In response to my Pet Cult blurb last week, a friend of mine sent me an article by Dan Miller, pastor of Eden Baptist Church, on this oft-neglected subject. While attending CBTS for my M.Div., Dan Miller was teaching the main church history courses. I highly recommend his sermons, the two most current of which are available at the church’s website. I have also uploaded his superb sermon on 1 Timothy 4:11-16 to my Twango account so that it has a more permanent web presence.

UPDATE: Twango’s having some issues playing the file, and it may be a result of the way the flash player handles this particular file. You can temporarily download the sermon audio here.

I was also forwarded a Albert Mohler, Jr. article on this subject, but Dan Miller’s is far more comprehensive. I am grateful that he has given me permission to republish his article here.


Of Man and Animals

A gathering cloud of guilt seems to darken the sky over many Christians these days. This conscience troubling storm-front pertains to our relationship to the animal kingdom. Have you noticed how many Christians seem increasingly sheepish (forgive the phrase) about taking the life of a creature? Along more philosophical lines, a crescendo of voices are heard to insist that we recognize the linkage between human beings and animals.

The cartoon strip, Zits, by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman, borrows capital from the generational interface of a teenager named Jeremy and his parents. One clip pictures Dad and Jeremy fishing from a boat on a lake. Holding his pole over the edge of the boat and gazing forlornly at the point where his line enters the water, Jeremy muses: “It feels weird to sit here contemplating murder.” Holding his own fishing rod, Dad turns with a look of quiet exasperation and retorts: “Fishing is not murder!”

But assuming there was a worm on the end of Jeremy’s hook, some would go so far as to claim the dastardly deed was a done deal, not a future prospect. As silly as that might seem to most, taking the life of a lowly worm is a conscience-troubling proposition for some. What is alarming is the number of Christians who seem increasingly sensitized to the prosperity of wiggling and crawling creatures.

I was working some time ago on a landscaping project with a young adult. As we dug in the ground, a number of ants scurried for cover in the soil. Rather than simply continue his work, my friend tried to scrape the ants to the side as if I, a minister of the gospel, was sure to think ill of him should he unnecessarily massacre any.

A recent article in Christianity Today (Dec 2004, p 58), written by a pregnant mother, provides further evidence that such sensitivities are growing more widespread—and more philosophical. The article expounded upon the significance of a spider that traversed the author’s windshield one afternoon. Her report celebrated her victory over panic at first sight of the encroaching arachnid. This triumph over fear was not grounded in a bald exercise of courage, mind you, but in an existential realization that her unborn child and the spider “were linked with a thread of the cosmos, moving together to a tune I rarely stop to listen for.”

The author retraces her path to enlightenment, crediting the influence of her “liberal” friend, Julie. She explains that “Once when [Julie] was visiting, a spider interrupted our conversation by crawling across the top of my couch. As I drew back in disgust, Julie held out her hand, let the spider tiptoe into her palm, then went to the door. ‘There you go, little guy,’ I heard her say as she brushed him off into the breeze.”

Although the author calls her liberal friend “goofy,” Julie clearly comes off as the heroine of the article. The author expresses her hope that she, like Julie, will someday “learn to share my home with little creatures, as I am learning to share it with little people.” She hopes to grow increasingly sensitive to the “sanctity of all life, to the fullness of Glory manifested in … the form of a garden spider’s waltz, or a floating baby’s kick, or a holy ant.”

As a sign of her progress, the article concludes by returning to the spider on the windshield. The exuberant author reports: “I was able to open my door and brush the spider onto the ground.” One small step for woman; one giant step for humankind!

There is, of course, a vein of truth that runs through this woman’s musings. But the ease with which she links spider and baby as fellow occupants of the cosmos is chilling. The results of such fuzzy thinking are certainly fortuitous for spiders. Unborn infants, I fear, do not fare as well when all is said and done. But that is a topic for another day.

What I want to stress here is that how we value and relate to animals is an illuminating indicator of our worldview. By virtue of our nearly unlimited powers over animals, how we treat them is no trivial matter. It is a litmus test of mind and soul.

