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Christians and God's Creatures

Caring about Animals

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The NIH has decided to free most of its chimpanzees. I’ll explain why the decision was unlikely, and why Christians can applaud it, next on BreakPoint.

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Eric Metaxas

A New York Times headline grabbed my attention on the airplane last week: “Unlikely Partners, Freeing Chimps from the Lab.”

It turns out the National Institutes of Health has agreed to retire and find new homes for nearly all of the chimpanzees it has used for medical research.

The unlikely partners behind this move were world-famous primatologist Jane Goodall and the head of NIH, my friend Dr. Francis Collins. The “unlikely” part of their partnership, according to the Times, is that Goodall is an animal rights activist and Collins is the “ultimate white-coated lab person.”

But left unsaid by the Times is another “unlikely” aspect of Goodall’s and Collins’s relationship: Collins is an outspoken evangelical Christian.

What’s unlikely about a leading evangelical siding with an animal rights activist? Well, as Chuck Colson said years ago on this program, “When it comes to animal welfare today, Christians have allowed the secular world to take the lead and set the agenda.”

And this, my friends, should not be!

Earlier generations of Christians understood well that our stewardship of creation extends to living creatures. St. Francis of Assisi was famous for his passionate concern for animals. And William Wilberforce, the great abolitionist, took a public stand against cruelty to animals and helped found the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. And in his book “The Problem of Pain,” C. S. Lewis calls the suffering of animals “appalling.” “Animal pain,” he wrote, is “begun by Satan's malice and perpetrated by man's desertion of his post.”

Now, in one sense, it’s understandable that Christians have in large measure avoided the animal welfare movement—mostly because its most vocal activists espouse a worldview that is actively hostile to Christianity: namely naturalism. That’s the idea that all that is is the result of chance, and that all living things are morally equivalent, which is why the founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals famously said, “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.”

Nonetheless, by ignoring the issue of animal welfare, Christians are not being the good stewards we’re called to be. So as Chuck once said, “we need to get involved in shaping laws that determine animal treatment. We must make it our business to find out how the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle of the earth are treated on factory farms, in research labs, and by commercial fishermen.”

And while I wouldn’t advocate working hand in hand with radical groups such as PETA, when Newsletter_Gen_180x180_B we can advocate for just reforms or take action to better the treatment of animals, we absolutely should.

In other words, Francis Collins did the right thing. Now, Collins admitted in the New York Times that freeing chimpanzees is one thing. He says, after all, they are “special creatures” possessing similarities to humans “that are quite breathtaking.” But don’t expect NIH to stop experimenting on rats and mice anytime soon—or animal rights groups to stop lobbying on their behalf.

To quote Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper, as Chuck Colson so often did, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, "Mine!”

And “His” extends to all of creation, including the animals He made. And wherever and whenever we do good out of love for God, we are witnesses of Christ.

Further Reading and Information

BP-Takeaction_71913Christians and God’s Creatures: Caring about Animals - Next Steps

God’s love and concern extends not only to us, but to all His creation. We are to be stewards of the wondrous environment and the creatures that inhabit it. In doing so we demonstrate Christ’s love.

Take advantage of opportunities to promote improved treatment for animals, not for naturalistic reasons, but because animals are part of God’s amazing creation.



Articles:

Unlikely Partners, Freeing Chimps from the Lab
James Gorman | New York Times | July 8, 2013

Abusing Our Power: Do Christians Sanction Animal Cruelty?
Chuck Colson | BreakPoint.org | May 7, 2003

Exploring “Dominion”
Matthew Scully | National Review Online | December 3, 2002

Websites:

Mercy Springs Ranch


Comments:

A horse is a horse, of course, of course
The Bechtloff,

While it is not clear to me that the horses in the Book of Revelation (not Revelations, but don't feel too bad; it's a common mistake) are necessarily literal, that is one possibility. I certainly am not going to dogmatically state that they are not literal. And anyway, you have answered my question, and I thank you for that. Also, while you apparently inadvertently revealed your full name in another page of this site, I will continue to honor your preferred nickname.

Just Me,

You seem to be criticizing the Word of God as a slippery slope! In the story of the Lord Jesus (at least you call Him that, but let's not forget those who will say, "Lord, Lord" ...) and the demon-possessed pigs, the people of the town asked Jesus to leave because they valued pigs (considered unclean by Jews) more highly than the Lord of Glory Himself, but you seem to be siding with them. Talk about slippery slopes.

Piggyparade,

While you made some valid points in your comment, it did seem a bit extreme in places. Aside from that, your choice of nickname suggests you might be like Just Me when it comes to the pigs in the Decapolis area.
@Richard L. Enison
"Which ones make it to "doggy Heaven"? The pets of Christians? All pets? All animals? Do you have any scripture to back up your answer?"

