In the April 2008 edition of Christianity Today, Charles Colson and Anne Morse wrote “Keeping Pets in Their Place: Why we can’t afford to treat animals like they’re humans”. Please read it and then come back so we can talk about it.
Its been a while since I read something where I disagreed with the authors so thoroughly as I do with this article. For better or worse, I think there are several things in the article that deserve comment. To keep this post from being overly long, I’ll split it into two parts. In part one, I’ll focus on the main theological points- what the Bible says about animals and what it means to be created in the image of God. In part two, there are three or four smaller items in the article that require correction or more information and the more important issue of the attitude and tone of the article.
But first to the Bible. Mr. Colson and Ms. Morse write, “The Scriptures tell us that animals are soulless creatures, and will perish with the rest of creation. We will not see them while our souls rest with God; when Christ returns and our bodies are resurrected, we will live in the new heavens and new earth–where there may be new, not resurrected animals.”
I would suggest that the most we can solidly affirm is that Scripture is ambiguous on this topic. Those looking for substantial airtight proof about the fate of animals, one way or the other, will be disappointed. Why doesn’t the Bible have more to say about animals and their relationship with God? Simply put, that’s not the point of the Bible. For the most part, the Bible is God’s communication to humans about who God is, our relationship with God and in light of the first two, our relationships with each other. Animals are a part of this but they’re not the main part of the story.
So what we have are multiple hints, clues if you will, about the relationship between God and animals. Remember the story of Noah and the Ark? God saves humans and animals. After the flood, God makes a covenant with people and with animals (Gen 9). Animals participate in the Sabbath as well as people (Ex 20:10, Deut 5:14).In Job 12:7-10 the animals, the birds and the fish all know of God’s actions in the world. In Psalm 36:6 and Jonah 4:11 God’s saving care is extended to include animals. Isaiah’s vision of the Messianic age (Isaiah 11) includes animals. In Revelation (5:13), every creature praises God. And perhaps the most well know example, Romans 8, where all creation longs and waits for redemption. We could of course cite many more examples where Scripture describes God’s care and concern and delight in all of creation and particularly in animals.
The crux of Mr. Colson’s and Ms. Morse’s argument appears to be that if animals are saved, then humanity is necessarily diminished. For them, as for many Christians, to be created in the image of God is defined by how we are different from animals. From this position, anything that blurs the distinction between humans and animals is a threat. So science, again, become the enemy of faith when biologists and ethologists discover that animals possess self awareness, sophisticated ways of communication and culture.
We need to rethink the way we understand what the Bible tells us about being created in the image of God. I’m not saying the Bible is wrong, I am saying our interpretation of the Bible needs work. In this space, I will only sketch how we should shift our emphasis from humans and animals to God and humans. Historically when we have considered what it means to be created in the image of God, we have focused on ourselves and how we are different from animals. We ought to be focused on God and what God intended by that creative act.
In the Ancient Near East, rulers were the only ones who bore the image of a god. This was a sign of the rulers distinctiveness from their subjects and the sign of the gods favor and approval. In Genesis, we all, every last one of us, is given this privilege and responsibility. All people are equal in their access to God, their relationship with God and their responsibility to God.
To be created in God’s image means we are meant for relationship. God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is relationship. God is Triune. God is in relationship with us and with all of creation. As those who bear the image of God, we have been given a responsibility for the earth and its creatures. We ought to rule over creation as Christ rules over us; loving, giving, caring, redeeming.
We don’t need to fear the loss of our humanness if we acknowledge God’s saving love of animals. We are human beings because it is God’s will that we are human beings. Nothing on earth can change that.
I’d like to know, what do you think?
Part Two will follow later today or tomorrow.
I have written several other posts about these topics, “God and Dog”, “God and Dog and Genesis”, “What does it mean to be Human?”, and “In the Image of God”, if you are new here and interested in the topic.