Something profound is revealed about the soul of those who speak of animal rights as if animals are equal or superior to human beings. It is revealing when people vandalize biology labs in retributive rage against scientists who conduct experiments on animals in the interest of human wellbeing. A window into the soul opened when people throw paint on fur coats in protest against pelt harvesters or burn down a cabin because it is constructed in a forested area.

Though less malicious, it is equally telling when people wave off mosquitoes rather than slap them dead, tiptoe around ants, practice catch-and-release methods with mice found in your home, or view the ingestion of animal meat as complicity in murder. People reveal their worldview when they insist that they have “rescued” or “adopted” their pet, not bought it, and when they style themselves as said pet’s “guardian” rather than its “owner.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, much is revealed about the soul that finds joy in torturing and abusing animals. We witness this on a small scale when someone is exposed by the media for cruelty to their pet or for running a nasty boarding operation.

On a grander scale, unspeakable cruelty to animals takes place on some livestock farms. On the radical fringe of the farming industry, executives from these companies sit in air-conditioned offices pouring over spreadsheets and creating policies that tweak profit margins by confining millions of hogs to live out their days in 22 inch wide metal stalls which they never leave and in which they can never turn around. Pressing for scientific “advances” in medicine, these same operators strive to raise hogs in conditions that by all rights should kill them.

Other such fringe operators consign foul to live in such cramped conditions they cannot spread their wings. Through genetic engineering these operators hope to produce (and even clone) such hideous creatures as featherless chickens and stress-free hogs (zombies) to increase profit margins by minimizing farming hassles.[1]

Where one lands on the scale between the two extremes of “animal as my brother” and “animal as my torture victim” is no trivial matter. How we relate to other creatures directly reflects how we relate to their Creator and Lord—and ours.

To construct a God-honoring view of animals, we must start by affirming that God is the Creator of every living thing, and that he has made every creature to, in one respect or another, bear witness to his glory. God is every creature’s source, designer and sovereign Lord (Ps 50:10-11). By implication, any believer who is not awed by the diversity and intricacy and unspeakable wonder of God’s creative handiwork in the animal kingdom should repent in sackcloth and ashes. Every inch of nature sings the glories of our Creator. It is vital that we learn to heed this song.

Second, as creatures made by God, animals have inherent worth and are to be treated with a dignity befitting their status in the creative order. Under the Old Covenant, God issued legislation respecting the care and treatment of animals. Such legislation is meaningless apart from the realization that God values the animal world and expects his people to do the same. Proverbs 12:10a asserts that “whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast.” Verse 10b reveals that it is wicked to treat animals with cruelty.

Third, all life forms are not created equal. God created mankind in his own image and likeness as the quintessence of the divine handiwork (Gen 1:26-27). The life of human beings is sacred and belongs to God alone (Gen 9:5-6). Their joy is to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 3:18) and to share in the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4). To equate animal and human life is to denigrate the glory of God and his saving purposes toward mankind.

Other living creatures, by contrast, comprise a distinct realm over which man is to exercise dominion, and of which there is hierarchical order (Gen 1:28, 9:1-2). The Mosaic Law indicates hierarchy in the animal kingdom when it distinguishes between clean and unclean animals and between animals acceptable and unacceptable for sacrifice to God. The Law also legislates honorable treatment of domestic animals while viewing wild animals and reptiles and creeping things with less regard. Indeed, wild animals are typically regarded in Scripture as mortal enemies of mankind, against whom divine help is both sought and granted (Lev 26:21-22; Deut 7:21-22; 1 Sam 17:32-37).

Fourth, God commissions mankind to rule over the creatures of the world as God’s stewards—to exercise dominion over the animal kingdom in a manner fitting to the inherent worth of the creature. The exercise of such dominion is no license to abuse animals for unjust profit or twisted pleasure. It is no license to bait wild game on fenced hunting ranches for sadistic slaughter. Scully counsels us to realize that:

Animals are … a test of our character, of mankind’s capacity for empathy and for decent, honorable conduct and faithful stewardship. We are called to treat them with kindness, not because they have rights or power or some claim to equality, but in a sense because they don’t; because they all stand unequal and powerless before us … Whenever we humans enter their world, from our farms to the local animal shelter to the African savanna, we enter as lords of the earth bearing strange powers of terror and mercy alike (Dominion, xi-xii).

