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By people of compassion
- The Church is Chasing People Away -
Response by Neville Heath Fowler
27 May 2001
Frank wrote yesterday of his sense of frustration in trying to share Pat's pain and disappointment with ministerial colleagues, and Hazel and I have been feeling a burden for both of them, and indeed for all of us. It is hard enough to suffer the callousness toward animals exhibited by non-believers but when we encounter it amongst those who profess to be fellow Christians, even shepherds of the flock, and it is combined with disdain for our sympathies and sensitivities, it becomes close to unbearable.
It is difficult to know what to say that can be of any comfort. In fact I do not think we should seek comfort if that means hiding in any way from the realities of the situation. For us to look for comfort would be rather like us looking for prosperity, or happiness, or any other of the 'goodies' of life. In fact there is a kind of theology that preaches 'Christianity' on the basis of present rewards - 'prosperity theology' I think it has been called. Such has never seemed to me to be the way of Christ. There is no question in my mind that God will be no person's debtor and that "He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6). On one occasion the disciples (well, Peter, but he often gave voice to the thoughts of them all) reminded Jesus of how much they had given up to follow him. (Isn't that typical of us!). If we had been Jesus I should think we would very nearly have exploded at that, but he didn't at all. He quietly assured them that they would be rewarded. (Matthew 19: 27-29). The point is, and the paradox, that the benefits of the Christian life, in this age and in the one to come, will not come by seeking them. They come only when we forget all about them in our eagerness to serve the Lord and seek God's kingdom. Jesus had earlier explained all this to the disciples, but like us they had short memories. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." (Matthew 6:33). So comfort too will be something that comes when we are not actively pursuing it.
As Christians we should be able to agree that the kingdom (Gk. basilia - literally kingly rule) of God is what we must seek above all else. Jesus taught the disciples to pray to the Father: 'Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven'. We all know too that the kingdom (God's rulership) must be in our own hearts before we can tell others about it. This is, if you like, the 'kingdom of grace'. Our first duty is to seek the kingdom within, before we can proclaim it outwardly. I am telling you nothing new that you do not already know as well as I do. I hope also that we share the faith that God, at the appointed time, will actualize His kingdom on the earth, His kingdom of glory. We await that with intense anticipation, eagerness, "earnest expectation" as the KJV puts it (Romans 8:19). The entire creation thus awaits the revealing of the sons of God, the time of restoration. For "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now" (v. 22). Paul was certainly not oblivious to the world's suffering.
Pat feels intensely the pain of creation. She feels alone. She should not feel alone. She is not alone. There are thousands, millions, of people in this world who groan together over it. Paul was one of them. I imagine that every person reading this e-mail is another. I have little doubt that there are far more non-Christians who groan inwardly about the pain of God's other creatures than there are Christians. No-one is untouched by the pain of the universe. After all it is not only animals that suffer, is it? We all know, at some point in our lives, what grief and pain means. Our western society uses all the power of its technology to deaden, to reduce, the pain for humans if not so often for animals, or not for all animals anyway. In poorer societies little children die in pain from simple and cheaply (to us) avoidable causes. I have seen it. The world is full of pain. It is right that we should do all we can to prevent it, and relieve it. But we cannot cure it. All too often the very remedies used to cure one disease, cause another. Medical science is for many their Saviour. The account has yet to be drawn up that will show the accurate balance sheet of credits and debits so far as human science is concerned. AIDS is the greatest scourge of mankind yet - to what extent was medical science responsible for spreading it, if not even for creating it? Other plagues will come. Anti-biotics give rise to 'superbugs'. And always there are 'accidents' - animals squashed on the road, people squashed on the road. We lost (temporarily) a lovely young friend of 11, killed on his bicycle by an ambulance. Even the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel. The point I am making is that, try as we might, we cannot eliminate suffering from the world. Even our attempts to do so are partial and discriminatory, favouring the wealthy, our own children, our own pets. Man will never create the kingdom of God. Man's 'progress' is driven more by pride than by compassion in any case. Jesus said, "The poor will always be with you". He could have just as well said: "Suffering will always be with you". UNTIL. He did not present this as an argument for not helping the poor - only for using the poor as an excuse for not loving him, as Judas did when Mary, sister of Martha, annointed the feet of Jesus with a whole pound of costly spikenard. "Why wasn't this ointment sold for three hundred pence and given to the poor?" (John 12:5). Had Judas so soon forgotten what Jesus had done for Mary, returning her brother Lazarus from the tomb?! Did he understand nothing about gratitude and love?
