Those who understand that God's love and care extends to all creatures are often challenged by religious people who insist that the concern for animals is a secular issue. Their insistence is easy to understand. Although the bible has a great deal to say about God's concern for animals, and the relationship between human and animal beings, this subject has been ignored. With very few exceptions, neither rabbis, ministers, theologians, nor biblical exegetes have braved the chauvinism of human bias. A bias which sees its own species as the center--and the circumference--of God's concern.
This bias continues in spite of the fact that the Bible depicts the spiritual journey of animals just as surely as it describes the human journey. The scriptures trace their story from the time of creation, through their sojourn in a fallen world, to a millennial world they will share with their human companions. And in the book of Revelation, both wild and domestic animals are shown in heavenly places, praising God for their redemption.
It is the creation narrative that gives the reason for this animal presence in heaven--for their immortality. The book of Genesis tells us that animals, like humans, were created as nefesh chaya--living souls. (Genesis 1:29,30; 2:7,19) But unless you understand the Hebrew language, there is no way to know this. Those who translate the Bible have obscured the fact that animals, like men, have been endowed by their Creator with a soul.
Scholars have done this by translating the same Hebrew expression differently, depending on whether it refers to a human or an animal being. Genesis 2:7 reads "The Lord God formed the man of the dust of the ground...and man became a living soul. But when the Hebrew uses the exact same term in referring to animals, it is translated differently. Thus Genesis 2:19 becomes: "The Lord God formed every beast of the field and every fowl of the air and brought them unto Adam...and whatever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof."(Emphases added.)
Even the context of the above verse of scripture shows the depth of relatedness between Adam and the animals--an inner relatedness. In the verse that immediately precedes the text that says animals embody a soul--nefesh chaya--the Bible tells us they were expressly created by God as companions for Adam.
Contrary to popular belief, the Bible does not say that it was Eve who was created to be a helpmate for Adam. It says that God created the animals for this purpose. "And the Lord God said It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast.." (Gen. 2:18,19)
The scriptures also show that Adam's encounter with animals was a very personal one. "Adam gave names to all [the animals] but for Adam, there was not found a help meet for him."(Gen. 2:20) Here, again, the Hebrew language shows the depth of relatedness between the man and these other living souls. The word shem is used to describe the process whereby Adam "gave names" to the animals.
By definition, shem denotes individuality; the same kind of individuality that a person's name connotes. Adam's naming of other creatures was not an impersonal classification of species or genus. It was a personal encounter with individual entities. But in spite of the companionship these other beings provided for him, none could provide an intimate enough relationship. "But for Adam, there was not found an help meet for him."
Ultimately it was only Eve, the female counterpart of the male, who could alleviate Adams' loneliness. But the animals continued to be the beloved companions they were created to be--until the Fall.
After sin entered the picture, not only did the relationship between human beings become destructive, men also became violent towards the other creatures with whom they shared the earth. The animals reacted to this cruelty by becoming antagonistic to men, and to each other. The Bible places the blame for their degeneration on mankind, reporting that it was because of the sins of men that the rest of creation fell. (Romans 8:19-22)
The violence that eventually characterized life on earth was horrific, and is best described by a passage from the Bible. "The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on earth had become, and every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil, all the time...So the lord said: I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth--men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air--for I am grieved that I made them." (Gen. 6:5,7 NIV)
It was this degeneration of all creation that led to the Great Flood. But even as Noah was warned about the catastrophe that was to come, he was told that in order to survive he would have to provide a way of escape for the animals.
Man had been given dominion--responsibility for the animals--at the time of creation. And although he had failed miserably in his stewardship, he was still responsible for the other creatures with whom he shared the earth. If he did not provide for their safety and well-being, there would be no safety for him or his family. If Noah did not help them survive, he and his family would not survive.
The Bible continues this story of God's equal concern for human and nonhuman beings as it tells the story of the post-Flood world. The Eighth chapter of Genesis begins: "And God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and livestock that were with him in the ark...and the waters receded."
The animals were not a postscript to God's concern for the survivors of the Flood: their condition was just as important to their Creator as that of the human inhabitants of the ark. As the narrative goes on, this emphasis on the Lord's equal concern for all creatures, continues. And the story of the covenant that God enters into with the animals confirms their ultimate value.
Theologians make much of the fact that the Bible says God has a covenantal relationship with men. They have endlessly discussed the exalted nature of this relationship, emphasizing their belief that it shows the ultimate value God places on mankind.
The idea of covenanting with God is an exalted concept. The only problem is that theologians do not discuss the fact that God also covenanted with the animals. The refusal to acknowledge this fact is just one more way in which human beings deliberately obscure the great value that God places on nonhuman beings.
It is not easy for scholars to overlook God's covenant with the animals, because it is repeated five times in one paragraph.(Gen. 9:8-17). And each of the repetitions states this as plainly as does the following quotation. "Then God said to Noah...I now establish My covenant with you and your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you--the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you--every living creature on earth." (Gen. 9:8-10)
In spite of the biblical record, men continually try to relegate nonhuman beings to the category of "things." In order to continue their use and abuse of animals, a fallen human race does everything it can to obscure their value in the sight of God. But in spite of these attempts, prophets like Isaiah clearly state that in a millennial world, human beings will necessarily live in peace with God's other creatures. Only when men stop their violence and abuse of the animals, and of each other, will they be free from the sorrow and suffering that results from their hatred and greed.
"They shall beat their swords into plow-shares,and spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." (Isaiah 2: 3,4)
"The wolf will live with the lamb...the calf and the lion, and the yearling together and a little child will lead them. The infant will play near the cobra and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord" (Isaiah 11:6-9)
In these passages of scripture, Isaiah describes a time when all creatures will live in peace because men will acknowledge the teachings of God, and stop the destructive behavior they have indulged for so long. And the prophet Jeremiah also relates the suffering of all creation to the sinfulness of men. "How long will the land lie parched and the grass in every field be withered? Because those who live in it are wicked, the animals and birds have perished." (Jer. 12:4)
The New Testament makes the restoration of the world contingent upon the redemption of men. "The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice....the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth, right up to the present time." (Romans 8:19-22 NIV)
The restoration of all creation is also a theme in the book of Ephesians. "In all his wisdom and insight God did what he had purposed, and made known to us the secret plan he had already decided to complete by means of Christ. This plan, which God will complete when the time is right, is to bring all creation together, everything in heaven and on earth, with Christ as head." (Ephesians 8-10 TEV)
This promise of "all creation" being restored by Christ is treated as an accomplished fact in the book of Revelation. Animal and human beings are shown rejoicing together, praising their Creator in heaven, while on earth, a new world order is established. It is the millennial world foretold by Isaiah. The world in which all beings are restored to fellowship with their God, and with each other. It is the world of Paradise restored. "God himself shall be with them...And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying neither shall there be any more pain: For the former things are passed away." (Rev 21:4)
Reprinted from the Sept./Oct. 1997 issue of Humane Religion. Copyright 1997 by Viatoris Ministries.
This article is available in pamphlet form which may be reprinted and distributed for educational purposes.
Go on to: ANIMAL RIGHTS: Contemporary Concern or Ongoing Issue?
Return to: Articles