By Ellie Corrow
Anyone who knows me even a little bit is aware that I’m an animal lover. This means, for me, my pets are part of my family and as a result, I do everything I can to provide them happy, healthy lives. But my love for animals isn’t just restricted to the pets (3 dogs and 2 cats at this writing) that also inhabit my home, as I can often be found helping a wayward turtle crossing the road, and most recently blew a good chunk of a Saturday whisking a wounded bird to a wild bird rehab facility. I’m just wired that way, I can’t help it, and I’ll admit some distrust of people who don’t share at least a portion of my compassion for animals.
I can’t tell you why exactly this distrust exists in me. If I were to take a guess, I’d say it’s because I see caring for animals as an extension of the charge to care for those weaker than ourselves, those who though they never sinned, must also bear the burden of creation’s fall. We tend to think of the Fall purely in terms of our own capacity to sin, which is grave indeed, but we do well to bear in mind that all of creation groans. Because our ancient ancestors ate of the fruit, our crops (and flower beds!) need weeding, the lion has the lamb for a snack, and our beloved pets die from cancer, heart disease, or are finally totally incapacitated by arthritis. The erosion of human sin eats into all of God’s good creation, and the pain of that is not only felt by humanity.
Animal domestication is hardly a new event in human-animal interactions, so it’s no surprise that humans love their pets. Many dog owners will tell you that there is little like the love of a good dog–even a recent study demonstrated that humans and dogs let off oxytocin when they look at each other, this is unique, so far, in human/animal relationships. Other studies have demonstrated that pet owners live longer, healthier lives, and that the simple act of stroking a dog or cat can lower a person’s blood pressure. One would have to be, I think, a blatant evolutionist to accept these things as random chance. Call it pious speculation if you wish, but I prefer to think this is remaining glimmer of the goodness of God’s creation, where there was no wilderness to feared, but only a garden, and its resident animals, to be enjoyed and appreciated.
Is all this love for animals misguided? A lot of ink has been spilled over folks who treat animals like people. I’d be the first to chastise those who do this because, obviously, they aren’t people, they are distinct from humanity within the broader scope of creation, and simply aren’t the crown jewel of creation, a place reserved only for humans. Secondarily, by treating them as people, we fail to appreciate them for what they are. I’d say it’s perhaps a bit like trying to sell your five year old’s art at Sotheby’s. Of course it’s not great art, but that’s not where the joy and the beauty of it is to be found. Animals can be appreciated and loved as animals, but not as people, never as people, their gifts lie elsewhere.
But what of Scripture? Am I just making all this up to satisfy to gooiness in my own soul for something not human? The most important, and the most obvious point is that God created the animals, and called them good. They are part of the beauty of His creation. The second point is that when God flooded the earth, He saved not just humanity in Noah and his family, but also the animals of His creation. Apparently He thought saving them was worth making Noah’s life infinitely more complicated as he was forced to care for, and presumably clean up after, all the varieties creation had to offer for roughly a year. On a boat. Think about that. It’s little wonder he wanted a drink upon disembarking. Next, Jesus tells us that our Father in Heaven also cares for the birds of the air. If we can extend this to His care for us (as Jesus does), can’t we also conclude He also cares about all the other animals? Lastly, we’re told that there will be animals in the new creation. Why not? They were there at the beginning before humans mucked it up, so why wouldn’t they be there for all eternity? I think it’s easy to surmise from all this that animals aren’t an afterthought of creation, but are integral to it.
So what does this all mean? Should we all be vegetarians? I’ve considered it. For about five seconds. Though they are to be valued and respected, they do serve humans in various capacities. Some do so as meat for our families, others do so by using their God-given noses to sniff out landmines and other explosives, some do it by helping the disabled, making life more manageable, others do it as protection from intruders, and still others do so by providing love which will never judge you by your clothes, bank account, or skin color.
When we lose them, it’s okay to mourn them as a dearly departed friend, even if it’s a loss those weird souls who have never loved a pet will ever understand, but while we love them like family, we treat them like animals. Animals whose ancient ancestors were borne on the ark, and who were created out of the joy of our Creator.