patty kirk

patty kirk lying down, getting up, sitting at home, walking down the road doing deuteronomy 6:7

Friday, January 25, 2013

god on animals

For a writing project, I’ve been doing research on all the ways we humans modify animals to suit our purposes and peculiar aesthetics. How we dehorn cattle to render them less dangerous to the farmers who raise them as food. And how we clip chickens’ wings to keep them from flying away from people who want to steal their eggs or lop their heads off and eat them. And how we crop the ears and tails of certain breeds of dogs just because we like how that looks better. Not to go all Peta on you here, but I got kind of sick reading about it.

Anyway, to continue along the same line as my last post, I'd like to consider what should be our Christian attitude toward animals, given that God on the one hand sanctioned them as food for humans but also included them in his first covenant to Noah, promising to protect not only humans but “the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth” (Genesis 9:10 NIV) from future destruction by a flood. It is a covenant, God says, between “between me and you and all living creatures of every kind” (Genesis 9:15), and he establishes rainbows as mnemonic devices for himself so that he, at least, won’t forget it: “Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind.”

But we humans, it seems, perpetually forget what God takes pains to remember. That humans and animals are equal recipients of this promise of protection. That all lifeblood, human and animal, is to be respected. That God loves all his creation, human and animal—and so, by extension, should we.

That God values animals, values them a lot, makes sense of the previously mysterious end of the story of Jonah, for me. Jonah has finally done what God wanted and gone and told the people of Ninevah that they are going to die if they don’t clean up their act, but he’s still mad at God for making him do it. He’s mad that these foreigners he was sent to warn actually listened to him, so God didn’t destroy them after all. And he's mad that he had to go out in the hot desert in the first place, where there's so little shade he has to take shelter under a vine. And he's mad that God sends a worm that chews on the vine and made it wither and then “a scorching wind” and a blazing sun that make him faint and suicidally depressed (Jonah 4:7-8).

“I’m so angry I wish I were dead,” Jonah tells God (Jonah 4:9).

Until now, I’ve always thought God’s response to Jonah's histrionics—“And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:11)was a joke intended to reveal Jonah's own absurdity. Now, though, I think God meant exactly what he said. God has concern for animals, just as he does for us.

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