Monday, November 21, 2011

Caring for Earth and Animals: A Biblical Perspective

The book of Genesis provides a description of the creation of the universe. God began by creating the earth; creating light; separating land from sea and darkness from light; he created the sun, moon, and other heavenly bodies; he created the vegetation that covered the earth. Then God turned his attention to the creatures of the earth and mankind, as described below.
24 And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."
29 Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food." And it was so.
31a God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
Genesis 1: 24-31

To summarize, God created all living creatures with the breath of life and he gave them every green plant for food. He also gave mankind its first mandate: “Be Fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over living creature that moves on the ground.” You will notice, however, that it was not God’s intention that man should use his creatures for food. In the perfect world that was Eden, man and beast alike were given “every green plant for food”.

I have heard people use this very scripture to justify mistreatment of this planet and the animals that call it home. “Mankind should subdue the earth, it is ours to use, we are the supreme beings on the planet, it was created for our use!” These views distort the words of this scripture to give credence to an attitude that is not in line with the character of God.
The Message translation puts it this way (italisis added for emphasis):
God spoke: "Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature
So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle,
And, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth."
God created human beings; he created them godlike, Reflecting God's nature.
He created them male and female.
God blessed them:
"Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth."
Genesis 1: 26-28

Other translations use words like “reign”, “rule”, and “govern” to describe Mankind’s relation to the rest of creation. In short, God did make mankind superior to the rest of creation, however, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”(Luke 12:48) With mankind’s superiority to other creatures, comes increased responsibility for those creatures and the earth that we share. The beasts of the field were not given the same level of intelligence and powers of reasoning that humans possess, as such, it is our responsibility to see that they are cared for, protected, and provided for. It is not a matter of animal rights, it is a matter of human responsibility!

There are those who would like for us to believe that we are hardly different from apes and that humans are just one more animal among all the animals of the earth. This is a lie, in fact, a dangerous lie. It is a lie that absolves mankind of its God given responsibility toward the rest of His creation. If we are no different (read, no better) than the apes, then we can be not be held any more responsible for the earth and its inhabitants than the apes. Would you hold the ape responsible for caring for the environment? Or protecting endangered species? It is precisely because we are created in God’s image and because we were given a specific mandate to be good stewards that we should be responsible to and toward our fellow beings.

Respecting animals does not diminish the status of mankind, it elevates it. God’s word is full of examples of how much God values His creation. The Bible says that a sparrow does not fall of which God is not mindful. Think about that for a second. A sparrow. One of the most plentiful birds on the planet. A small, unremarkable bird. Yet, not one sparrow dies without God noticing it. If God cares that much about each of His creatures, shouldn’t those of us created in His image, created to be like Him, be just as concerned? It’s one of our “jobs” as people. And if God cares that much about a sparrow, how much more do you think He cares about people (His creation that is most reflective of Himself).

God’s first choice was that people and animals live off the earth’s vegetation. The food chain, as we know it, was not part of God’s original plan. I think this speaks volumes about the character of God and the love he has for all his creation. He looked down on a world where bloodshed was a not a necessary function of life and he was pleased. It was only after sin entered the world that the shedding of blood became necessary. The Bible does not clearly state how this transition occurred, but it is clear that at some point, even the animals began to behave differently. And, in fact, it was not until after the flood that God gave mankind permission to use animals as a food source.

Then God blessed Noah and his sons and told them, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth. All the animals of the earth, all the birds of the sky, all the small animals that scurry along the ground, and all the fish in the sea will look on you with fear and terror. I have placed them in your power. I have given them to you for food, just as I have given you grain and vegetables.
Genesis 9: 1-3

Now that I have laid out the reason for it, here is my opinion. I have a really hard time believing that God could possibly look down and be pleased with our current practices of “raising” meat. The God who notices the passing of a sparrow must also see the unnecessary suffering of countless farm animals. The God who created life cannot be pleased with standard industry practices of sending all male chicks (half of all chickens hatched) down a conveyer belt to into a chipper where they meet a horrible death. If it turns MY stomach and I am created in HIS likeness, I can only imagine how He must feel about it.

And before it is brought to my attention, I fully acknowledge that there are greater atrocities in the world. Abortion is horrible, genocide is horrible, massive famine is horrible, child abuse is horrible, starvation is horrible, homelessness is horrible. All of these things (and countless more) are wrong and bring grief to our Creator. However, this is my calling, this is my passion, this is where my heart is, this is what I am equipped to do.

I also believe that elevating the value of life for farm animals (all animals), in turn, elevates the value of human life! If we can learn to have compassion for pigs and cows and chickens and turkeys, if we can begin to understand that EACH of God’s creatures has value, if we can teach our children to respect and honor and cherish the lives of animals; how much more will we (as a society) cherish, honor, respect, value, uphold the lives of our fellow human beings. When we degrade the value of these animals that we raise for food, when we treat them like objects instead of living, breathing, sentient beings; we are, in effect, devaluing all life and the Creator that grants it.

Additionally, I believe (and have seen some pretty strong scientific evidence that supports that belief) that our current use of factory farming methods has seriously adverse effects for human life as well. I guess it comes back to that whole reaping what you sow thing.

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