Apr 28 2017

Loving Our Fellow Creatures

_DSC3914This week I wrapped up teaching a couple of classes on the Book of Jonah. I love this story about a reluctant prophet and the lesson it teaches about the universality of God’s love.  I also find the role animals play in the story intriguing, and I’m not just talking about the “huge fish” that swallowed Jonah.  When the wicked city of Nineveh repents even the animals get in on the act by wearing sackcloth and joining the fast.  And then, when you come to the very end of the story, God indicates that the animals found in Nineveh are one of the main reasons He was “concerned about that great city” and did not want to destroy it.

_DSC3690Anyone familiar with the Bible should not be surprised by the concern God revealed for the animals of Nineveh. Genesis 1 indicates that God was the one who made the animals in the first place. We also read here that after God created the animals He “saw that it was good.” In Genesis 2 God instructed Adam to give names to the animals.  Later still in the Book of Genesis there is the familiar story of Noah and how God used him to preserve the animals when the world was destroyed by a great flood.  No, the Book of Jonah is not the only place where God’s love or concern for animals is mentioned in the Scriptures.

I happen to believe that God’s concern for animals should be our concern too. In the Genesis 1 account of Creation animals are made the same day humans are. We share the same Maker and the same home.  We have a beneficial role to play in their lives and they in ours.  Meister Eckhart believed “Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God.” As our fellow creatures and illuminator of the divine all animals deserve our respect.

_DSC4930Two prayers come to my mind here that I’d like for you to consider. The first was penned by George Appleton. “O God, I thank thee for all the creatures thou hast made, so perfect in their kind—great animals like the elephants and the rhinoceros, humorous animals like the camel and the monkey, friendly ones like the dog and the cat, working ones like the horse and the ox, timid ones like the squirrel and the rabbit, majestic ones like the lion and the tiger, for birds with their songs. O Lord give us such love for thy creation, that love may cast out fear, and all thy creatures see in man their priest and friend through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The second prayer comes from the hand or heart of Albert Schweitzer: “Hear our humble prayer, O God, for our friends the animals, especially for animals who are suffering, for any that are hunted or lost, or deserted or frightened or hungry, for all that must be put to death. We entreat for them all thy mercy and pity and for those who deal with them we ask a heart of compassion and gentle hands and kindly words.  Make us, ourselves, to be true friends to animals and so to share the blessings of the merciful.”

_DSC3493Fyodor Dostoyevsky challenged us to love animals, adding “God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled. Do not trouble their joy, don’t harass them, don’t deprive them of their happiness, don’t work against God’s intent.” These are words we should all take to heart for caring for our fellow creatures truly is part of our divine calling.  God wanted to make sure Jonah understood that and I suspect God wants us to understand it as well.

–Chuck


Mar 24 2014

Loving All God’s Creatures

_DSC2406Today I had the privilege of speaking at the funeral of a member of my church.  The person who died, Ben Cline, was a very good man with a lot of wonderful traits.  One of the traits I spoke about may have come as a surprise to some.  Ben had a soft spot in his heart for stray animals.  Over the years he had taken in numerous cats and dogs and nursed them back to health.  His family told me about how he bottle-fed some and they recalled how he slept in the floor with one cat for two nights trying to help it get better.  I already had a lot of admiration for Ben for the whole time I knew him he was battling a serious disease and did so with much courage and dignity.  After hearing of the compassion he had for stray animals my admiration only grew greater.  That compassion says a lot about a person’s character.

St. Francis once said “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellowmen.”  Apparently St. Francis believed that how one looked at animals said a lot about that person.  I would agree with that.  So would the philosopher Immanuel Kant who said “He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men.  We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”  Not surprisingly, Ben believed strongly in showing respect to all people, not matter where they came from or how rich or poor they might be.  There was, in fact, a correlation between his compassion for animals and his fellowman.

