Some people seem to live way before their time. For me a good example of this is John Woolman. Woolman, a Quaker businessman and itinerate preacher, was born in New Jersey 1720 and died in 1772. He was a deeply spiritual man whose faith caused him to speak out against slavery long before it was the popular thing to do. He spoke strong words against injustice and oppression and was also an opponent of conscription. While reading The Journal of John Woolman this past week I also discovered that he was an early advocate for the prevention of cruelty to animals.
In the opening chapter to his Journal Woolman writes: “…true religion consisted in an inward life, wherein the heart does love and reverence God the Creator, and learns to exercise true justice and goodness, not only toward all men, but also toward the brute creatures; that, as the mind was moved by an inward principle to love God as an invisible, incomprehensible Being, so, by the same principle, it was moved to love him in all his manifestations in the visible world; that, as by his breath the flame of life was kindled in all animal sensible creatures, to say we love God as unseen, and at the same time exercise cruelty toward the least creature moving by his life, or by life derived from him, was a contradiction in itself.”
Woolman felt that you could not separate how you treated animals from your faith or religion. Others, throughout history, have concurred with him. St. Francis of Assisi 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 deal likewise with their fellow men.” Another sensitive soul wrote: “I would give nothing for that man’s religion whose very dog and cat are not the better for it.”
It should be obvious from reading the Scriptures that God cares greatly for all the creatures He made. A number of biblical passages actually deal with the proper treatment of animals. Most Christians are well aware that one of the Ten Commandments calls for a day of rest. What they may not realize is that God said in the same Commandment that animals are to be given a break on the Sabbath as well. (Exodus 20:8-10) Jesus indicated that God fed the birds and that not a sparrow falls to the ground without Him taking notice. If God cares so much for the members of the animal kingdom shouldn’t we? And does that not also mean that we, like John Woolman, should be advocates for the prevention of cruelty to animals?
There are a number of people in the church I serve who work very hard to prevent animal cruelty in our area. They have been fighting to make our local animal shelter a “no-kill shelter.” They also donate countless hours trying to find homes for abandoned dogs and cats so they will not be killed. I am very thankful for the work of these individuals and feel that their work truly honors God. Their work is a reflection of their faith.
Our pet dog, Sierra, came from an animal shelter. She had been both abused and abandoned. I do not understand how anyone can intentionally be cruel to an animal. Such behavior is godless and evil. Once again I have to ask, if God created these animals and loves them, aren’t we supposed to as well? The great medical missionary and humanitarian, Albert Schweitzer, had much to say about the ethical treatment of animals. He believed not only that they should be properly cared for, they should be prayed for as well. Schweitzer composed this evening prayer for all living creatures: “O heavenly Father, protect and bless all things that have breath; guard them from all evil, and let them sleep in peace.”
How we treat animals truly does say a lot about our relationship with God. I encourage you to treat your animals well and to do what you can to prevent animal cruelty. I would also suggest you consider following Schweitzer’s example and pray for your pets and all living creatures. It certainly seems like the right thing to do.
(I’ve chosen to illustrate today’s entry with images of our dog, Sierra.)