We feel the pain of the world. But we cannot carry it. We are weighed down by it. If we were to be loaded with the weight of all the world's suffering, even that which exists at the present moment, this split second, we would be crushed by it. Add to that, the suffering of all past moments, of all the ages gone. Add again the suffering yet to be. It is impossible for us to live under such a burden. Some try and find they cannot live. Others switch off and ignore it, so long as they possibly can, filling their lives with entertainment.
Jesus makes the difference! He never said suffering does not matter, or that it should be ignored. That in effect is what those church leaders are saying who shrug off the agony of the animals with "Well they are there for us to use." What nonsense. What ignorance. Jesus said that God cares about even the sparrows that suffer and die. He cared. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Note that He did not say the sparrows had the same equal value as the disciples He was teaching. Adam and Eve were made "in God's own image." A hard one for many 'anti-speciesist' animal rights folk but that I believe is the testimony of the bible. That is what makes, or should make, men and women different. It has nothing to do with the "breath of life" that all living creatures share.* Not for the first time, or I guess the last, I make a plea for the bible, the word of God. It is not safe to tailor our religion to fit our own ideas or even feelings if those run contrary to the bible. That way lies total confusion. Even experience needs to be brought to the test, for as individuals our lives are short and the amount of knowledge and experience we can accumulate even in an entire lifetime is so limited in comparison with God's truth. Not that the experience itself is necessarily mistaken; it is a question of how we interpret or make sense of our experiences.
For example, take the case of Balaam's donkey. (Numbers 22). Balaam's donkey spoke to him. Balaam would have been wrong to conclude from that incident that all donkeys secretly have the ability to speak Hebrew and indeed that all donkeys should be listened to as the oracles or prophets of God. Such was Balaam's experience on that particular occasion but it was not the general experience of God's people, nor even the usual experience of Balaam. Actually some people could do worse than listen to donkeys, and often do! But seriously, it was God who spoke to Balaam, not the donkey really, and Jesus said that God could make even the stones cry out if no-one else will. I love donkeys, but this incident was not intended to elevate donkeys above other creatures.
To return to the "image of God". Because of sin it is marred. Christ came to restore it - beginning now and completing the change at the time God has appointed. I will be so bold as to say that those who are not being remoulded, transformed, having God's image restored in them by Christ, are not his people and have not been born from above. Caution is needed because we do not see into the hearts of men and women as God does and judgment is His not ours to make. We all have our weaknesses, our sins, that we confess to Him daily, hourly, and pray His remedy, His cure for. We also have our blind spots that in a way are even worse since by definition we cannot see them so that we should repent of them. By coming to the Light they are revealed to us. For those who anger us because of their sins and their blind spots that we do not share, the best thing we can do is pray for them and continue to expose them to the truths that we believe we have found, with the grace and wisdom that the Spirit gives us. And do remember that God can change people. I have a friend who was once an anti-Christian. He was a butcher by trade and a boozer by hobby. Twelve years ago he was born again and became a vegan too! He has been actively sacrificially engaged in the Lord's work ever since. Praise God! Alleluiah!
Jesus makes the difference! I cannot bear the burden of the world's suffering, but he has! Shouldered the lot, suffered it all, dealt with it. That I know through faith in him. For me it is the truth that makes me free, liberates me from a crushing, stifling load, not only of my sin but of the sin and pain of the whole world. If you think that is a 'get out', too easy, I can only reply "Yes it is!". Jesus said "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30).
Seek first the kingdom of God. Come to Jesus and take his yoke upon you.
Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the LORD. (Hebrews 10:30).
For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. (James 1:20).
This last I have constantly to remind myself of!
May God's kingdom come. Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus.
God bless you all. If this does not help you I hope that at least it has not offended you. Thank you for your patience in reading it.
* I still have not touched on the question: "Do animals have souls?". That is because I believe that so far as the animals are concerned the primary, most important consideration, is "What should be man's relationship to the animals? If man is made in the image of God, the God of love and compassion, what does that say about what man's attitude to animals should be? In particular, what should be the attitude, in these latter days of the age, of those who claim to be the brothers and sisters of Christ?"
I do have an understanding however on the question of "souls". I am very conscious that some might be critical of it, and I am always ready to listen to constructive criticism based on God's word and offered in His love. I do not want to impose another long treatise on anyone who has already had enough of me, and/or is not interested in this question, so I intend to send a separate e-mail with my 'essay' on "After Death - What?" as an attachment. For anyone who chooses to open it I ask only that you consider what I say prayerfully and with an open mind even if it contrasts with conventional assumptions. By the way, it comprises 3 pages of A4.
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