It’s not unusual for some people to lightly mock the idea of Christians and church taking animals seriously – we have an animal blessing service at church tomorrow afternoon – but to some people it’s a bit of a joke blessing animals – bringing pets into church – big on the aaaaah factor but low down in the scale of Christian priorities!
I’m not sure where this distance between animal life and Christianity comes from – there’s not one source but its there certainly in the history of Western Protestant Christianity. Man as the measure of all things – man as the only creature God cares about- a view of Christian faith as a relationship only between God and the individual human soul – that Christ died only for humans.
Some people will be surprised perhaps to find that the Bible has many more important things to say about creation and our relationship to the natural world including animals than you would think from looking at what churches and Christians have tended to say over the last 100 years or so about their faith.
When you read the whole Bible in all its scope you find that there are many many passages about God’s role in ordering our cosmos and about human roles and responsibilities towards the creation.
Listen to the ending of the story of Noah and the flood for example:
“Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him. As for me I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark, I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood …..I have set my bow in the clouds and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.. between me and you and every living creature of all flesh”
There are many passages in the Bible too numerous for me to go through now which show that the Bible has a more open and inclusive concept of God’s presence in the world than Western Protestant Christianity has allowed for with its focus on the relationship between God and individuals. There is plenty of evidence looking at the Bible as a whole that the covenant – the agreement, the promise – as we read in that Noah story – was seen by Israel as cosmic in scope.
In more modern terms you can say this about the biblical message concerning creation. I use the words of Robert Murray – a man who has studied the Bible in depth:
“When the Bible’s teaching on God’s creation and our place in it is duly digested, I believe it cries out to us ‘you are brothers and sisters of every other human being, and fellow-creatures of everything in the cosmos; you have no right to exploit or destroy, but you have duties to all, under God to whom you are responsible’” ( The Cosmic Covenant, 1992)
Looked at in this light a Christian response to all the other the life-forms on this planet – cannot be to simply regard other creatures as there for our convenience or pleasure – they all reflect to us the glory and the mystery of God – they are all in some sense the offspring of God.
The sheer diversity and beauty and profusion of life on our planet is therefore a precious gift from God. The balance of ecology reflects the peace of God. The dynamism of evolution speaks of the creativity and energy of God whose Spirit dances through this material world and inhabits it with joy.
We have a spiritual duty to relate in harmony to the animal world – it is part of our response to the God who has made us and loved us enough to die for us on the Cross – to cherish living creatures and the wondrous profusion of life on earth – for in sustaining the ecosystem indeed we cherish the very dwelling-place of God.