All animals? I don't know. Bugs, single celled animals, and the very lower creatures I don't know. I'm not saying they don't but again I can't say. But the higher creatures, the mammals, the birds, and even many of the reptiles, it's hard for me to look in the eyes of such creatures and not see a spark, an indicator that they are more than just biological machines.

As for scripture on whether or not there will be some animals in Heaven, does Jesus not come down on a horse in Revelations?

So I have no doubt that at the very least the higher creatures find their way to Heaven.
God's creatures and our responsibility
Thank you Eric for highlighting an important yet neglected Christian responsibility. As a family counselor, biology teacher (former caretaker of elephants, lions, tigers, bears, wolves, etc., and a rehabilitator for the Dept. of Wildlife),Christian insensitivity and cruelty deeply grieves me and dishonors the Good Shepherd. For decades now, our family ministry and resource website, Good Shepherd Initiative, have emphasized the biblical mandate to treat God's animals the way He says in His Word (especially those with nephesh so they can think and feel). From Genesis 1-2 to Genesis 9 to Leviticus 17:13-14 to 2 Samuel 12 to Isaiah 11 and 65 to Romans 8, it is clear that compassion is God's Way. Wilberforce was a powerful witness to the world because he lived the consistency of Christ's compassion, fighting against both human slavery and animal abuse.
Erroneous theologies
I agree 100% about the abuses of animals in the US that CAB has pointed out. I would be supporting animal rights organizations, but there are only so many causes one can give money to on a regular basis, and I have chosen to support missions because it is more important in the long run than animal rescue, medical research (which uses animals, btw, but that's a separate issue), education, etc. However, right now I want to discuss something else that caught my eye, in the comment by:

The Bechtloff,

You learn something new every day. It now appears that you believe in doggy heaven. Okay. That's fine, but it only answers one binary yes/no question, namely: "Will there be animals in heaven?" This question leads to a whole tree of other yes/no questions. For example, so many people care so much about their pets, they are only interested in knowing that their favorite dog or cat will be in heaven. This leads to the idea that pets of saints get to go to Heaven (if their owners want them there, at least).

This implies that pets of unsaved people, dogs and cats not "lucky" enough to have been born in a puppy (or kitty) mill, and certainly wild animals will not be in Heaven. This is a form of what I call salvation by luck for animals. If an animal is lucky enough to be a pet, and if further they are lucky enough to have a Christian for an owner, they get to live forever, otherwise not.

There are all kinds of doctrines of salvation by luck for people. The main one, of course, is what is usually called hyper-Calvinism, because it is an extreme form of the Calvinist TULIP doctrine of limited atonement (the L in TULIP), which is a close partner of irresistible grace (the I in TULIP). The idea is that before the universe was created, God decided whom He would save, and everyone else would end up in Hell no matter what. So if you are lucky enough to be on that list, you will first of all hear the gospel, and you will accept it because of irresistible grace. If not, you may or may not hear it, but you won't accept it because of total depravity (the T in tulip). Free will plays absolutely no role in the process whatsoever. It does not exist, as far as the hyper-Calvinists are concerned. We are all robots or marionettes, with God as the Master Puppeteer pulling our strings. That wouldn't be so bad if we really were like marionettes, i.e., inanimate objects with no mind, no feelings, etc. But that is not the case. In fact, a nightmare I once had as a child was, what if God really believes that's what we are? What if He doesn't know we really are conscious? Is there anything we can do or say to convince Him that we are? No. Because whatever we do or say, it could just be what we were programmed to do or say. Now that's a nightmare for you. Fortunately, God is omniscient, so He knows better.