_DSC2421I sometimes struggle with the picture the Bible presents concerning animals.  There are parts where animals almost appear worthless.  There are other parts where their value is shown and emphasized.  In the Creation story we read that when God made the various creatures He declared them “good.”  (Genesis 1:24–25)  Later when the earth is destroyed by flood God makes sure that Noah saves creatures from all species so that after the flood they, too, might repopulate the earth.  Later still, when God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses He not only ordered a day of rest for humans but for their animals as well. (Exodus 20:10)

There is a closer bond or connection between humans and animals than most people realize.  According to Genesis 2 we were both brought forth from the earth by God and in Genesis 1 we were both created on the same day.  Needless to say we share the same earth and are dependent on it for our survival.  There are also some who believe that God made animals to be our companions.  In Genesis 2:19 we read that God brought all the animals to Adam and “whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”  The very fact that the animals were named may well imply that a relationship was established between “man and beast.”

_CES0047Unfortunately, many have completely misunderstood God’s call for humans to “rule over” or “have dominion over” all creatures to mean they were to dominate them and treat them however they wish.  (Genesis 1:26) In his book, For Love of Animals, Charles Camosy says Jesus interpreted “dominion” not as domination but servanthood.  He adds, “we are called to be like Jesus and use our dominion to serve and protect the most vulnerable.  This includes vulnerable nonhuman animals.  With Christ as our guide, human dominion over creation must be about self-sacrificial love–not consumerist exploitation.”

In the end I do believe that animals deserve our compassion.  Proverbs 12:10 says “A righteous man cares for the needs of his animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.”  I am grateful for the example of Ben Cline in this area and I know that there are many others like him out there.  I just wish there were more.

–Chuck

(The top two images are Boomer and Taz, pets of my friends John and Christi Edwards.  The bottom image shows my dog, Sierra.)

 


Sep 30 2012

Companions For Life

Last night I had the privilege of performing the wedding ceremony for our church choir director.  Thanks to a break in the weather the service was able to be held outdoors high on a mountaintop in the Great Smoky Mountains.  Everything about the service was beautiful, including the surroundings.  As the bride walked toward me and I took in the awe-inspiring surroundings my mind couldn’t help but wander back to the Genesis story where in another garden setting God provided a wife for the first man, Adam.  Genesis 2:18 declares, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him.” 

What comes next in the story is kind of funny to me.  The Scriptures say that God “formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky.  He brought them to the man to see what he would name them…”  After this we read, “But for Adam no suitable helper was found.”  Apparently Adam didn’t think any of the creatures God had created would make an appropriate mate.  I don’t understand.  What could be wrong with a porcupine or a giraffe or an ostrich?

Because Adam found “no suitable helper” among the creatures “the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh.  Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.” (vs. 21-22)

When Adam saw God’s new creation he was ecstatic.  In this woman God provided the “suitable helper” Adam needed.  After this is noted we read the words, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”  (v. 24) The story recorded in Genesis 2 seems to serve as the beginning or institution of marriage.  Interestingly, I used these same words in Melanie and Ryan’s wedding last night.   There in that beautiful outdoor setting they seemed so very appropriate.

I realize that I do not write much about the human side of Creation in this blog but it certainly is part of the story too.  In the Creation accounts found in Genesis 1 and 2 it is very obvious that God created a world where the needs of all might be met.  He created a world where fish and birds and mammals and insects and trees might all thrive.  Without a doubt God also wanted His human creation to thrive and realized that for men and women to flourish they would need companions.   I won’t go so far as to say everybody should or must get married to be complete but I will say that I believe that we humans are made with an inherent need for others.  Even those, like myself, who are introverts recognize that life would not be worth living were it not for the friendship, love and companionship we find in others.  I guess there is a sense in which all of my family and friends are “companions for life” for my life wouldn’t be the same without them.  They all give me so much life!  So today I would like to give thanks for God’s provision of companions.  I am very thankful for my wife, Bonita.  I am also extremely grateful for my family and friends.  In fact today I give thanks for all those God has allowed to cross my path thus far, and that includes you.  Thanks to all for the “life” you give me!

–Chuck

(I took the top picture several years ago at Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The middle picture is the happy couple, Ryan and Melanie Brown, last night.  The bottom image is of my wife and I.  Rob shamed me by posting an image of his wife earlier this week so I felt compelled to do this.)