If someone blesses me, Webster’s Dictionary says that means they “invoke divine care” for me. Suppose they bless a pet or other animal? Does that imply that the animal has a soul subject to divine care, like me? If that animal does have a soul, does this mean that all animals have a soul? If so, do animals go to heaven when they die? Will I meet my former pets in heaven?
Lately, some Christians (particularly in the Roman Catholic and Episcopal denominations) have adopted a formal annual practice of blessing animals. The selected animals are presented in a church worship service by members of the congregation. Those who have initiated this practice say the ceremony is meant to remind the congregation of their stewardship responsibility over God’s Creation, and how we have cared for it —— or not cared for it. Therefore, must I never kill an animal as a source of food for myself? Must I become a vegetarian?!!
I wasn’t sure how to answer these questions, so I turned to the Bible. In the Book of Genesis I found the following, in the Bible’s “Creation Story.” —–
Chapter 1, Verse 25: “God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the
the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures
that move along the ground, according to their kinds. And
God saw that it was good.”
Verse 26: “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness’
and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air,
over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all creatures that
move along the ground.’ “
Verse 28: “God blessed them [mankind] and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and
increase in number —- fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over
the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living
creature that lives on the ground.’ “
Simply put, the Book of Genesis seems to give us a “license” to kill or do whatever else may “please” humankind, with respect to God’s earthly creatures. Killing animals for food would seem entirely OK. In fact, don’t animals themselves kill each other for food and self-defense?
However, Jesus himself teaches that “not a sparrow will fall to the ground” without the care and attention of God. (Matthew 10:29) If we have failed to notice this fact, perhaps it is because we have been too taken with the idea that we are made in the divine image, and we have not really been reflecting on the great responsibilities that such status brings.
Author Phillip Sherman, in a recent issue of Presbyterian Life, argues that a greater sense of responsibility for animals was developed over the last 100 years. “As some animals have transitioned from utilitarian purposes (labor, production, food) to companionship (pets, therapy dogs and cats, and service animals like seeing-eye dogs) a new element has emerged ——- LOVE. Many Christians today love certain animals, and give them special status by calling them “pets“. We remember St. Francis of Assisi and his passion for the care of God’s creatures. Today, we sometimes even link to animals some passages of Scripture about LOVE, and how we are supposed to treat those we love.
Of all the traits previously thought to be the exclusive possession of human beings, perhaps love and compassion are the greatest. The possibility that many animals are capable of deep emotional lives,with some kind of love, including also grief and gratitude, seems accepted increasingly among many in the scientific community.
There are many ethical issues that arise from our contemporary encounters with animals: experimentation on animals, our habitat destruction, and the keeping of animals in zoos, are but a few of the issues a modern Christian must face. The deepest debates, of course, are those about killing animals for human food, or just for sport.
Many of us enjoy home-cooked meals of beef, chicken, turkey, pork and fish, just to name a few of the animals whom we happily sacrifice for our own pleasure and survival. Was it God’s intent that these creatures were placed among us simply for our benefit, or are we just wrong to appropriate them?
There are some within the Christian tradition who argue that killing animals is simply wrong. They remind us that Genesis 1 seems to imagine the earth in an original vegetarian state and that other passages of Scripture look forward to a time when “the wolf will live with the lamb.” (Isaiah 11:6) suggesting that even the predatory life among animals, if nothing else, will cease.
Whether many Christians accept the vegetation argument or not, one thing is clear —– animals are part of the promise God made to us. They will be our helpmates, and even more, they seem to be essential to our survival and salvation on earth. So, formally blessing animals should be taken as a statement of our gratitude to God for having given us this loving dimension in so many of our lives..
These thoughts are brought to you by the CPC Adult Spiritual Development Team, hoping that you will discover some personal spiritual growth this Fall.