I was reading my Bible and praying and I was hit with an unexpected epiphany: God cares about our environment, and about the animals, as much as I do!
I've always been a little confused theologically speaking when it comes to a God-view of creation. Many Christians are forcefully pro-life when it comes to an unborn child, but very lackadaisical when it comes to animal cruelty. And we get hot-headed when we argue for creationism (as opposed to evolution), but we lack concern for the creation itself in our thoughts on renewable energy, deforestation, recycling... etc...
I think it comes from the thought that God "made man a little lower than the angels" but "having dominion to fill the earth and subdue it" - it must've gotten to our heads a bit more than God intended! We think of mankind so highly that we assume everything else that was created was unimportant or for our abuse. We claim that everything created was for us so we can have everything we want and need - to a certain degree this is true, I suppose... But I cannot find an argument in Scripture that is in favor of us being so darn self-centered!
I am all 100% pro-life, I believe LIFE begins at conception. I want to always use my voice to fight for the rights the unborn deserve. But under that same token, animals are also a LIFE - and while I understand fully the value of a human soul, I appreciate and respect God's creation in every creature He has placed on this earth too. Because LIFE is beautiful. God made this world full of hundreds of thousands of species besides mankind because He is beautiful and LIFE-giving. Why would He bother handing us down such an intricate and fascinating biologically diverse planet if it wasn't important or worth fighting for?
I suppose I should start at the beginning. I've always loved the Creation story, before I ever was a Christian. I was fascinated by the images of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, in all of creation. I believe Adam had the coolest job ever! He got to see all of God's creation pass by and name them. Ask any theologian and they will say that the Garden of Eden was the epitome of perfection; it's what earth was SUPPOSED to be like before sin entered the world. It's what earth will be like once the kingdom of heaven comes down and it's all made new. And so if you are not a Christian and you are reading this blog about loving our abused and misused planet, one key point you need to understand is this: In Genesis (the beginning, creation, before mankind screwed things up) AND in Revelation (the end-times, the hope that when all things on earth as we know it passes away and God makes things right the way they were supposed to be in the beginning, the conclusion of mankind's story on this planet) we are in complete harmony with each other as well as with all the other species in creation. God describes mankind in the beginning, eating fruit right off the tree in the garden, observing all the other animals on the planet. Biology is how Adam noticed that he didn't have a helpmate suitable for him, and this is when God created Eve for him; Adam observed the animal kingdom and felt a lack of companionship, and this is precisely when God fashions his soul mate. And the planet just produced food for Adam and Eve, and it was sufficient. As they walked in communion with Jesus, they ate straight from the produce of the ground, they did not have to work for it or farm it, and they did not grow hungry. And the only thing Adam and Eve had to do was get to know God better, get to know each other, and get to know the rest of creation.
Then sin enters the world, God Himself performs the first sacrifice as He provides skins for Adam and Eve to wear to cover their nakedness, a Messianic foreshadowing what Jesus Himself would do for us... But that goes into Christianese, and that's not what I'm getting into right now. Fast-forward to Noah and the ark. God has Noah build a boat that is, in essence, about the size of a football field... for 8 people? 8 people and the rest of creation, in reproductive pairs... This biological diversity was important to God then too! He didn't care too much for people (in fact, WE were the reason He was sending the flood in the first place), but God cared about every species of every creature He created and gave Noah the veterinary technician job of all history; provide animal husbandry to every living species on the planet, in a boat, over the next year or so of his life. God decided to save Noah and his family, because they had a relationship with Him, and then use them to save creation. In a time of such wickedness in the hearts of men, the animal kingdom was the only thing left on this earth that mattered to Him.
Fast forward to the time of Moses. PETA would have a fit with the animal sacrifices that the Israelites performed once they left Egypt. It doesn't seem like a God who loves creation would command such a thing. But in basic Judeo-Christian theology, God doesn't command animal sacrifices because it pleases Him; He instructed it because it was a substitutionary atonement for mankind, who was in sin, and separated from God. Mankind had a broken relationship with God, and for it's restoration it required that blood be shed. We deserved the punishment of it being OUR blood, God allowed for a lamb to take our place. It wasn't a sufficient sacrifice to fix our condition, that's why Jesus Himself came down and became the LAMB of GOD, took that sacrifice upon HIMSELF ONCE and FOR ALL TIME, so that for the rest of eternity His sacrifice met the requirement. Once again, more Christianese. But I should also point out that in all the hundreds of commandments and instructions that Moses gave God's people on how to live, he also instructed them on how to take care of their animals. Instructed them on what to eat and not eat. How to take care of their oxen and their donkeys. And through out the rest of the Old Testament there is plenty of evidence that God was still in love with His creation, animals and humans alike. They compared our (mankind's) feats with the qualities that animals displayed. "As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after You..." "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up on wings as eagles..." "The young lions roar for their pray and seek their food from God..." Solomon's Temple, one of the greatest architectural achievements of mankind, was decorated with golden embossed lions, oxen, and angels. Mankind may not have had the same relationship with the animal kingdom that it did in Creation, but it certainly witnessed the rest of God's creation with respect and awe of their abilities and their power, and much of this awe inspired worship to God and made it's way into the Holy Scriptures.
