Tuesday, October 23, 2018

WEEKLY COMMENTARY: What Is The Status of Animals In God's Creation?

If someone blesses me, Webster's Dictionary says that means they "invoke divine care" for me.  Suppose I bless a pet or other animal?  Does that imply that the animal has a soul subject to divine care, like me?  If that animal does have a soul, does this mean that all animals have a soul?  If so, do animals go to heaven when they die?  Will I meet any of my former pets in heaven?

Lately, some Christians (particularly in the Roman Catholic and Episcopal denominations) have adopted an annual formal practice of blessing animals.  The selected animals are presented in a church worship service by members of the congregation.  Those who have initiated this practice say the ceremony is meant to remind the congregation of their stewardship over God's Creation, and how we have cared for it ---- or not cared for it.  Therefore, must I never kill an animal as a source of food for myself?  Must I become a vegetarian?!! 

I wasn't sure how to answer these questions, so I turned to the Bible.  In the Book of Genesis I found the following, in the Bible's "Creation Story.":

           Chapter 1, Verse 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."
                             Verse 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.' "
                             Verse 28:  "God blessed them [mankind] 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 lives on the ground.' "  

Simply put, the Book of Genesis seems to give us a "license" to kill or do whatever else may "please" humankind, with respect to God's earthly creatures.  Killing animals for food would seem entirely OK.  In fact, don't animals themselves kill each other for food and self-defense?

However, Jesus himself teaches that "not a sparrow will fall to the ground" without the care and attention of God.  (Matt. 10:29)  If we have failed to notice this fact, perhaps it is because we have been too taken with the idea that we are made in the divine image, and we have not really been reflecting on the great responsibilities that such status brings. 

Author Philip Sherman, in a recent issue of Presbyterian Life, argues that a greater sense of responsibility for animals has developed in the last 100 years.  "As some animals have transitioned from utilitarian purposes (labor, production, food) to companionship (pets, therapy dogs and cats, and service animals like seeing-eye dogs). a new element has emerged ----      LOVE.  Many Christians today love certain animals, and give them a special status by calling them "pets".   We remember St. Francis of Assisi and his passion for the care of God's creatures.  Today, we sometimes even link to animals some passages of Scripture about love, and how we are supposed to treat those we love.

Of all the traits previously thought to be the exclusive possession of human beings, perhaps love and compassion have been the greatest.  The possibility that many animals are capable of deep emotional lives, with some kind of love, including grief and gratitude, seems accepted increasingly among many in the scientific community.

Should we deny that animals are capable of some kind of love, and that humankind may have feelings of love for some of them, only because Genesis never mentions this possibility?
These thoughts are brought to you by the CPC Adult Spiritual Development Team, hoping that you will discover some personal spiritual growth this fall.

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