But I digress. My question for you (if I haven't put you to sleep already), is: what is your theology about animals? Which ones make it to "doggy Heaven"? The pets of Christians? All pets? All animals? Do you have any scripture to back up your answer?
Animals and Christian Stewardship
In reviewing my scripture, I agree that after the flood, God gave us stewardship and usage of animals. And let me be quick to add that I do not condone animal cruelty.
However, having grown up and still living and making my living on a large ranching operation, I find this trend alarming. Most of the modern animal rights movement and a large majority of their well meaning supporters come from an entirely urban and big city background, and while their emotions may be kind in intent..... they have nothing to do with the natural world and the way God created it. Someone coming from an urban background with a multi-generational disconnect from the natural world (hiking trips don't compare to a lifetime of working on a cattle ranch) doesn't have the cognitive framework to advocate "shaping laws" that ultimately affect PEOPLES livelyhoods and means of supporting their families. While Chuck Colson may be well intentioned (see above) might I suggest that he live for 63 years on a cattle ranch in coastal Louisiana, as I have, before he advocates for the "shaping of laws", that in my own very real experience, feel good for the "shaper", but do little to actually help animals and ultimately harm BOTH humans and animals. Leave animal care to those who do it best. There are too many people in this world, created in Gods image, that badly need help in some form or other. Our Lord Jesus, in Mark Ch. 5, showed more compassion to the demons in the possessed man by running 2000 hogs off of a cliff ....than he did to the hogs..... also we are told "take heart you are worth more than many sparrows".
I find this issue to be a slippery slope, that once started in the modern "fix-it then ignore it mentality" will be harmful to us all.
Thank you, but...
Dear Eric, thank you for even having the courage to entertain a topic related to the treatment of animals!
As a devout Christian who stopped eating meat/dairy after learning about factory farming and the horrific way in which food animals are treated, it pains me greatly to see the Christian community silent and even antagonistic on these issues. In fact, just avoiding eating meat/dairy at a church function is usually enough to bring on attacks and ruffle feathers as if eating animals was a divine mandate! God forbid anyone challenge the status quo (which happens to be the WORLD's status quo which the church clings desperately to!) Scully's book, Dominion, is amazing.
It pains me greatly to see PETA always mentioned as the standard for animal protection organizations! Its like saying that the most extreme "holy rollers" are the standard for all Christians! And Ingrid's quote, taken out of context was "When it comes to SUFFERING, a pig is a rat is a dog is a boy." NOT that we are equal, but in suffering, we all suffer equally when abused. Really dealing an unfair blow to her there.
But, on these issues, the "church" remains willfully ignorant and blissfully unaware, which is a disservice to our Lord and in so doing, how many compassionate people are we alienating and even abusing with the jokes and cruel remarks made about people who care about the way God's creatures are treated? The church has lost its heart and seems to be deifying man in its determination that man is the ONLY creature that God cares about! How pathetic and full of hubris is this doctrine that has pervaded theology today. We hear so many stories of vegetarian people who are the same as us, leaving the church and some even denouncing God due to the abuse and meanness they experience in churches. And those in the animal movements that are antagonistic to the church? WHY do they have a reason to be so? Because the church has no compassion and they see the hypocrisy plainly and judge our loving, merciful God by the cruel, ignorant people who claim to be His followers! We are chasing people away with our own antagonism and hubris and worship of mankind! Don't you see? Can anyone see what is happening here? God help us! What shame we are bringing to the name and cause of Christ! No wonder they hate anything "christian"! We make a mockery of our glorious Creator.
And we are reaping the rewards of it in obesity and plagues of food related illness such as cancers, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, MS and many, many more. Happily destroying our bodies, God's temple, to gorge on animal flesh with abandon while looking to MD's (Medical Deities) to save us with some new majic pill or potion or miraculous procedure! The accusation of worshiping animals, often ignorantly thrown at us, pales in comparison to worshiping human kind, food and the most corrupt disease-care system on the planet!
Things need to change and we need LEADERS willing to stand up and be the voice for those who cannot speak for themselves, those who God gave us a divine stewardship to mercifully CARE for and protect. As Christians, we have abandoned our responsibilities to pursue our own pleasures and we deserve all the contempt the world can muster for our blatant hypocrisy! God help us to find our heart and start caring about the things that matter to God and take ourselves off of the throne for a change!
Animals & Christian Stewardship
I was driving home from the store a short time ago and I happened to hear the story on Breakpoint about animal welfare and how God's creation extends to all his creatures also. I almost fell off the seat! I am with a local, grass-roots non-profit organization that works with animals and I couldn't believe what I was hearing Mr. Metaxas say. I have so longed for someone in the Christian world to point this out and have them say that animals are important and that we are stewards of them and need to take care of them. I am SO HAPPY to hear and read this commentary. God Bless you for bringing it to people's attention. The way most animals are treated in our country is appalling! They are abandoned, used for cruel sport, chained in labs for "research", even farm animals are tortured - forced to live in overcrowded spaces with no fresh air, sunlight, or even a place to walk around. Never seen a "puppy mill"? Go check one out - it literally will break your heart, and well it should. Thank you, thank you, thank you for airing and printing this article. I want to shout it from the rooftops! Animal welfare groups applaud you.
Thanks for this Eric, this was a great commentary. I always loved what Steve Brown (one of my favorite Christian authors and radio hosts) like to say "If you don't believe in doggy heaven, you can take your erroneous theology elsewhere."

-The Bechtloff
-landsharkattacks.blogspot.com