This week we hear from Erin, a ten year-old, who writes, "I am already a vegetarian. I am all for animals truthfully I have more respect for animals than humans, and I was wondering if that was ok with God and that loving animals so much was wrong?"
In actual fact, I know a number of people who prefer the company of their pets to people, some with good reason. Recently, when I was traveling with my family, we took our Lhasa Apso with us. We were concerned with getting a motel room, but the one we stayed in had a sign that reassured us. It read: "Is your pet welcome here? We've never had a pet steal towels, bed clothes, silverware, or pictures off the walls. We've never had to evict a pet in the middle of the night for being drunk and disorderly. And we've never had a pet run out on a hotel bill. Your pet is welcome at this hotel. And, if your pet will vouch for you, you're welcome to stay too."
The place of animals is the scriptures is rather ambiguous. In Genesis 2 we read that animals were created to be helpers of the human; indeed, the same Hebrew word is used of their created purpose as for Eve's (Genesis 2.18-21). Clearly, animals were created with a lofty position. Indeed, in Genesis 1 we read that humans and animals alike were prohibited from consuming flesh as food, thus there is a high level of respect for the lives of all creatures.
However, by the time we get to Genesis 4, there is a significant turn. When the sons of Adam and Eve brought an offering to God we read that Cain brought a gift from his crops and Abel brought the best of his firstborn lambs from his flock. "The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift" (Genesis 4.4b-5a). Regardless of the reasons for Cain's unacceptable gift, the significance we find here is that of the first animal sacrifice.
And it pretty much goes downhill from there. When Noah gets out of the ark in Genesis 9, we discover that animals have moved from the general realm of live-and-let-live to animals as consumables in food, as beasts of burden, and as sacrificial offerings. Although there are specific requirements of how they are to be killed, butchered, and eaten, it doesn't change the fact that the animal world would never be the same as when they lived in Paradise.
So, were animals created by God with the intent that they would be companions and equals to humans? Did their idealistic world all come apart because of Adam and Eve's great sin that put an end to Paradise?
The answer has to be.no. Animals were never intended to be on the same level as humans-but they weren't relegated to the level of animal crackers either. Our fellow creatures were created with great tenderness and love, and so God charged the humans with their care. In Genesis 1 we read: "God blessed them and said [to the humans], 'Have children and grow in number. Fill the earth and be its master. Rule over the fish in the sea and over the birds in the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth'" (Genesis 1.28). In this passage humanity is charged with the care of the creatures God created. "Ruling over" doesn't mean abject destruction for the sake of destruction. It doesn't mean the leveling of habitats or the corralling in feed lots or too-small of cages. Any king who "ruled" his realm as we have "ruled" over the animal kingdom would soon find that he was either deposed or that he lost his head-literally.
But the best care of the animal kingdom, even treating animals with the highest dignity and regard for their welfare, doesn't supplant our fellow human beings as those for whom we are charged with having the highest regard. Loving animals and elevating them above the welfare of humanity is not the biblical mandate. Indeed, the fact that we are charged with the care of God's creatures indicates that the humans were elevated and entrusted by God above the rest of creation.
Biblically, there are few laws dealing with the relationships between animals and humans. But biblically we see repeatedly that God is ultimately concerned about the relationships between human and human, and between humans and God. Doubtless, God is gravely concerned with the way we have disregarded the dignity and welfare of the animal world and the rest of creation, but certainly God is not nearly as concerned as the way in which we treat each other.
So, Erin, although it is noble of you to love and care for and avoid the consumption of animals, God has called you to love one another-your parents, your siblings, your friends, your enemies, and even those whom you've never met-and even to put their welfare above the welfare of the animal kingdom. Which doesn't mean you shouldn't lobby as an animal-rights activist, but that you must also care for and serve your fellow humans along the way too.