Fast-Forward to Jesus here on earth. Revelation describes him, in the same sentence, as the Lamb of God and the Lion of Judah. Jesus dies for our sins and raises back to life, now starting the beginning of the end. His time on earth set the timer on God's full and complete restoration of the entire world. Up until Christ, mankind was hopelessly lost and hell-bound, now after Christ, mankind is making it's way back to Him (painfully, and slowly, but that's the direction we're supposed to be heading). And He tells us not to worry, because we are to look at the SPARROWS. Who don't farm or work for food, but look to God and receive every meal. And even though we, in His image, are worth much more to God than the sparrows, yet not one sparrow falls to the ground in death without Him knowing it. There was a woman who was asking Jesus to heal her daughter, begging and harassing Him and the disciples. I suppose that culturally she wasn't even worthy to speak to Jesus and didn't deserve to be there, because Jesus (for reasons I do not yet understand) tells her, "Woman, it is not right for me to take the food of the children and feed it to the dogs." (ouch!). The woman replies, "Yes, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall off the master's table!" And Jesus basically tells her that because of her faith she will receive what she asks for. I cannot help but chuckle, and look at Aspen and Sherlock, because a conversation about dogs as house pets made such a theological difference in that woman's life! Then some religious dudes are mad at Jesus because He healed someone on a Sabbath, the most holy of days of the week for the Jews. He responds with, "which one of you, if your ox falls into a well on the Sabbath, would not that very moment get him out?" I suppose a dead ox is pretty worthless, because apparently to these religious folk it would've been worth breaking a commandment of rest to save one of their farm animals (and then I have to giggle at the fact that God has to command us to rest in the first place, but that's another blog).
In the book of Romans (8:18-21), it says: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it—in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now." I am keenly aware of how this verse is making a clear distinction between creation and God's children - feeling deeply convinced that creation refers to all God created and not just specifically humans. The world is waiting for God's children to step into the light; the orphans in Sudan, the homeless in India, the dolphins off the coast of Japan, the dogs in puppy mills across the US - all of us, together, hoping to be set free from the bondage of corruption. Creation itself wants to join in with the freedom that God's children get to receive through Christ. Christ died to save mankind, and creation hopes that a redeemed mankind will in turn restore creation back to it's God-given glory. Salvation is an uniquely and exclusively human experience, but it has the power to transform humans to such an extent that it has global consequences.
An undeniable point of what heaven is like is that, when we are in God's presence for eternity, mankind will once again be alongside creation in peace. Scriptures describe heaven (which is, like, the end of the human story, or the conclusion of all things) as being a place where the lion and the lamb lay down together in peace, and where babies can reach their hands into a cobra's nest without fear or bite or poison. Revelation says that this earth will pass away and heaven will come down and be established on earth as the new world order, so to speak. At this point it gets too theologically deep for me and I'm no eschatologist, but if heaven is the "right way" things are supposed to be, it says a lot about how we should relate to the rest of God's creatures. Understanding that in this fallen world the heavenly relationship with animals is broken too, it never stops being something we were meant to lose appreciation or respect for. And if somewhere along the lines Christians have gotten to a point where we think that an animal doesn't really matter, I dare say we need to re-evaluate our theology. Compassion, righteousness, justice, and kindness ALWAYS matter to God - it's a heart condition! In our higher calling we are to live out these attributes at all times... and I honestly don't think there's a difference as to who or what we direct these attributes to as long as our hearts are right.
Even though they may not fully be aware of this, animal rescuers are some of the most God-like people I know. It takes a very self-less heart to love on and care for a creature who will not say thank you, pay you back, or help you (at least, not in a quantifiable manner). I believe we are closer to a heart like Christ when we learn to be kind "just because". We have a very hard time being God-like to each other as it is.
I want my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren (if the Lord tarries) to learn about God from creation the way I do. Want to know how to obey the Lord as your master? Get a dog. Having a relationship with my dogs have taught me more about my relationship with my God than tons of sermons I've heard. I have seen myself caught in the same fears and processes that keep me from obeying the Lord fully the very same way my dogs sometimes have a hard time trusting and obeying me. I want to show my kids that God does indeed have a sense of humor and point to the platypus. I want to teach them to parent their children the way lionesses parent their cubs. I want to point out to all the diversity, all the cool things they can do, all the cool ways they were built - and show my children how great is our God! How thoughtful down the last detail! How beautiful! No disrespect to sermons or the pastors that preach them but it just doesn't quite do God justice like looking at creation from a mountain top or a beach and saying, "Look! The Lord made this, and it is good!" I believe God uses the Bible to give us the right kind of head knowledge, and uses creation to give us the right kind of heart knowledge. Living in creation is how we experience the Creator in the Bible, and the fullness of the experience He intends for us is just incomplete if one is without the other.