Part Six: “Was Jesus Indifferent to Animals?”
One of the common criticisms hurled at Christianity by secular animal rights advocates is that the Bible is indifferent to the welfare animals. In particular, critics claim that Jesus showed little concern for animal life. Well-known radical animal rights advocate, Peter Singer, is an example. He writes, “The New Testament is completely lacking in any injunction against cruelty to animals, or any recommendations to consider their interests. Jesus himself showed indifference to the fate of non- humans when he induced two thousand swine to hurl themselves into the sea" (Animal Liberation: A New Ethic for Our Treatment of Animals, p. 209).
In previous blog articles, I have already refuted the unwarranted allegation that the Bible is unconcerned or apathetic to the welfare of animals. Scripture teaches that God created non-human life. All animals belong to Him; He watchers over them; He enjoys them; He provides for their well-being. God desires that all animal life fulfill the purpose for which He created them. In light of this, it would be theologically impossible for Jesus to have an indifferent attitude toward animals. Why? As the second member of the triune Godhead, Jesus could not be apathetic toward wild and domestic animals because God the Father is passionately concerned for their welfare and survival. In other words, as the incarnate Son of God, Jesus would have shared the Father’s love and concern for animal life.
The primary purpose of Jesus’ incarnation was to open the door to human reconciliation with God through His sacrificial death on the cross for our sins. His Second Advent will include the removal of nature’s curse (Rom. 8:20-32; Rev. 22:3; cf. Gen. 3:17-19); the establishment of a new heaven and earth (Isa. 65:17; Rev. 21:1); and the redemption of all creation alongside His people—which of course will include animal life (Rom. 8:19-23). Nevertheless, even when Jesus walked this earth he still demonstrated an appreciation and concern for animals. He told His disciples that not a single sparrow “is forgotten by God” (Luke 12:6). He pointed out that God provides animals their food (Matt. 6:26; Luke 12:24) and is concerned for their welfare (Luke 12:6).
As far as the allegation that Jesus “showed indifference to the fate of nonhumans when he induced two thousand swine to hurl themselves into the sea,” it was not Jesus but the demons that drove the pigs into the sea (see Matt. 8:30–32). To claim otherwise is to read meaning into the passage that flies in the face of the actual narrative—as well as the whole Scriptural teachings on God and non-human life. However, this raises another issue that needs to be addressed before moving on.
What about Animal Sacrifices in the Old Testament?
Many Christians struggle over harmonizing God’s love for animals with His instructions in Leviticus and elsewhere to include animal sacrifices in religious activities. This is a fair concern, but an adequate response is beyond the scope of this study. But I can at least say this. Animal sacrifices—the shedding of innocent blood—vividly depicts the gravity of sin and the heartbreaking cost of redemption. In God’s revelatory plan for human salvation, animal sacrifices in the Old Testament point directly to the ultimate, once-and-for all sacrifice of Jesus Christ on behalf of rebellious sinners. I can see no more powerful or effective way for God to illustrate this crucial message. But animal sacrifices do not lesson God’s love for animals and should not distract us from this fact. Moreover, slaughtering animals for sacrificial purposes was done quickly and humanely; it was no different than butchering animals for human consumption today. In fact much of the edible portions of sacrificial animals were used for food. More importantly, it was Jesus who abolished animal sacrifices. And of course if earth-bound animals are privileged to enter heaven, the “sting” of death (1 Cor. 15:55) is removed for sacrificial as well as all other earth-bound animals.
Animals Respond to God
In response to God’s love and provision, through beautiful poetic language, all creation—including wild animals—is portrayed worshiping and praising the Creator. Palm 148 speaks of angels and other “heavenly hosts” praising God alongside “sea creatures” and “wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds” (148: 7,10). Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God says “The animals of the field will honor me, jackals and ostriches, because I provide water in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert” (Isa. 43:20). The last verse in the last Psalm concludes: “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD” (Ps. 150:6; also see Ps. 65:12–13; 96:11–12; 98:4–8). At the end of this present age, explains Revelation, “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them [will sing] ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praised and honor and glory and power, for every and ever’” (5:13)!
In terms of here on earth, in this present age, such passages should probably be seen as mostly metaphorical. Nevertheless, they point to the reality that all creatures bringing glory and enjoyment to God simply by fulfilling the purpose of their creation—a purpose that will continue on and reach perfection in the Peaceable Kingdom.
This and the previous blog articles have shown that animals enjoy a wonderful—and dependent—relationship with their Creator. Standing alone, the data in these articles do not necessarily translate into earth-bound animals existing after physical death. But they do provide the foundation for a compelling theological case that God has more in mind for animals than their short sojourn here on this earth. There are many other evidences I’ll add to support this. The most crucial is the evidence that animals possess souls. If they do, there is no legitimate biblical reason to deny them a future abode in Heaven. This watershed issue will be the subject of my next one or two blog articles.
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