a needy housecat, has crawled into our culture’s lap looking for someone to give it some attention. And this time, evangelicals have done just that.
We all know that Fido and Fluffy aren’t made in the image of God, but does this mean that animals are fair game for all-out abuse or cruelty? Hardly. What does God think about these issues? Here are a few key ideas found in Scripture.
- God cares for animals and we should too.
After creating animals on day 6, God commented (even before He created man) that “that it was good” (vs. 25). Animals are a valuable part of God’s creation.
In the story of Noah, God’s care for animals is evident in the fact that He intentionally preserved every species of life to repopulate the earth. Noah was the first activist who employed a rescue operation in order to save endangered species (which just happened to be all animals.) As a matter of fact, God’s covenant after the flood (to never do it again) was not just with Noah, but it is “an everlasting covenant between God and every living creature” (9:16).
Also, in the days of Jonah, God’s compassion on the people of Nineveh is quite evident by Him withholding His wrath. But look carefully at God’s question from Jonah 4:11, “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are…many animals?” Yes, God’s compassion was on the people of that city but God is the One who curiously adds these words about His care for the animals too. So, if God cares for animals we should as well.
- Ruling over animals is part of God’s plan. Abusing them is not.
In Genesis 1:28 God gave man the task of ruling over the animal world. It reads, “…and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Owning a pet naturally falls within these parameters. Humane forms of hunting does too. But with both of these comes the responsibility to be a good image-bearer and reflect the way in which God rules over and cares for the rest of creation, like He does for us. God ultimately owns all of creation, but He has given us the task of being the “hands-on” stewards of it. And the steward should always act and do as the owner would have him do.
The Proverbs clearly declare our responsibility to care for animals in 12:10 when it reads, “A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal…” Cruelty and violent abuse of animals is how the wicked man regards God’s creation – with contempt and utter disrespect. But the righteous man knows that by caring for his animal, he is reflecting the way in which God cares for all of His creation.
As I said at the beginning, evangelicals, armed with all of this biblical data in hand, have recently responded to the public debate on these issues. This last week, a prominent and diverse group of church leaders (including some from the SBC) released a declaration: “An Evangelical Statement on Responsible Care for Animals.”
The first section of the statement, entitled, “We Believe” outlines, in a more detailed fashion, some of what I summarized above. (You can read the full statement, and even sign your name to it, at: www.everylivingthing.com.) What I found most helpful in this statement, though, were the last two sections which provide some real-life application to the Bible’s theological framework.
We understand from Scripture that humans are uniquely created in the image and likeness of God and so have greater worth than every animal; but that God has given all animals the breath of life, that He sustains them, that they belong ultimately to Him, and that He has declared them “good,” indicating they have value to Him independent of human use.
We understand from Scripture that God has given us all animals into our hand and for food as part of our responsible rule; but as we live in a fallen world and are prone to sin, we also have the capacity and inclination to cause suffering instead of care for animals and to act cruelly towards them.
We understand from Scripture the responsible rule over and care of animals that God has given us on His behalf, and that this rule is to reflect His rule and character. This responsible rule and compassionate care of animals is expressed in God’s instruction to His people in His word, regarding the right treatment of animals, and that the principles behind these instructions, rooted in the unchanging character of God, still apply today.
We resolve to rule and treat all animals as living valued creatures, deserving of compassion, because they ultimately belong to God, because He has created them, declared them good, given them the breath of life, covenanted with them, and entrusted them to our responsible rule. So while animals have been given into our hand and for food this does not mean we can treat them as objects or act cruelly towards them.
We resolve to examine all our practices relating to how we treat the domesticated animals that live among us and provide us with companionship, food, and service as well how we treat animals that live in the wild apart from us; and hold them all up to Biblical principles for compassionate care and responsible rule, in light of God’s view of them and His actions toward them.
We resolve to exercise our responsible rule in part by confronting any and all cruelty against animals, seeing it as a violation of our rule and an affront to the ultimate Ruler who created, values, and sustains these animals.
We resolve that because all kinds of animals are created by God and are sustained by Him, we need to work for the protection and preservation of all the kinds of animals God has created, while prioritizing human needs.
Human beings should care for God’s creatures. Redeemed human beings should even more so. Let’s face it, we are the only ones who truly understand that this is our Father’s world. If we allow the Bible’s theology to shape our view of zoology we can demonstrate to others a sensible, biblical and truly helpful approach to animal welfare. And I think this recent statement has done just that.