To grant Scully’s point is not, however, to jump in on Jeremy’s side of the boat in the aforementioned Zits cartoon. A distinctly biblical worldview asserts that the stewardship to extend mercy toward an animal includes the right to honorably take its life. The same Creator who has intimate regard for the sparrow (Matt 10:29) and commends merciful treatment of livestock (Prov 12:10) is the same God who bestows to human beings the privilege to kill and eat the meat of animals (Gen 9:1-3).

Genesis 9 does not condemn vegetarians as immoral. It’s hard to read this passage and the numerous positive references to eating meat in the Bible and to conclude that vegetarians are not sacrificing a joy God designed for common pleasure. But in a similar manner, God commends marriage to most people while not insisting, or even ordaining, that all participate in this joy. But even if there were vegetarian Israelites under the Old Covenant, God commanded them to kill sacrificial animals prior to the final sacrifice of Jesus Christ. A cursory reading of Leviticus chapter 1 indicates that God has more in common with the butcher than he does with the vegetarian who avoids meat so as to protest the slaughter of animals.

From a biblical perspective, killing animals is not the issue. How and when we kill animals is. Choosing to squash a mosquito is not sin, it is sanity. Severing the spinal chord of a mouse with a trap set in your home is not cruelty, it is faithful stewardship of your home. Legally hunting game in the wild is not murder, it is legitimate sport. And eating meat is not complicity to murder, it is enjoying a God-given pleasure to the glory of the Creator.

Perhaps some of the confusion on this point goes back to our distance as a culture from the family farm. Suburbanites have grown expert at ignoring the origination of every package of meat in the grocery store. We seem oblivious to the fact that the package of meat in the grocer’s freezer is a dead animal somebody killed and cut up into cook-able portions. What is more, somebody was supposed to kill it. We are meant to eat meat.[2]

On the other hand, we must continue to recognize that it is denigrating to our Creator and human dignity to abuse our dominion over other creatures. They are not our brothers and sisters. They are, however, our responsibility. And how we treat them—yes, even how we kill them—says much about who we are and how we relate to our Maker.

It is a strange world we inhabit when it comes to animals. On the one hand are people who fear to squash a bug and treat their pets like people. On the other hand are those hell-bent on killing unwanted human beings (whether old, infirm, or unborn). What is really weird is how often these are the same people.

It is a strange world we inhabit. On the one hand are people who have no compassion or regard for animals. On the other hand are people who claim to love the compassionate Creator of animals (Matt 10:29). What is really weird is how often these are the same people.

Avoiding these inconsistent extremes will come only as one adopts a biblical worldview. Loyalty to God includes earnest regard for the way he designed his universe. That loyalty involves treating people as people, animals as animals, and insects as insects, for the very reason that God is God.

[1] For an alarming expose on such horrors, see Matthew Scully’s book, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, St. Martin’s Press, 2002). While I do not agree with all of Scully’s conclusions, and while it is impossible for me to discern the accuracy of his every claim, it seems evident that there are unethical operators who need to be exposed so as to uphold what is, in large measure, a noble industry in this nation.[2] I am reminded of an interview with actor Kurt Russell, who is an avid hunter. Recognizing that “Hollywood” and “hunter” are two designations seldom found in the same bio, Newsweek’s Nicki Gostin probed this point with Mr. Russell. Gostin: “Do you go hunting?” Russell: “Yes, I still hunt from time to time. I bow hunt and use a rifle.” Gostin: “Have you caught anything with a bow and arrow?” Russell: “You don’t catch things with a bow and arrow. You kill them” (Newsweek, 2/2/04). This brief exchange is a sign of the times.