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.


May 21 2015

John Muir and the Sanctity of All Life

_DSC1296Last week when I was flying to Denver I spent some time reading a wonderful book called The Contemplative John Muir.  It is a collection of quotations from the great conservationist that reveal the spiritual side of Muir.  One of the things I quickly noticed was that long before there was an animal rights movement John Muir was affirming the importance and value of all creatures as part of God’s Creation.  At one point he wrote: “Godlike sympathy grows and thrives and spreads far beyond the teachings of churches and schools, where too often the mean, blinding, loveless doctrine is taught that animals have neither mind nor soul, have no rights that we are bound to respect, and were made only for man, to be petted, spoiled, slaughtered, or enslaved.”  Muir believed that all creatures had worth, and thereby rights, simply because they were made by the Creator and I fully agree with him.

_DSC0799Muir, however, did not believe that it was just animals that had worth.  In his view all of Creation had great value because, once again, it was created by God.  It bothered him that things like lichen were considered “a low form of life.”  He said all forms, “high and low, are simply portions of God radiated from Him as a sun, and made terrestrial by the clothes they wear, and by the modifications of a corresponding kind in the God essence itself.”  Muir went on to say, “Rocks and waters, etc., are words of God and so are people.  We all flow from one fountain Soul.  All are expressions of one Love.  God does not appear, and flow out, only from narrow chinks and round bored wells here and there in favored races and places, but He flows in grand undivided currents, shoreless and boundless over creeds and forms and all kinds of civilizations and peoples and beasts, saturating and fountainising all.  The universe would be incomplete without man; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge.”

_DSC7992Muir says concerning the typical human way of seeing things, “How narrow we selfish, conceited creatures are in our sympathies!  How blind to the rights of all the rest of creation!  With what dismal irreverence we speak of our fellow mortals!  Though alligators, snakes, etc., naturally repel us, they are not mysterious evils.  They dwell happily in these flowery wilds, are part of God’s family, unfallen, undepraved, and cared for with the same species of tenderness and love as is bestowed on angels in heaven or saints on earth.”

_DSC1958I realize that not everyone will concur with Muir’s sentiments but I do believe that his way of thinking is theologically sound and that if followed would lead to a much more respectful approach to all that God has made.  Such an approach is desperately needed at this particular time.   The world needs a more life-affirming view of the Creation.  In many ways the preservation of the world is dependent on our developing a greater respect for all forms of life.  The preservation of humankind may also be dependent on this.  Albert Schweitzer once said, “Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives.” 

I hope that we can begin to move toward a view of the sanctity of all life on earth and that this view will lead us to be better stewards of God’s Creation and a kinder species as well.


(I took the top image at Colorado National Monument, the second one at Rifle Falls in Colorado, the third one at Everglades NP, and the final one at Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP in Colorado.)

Feb 24 2013

Religion & Animal Cruelty

Sierra 4x6Some 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.”

S 501Woolman 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?

Sierra 2jpgThere 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.

S 515Our 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.)

Jul 31 2011

Is There Hope?

Last night I read a disheartening article about how the diversity of species around the world is plummeting despite the fact that over the past forty years there has been rapid and substantial growth in the amount of land and sea designated as protected habitat for species preservation.  Some of the reasons cited include pollution, the arrival of invasive species and climate change.  The article states: “The steady loss of biodiversity—defined roughly as the rich variety of living things—can, in turn, have profound implications for human civilization, which relies on healthy, variegated ecosystems to provide a host of ecological services from water filtration and oxygen generation to food, medicine, clothing and fuel.”  The article did not offer a lot of hope for improvement.

Ironically, in recent days I have been reading a wonderful book Rob gave me called Reason For Hope: A Spiritual Journey.  This book is by the renowned chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall.  Dr. Goodall has devoted over fifty years to wildlife research and preservation.  She is one who recognizes the importance of all species and how critical it is that we do what we can to preserve biodiversity.  Towards the end of the book Goodall says the question she is asked most often as she travels around the world is, “Jane, do you think there is hope?”

Jane Goodall is as familiar with the ecological problems facing the world as anyone.  She writes and lectures constantly about increased population growth, diminishing resources, and the destruction of nature, resulting in poverty and human suffering.  Still, she believes there is hope for both this planet and its inhabitants.  She says “I do have hope for the future—for our future.  But only if changes are made in the way we live—and made quickly.  We do not, I think, have much time.  And these changes must be made by us, you and me. If we go on leaving it to others, shipwreck is inevitable.”  She goes on to write, “If we put our problem-solving abilities in high gear and join hands and brains and hearts around the world, surely we can find ways to live that are more in harmony with nature, and start to heal some of the wounds we have inflicted.”

One of the reasons Goodall gives for her hope is her confidence in human intelligence.  She believes that humans have been given a remarkable intelligence with which problems can be addressed and solved.  Theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether notes this too but adds, “The privilege of intelligence, then, is not a privilege to alienate and dominate the world without concern for the welfare of all other forms of life.  On the contrary, it is the responsibility to become the caretaker and cultivator of the welfare of the whole ecological community upon which our own existence depends.”  Jane Goodall would no doubt agree with Ruether.

I am encouraged by Goodall’s hope.  I am also challenged by her call for individual action.  As a Christian I am called to affirm life in its various forms and to care for the earth God created.  This concern has to be translated into action.  At one point in her book Goodall quotes these words of Albert Schweitzer: “A man who possesses a veneration of life will not simply say his prayers.  He will throw himself into the battle to preserve life, if for no other reason than that he is himself an extension of life around him.”  As children of the Creator we have many reasons to preserve biodiversity on this planet.  The question is, will we actually do it?


(All four of the species shown above [grizzly bear, bald eagle, sea otters, and giant sea turtle] have been listed as “threatened” or “endangered” at one time or another.  I was blessed to photograph these magnificent creatures.  Will those who follow me be able to do the same?)