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.


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.


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


Feb 13 2011

“Not In Vain”

robin 1871A few weeks ago I ran into someone I know who has been going through a very difficult time.  A lot of things have gone wrong in his life and it was obvious that he was very discouraged.  Despite this, he seemed to have a resolve to not let his troubles get the best of him.  At one point in our conversation he spoke of a poem that had given him a great deal of inspiration.  He said the poem is called “Not in Vain” and that the author was Emily Dickenson.  I told him I wasn’t familiar with it but that I’d look it up.  Later I did and in case you are not familiar with it either, this is how it reads: “If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain: If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain, Or help one fainting robin Unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain.”

I can certainly see how this beautiful poem brought encouragement and inspiration to the person I spoke to.  When things in our life do not work out as we planned we are tempted to conclude that our lives have been lived in vain.  When, however, we look at the bigger picture, we will see that if in this life we are able to help another person, or even another creature, our lives have not been lived in vain at all.

I try to live my life in service to others.  Being a minister it’s what I do for a living, but being a servant to others is far than just a job.  I am a Christian and thus a follower of the one who said he came “not to be served but to serve.”  I also happen to believe that serving others should include caring for animals.  That’s why I support various wildlife organizations, feed the birds, own a dog, and send lots of letters to my congressmen concerning legislation effecting wildlife.  These are all little things but they make a difference.  They also add meaning to my life.

Like the person who told me about the poem, I have no intention of my life being lived in vain.  In every way I can I plan to make it count.  I want to help those in need, be they human or animal.  I hope you do as well.


(I photographed the robin above recently in my yard.)

Feb 28 2010

The Misunderstood Coyote

coyote 998

“…you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”  Revelation 4:11

One of the creatures I most enjoyed photographing earlier this month in Yellowstone was coyotes.  Maybe this is because I’m a “dog lover.”  Coyotes truly are beautiful creatures!  At the same time, they are one of the most hated animals in America.  Over the years they have been ruthlessly hunted, poisoned and maligned.  

It is true that from time to time coyotes kill some farmer’s sheep or somebody’s pet, but they still play a vital role in our ecological system.  If nothing else, they are an essential asset when it comes to rodent control.  Native Americans, however, have insisted for over 10,000 years that coyotes have much to teach us.  Perhaps they do.

One of the foremost coyote researchers is Bob Crabtree.  He notes, “The similarities between the social and breeding systems of the coyote and humans are striking.  Coyotes like humans, attempt to mate for life, are territorial, and build social units consisting of family members with parents, brothers and sisters helping to raise the young.”  Coyotes are very intelligent animals and have certainly proven themselves to be survivors.  Despite many attempts to eliminate them (or perhaps because of such attempts) their range has expanded dramatically in the past century.

In the book Track of the Coyote, Tom Skeele is quoted as saying “I think the future of predator control is dependent largely upon our ability to get away from looking at wildlife as being either good or bad but simply to respect its higher purpose, and I don’t mean its purpose for humans.”  I concur.

What gives us the right to determine whether an animal is good or bad?  Is its value solely dependent on whether we as humans benefit from its presence?  The Bible is clear in its teaching that God made all creatures and considers them good.  If God declares all animals “good,” who are we to say otherwise? 

I, for one, am thankful to live in a world that contains coyotes.  I am, in fact, grateful for all of God’s creatures.  Each and every one of them, coyotes included, deserve our respect.  And since each and every one bears the impress of its Creator, they also deserve our careful attention.coyote 191


Sep 6 2009

We Are Family

sea ottersOver the years biologists have come up with various names to identify groups of animals.  Alligators form a congregation, beavers a colony, birds a flock, frogs an army, gorillas a band, lions a pride, monkeys a troop, sea otters (like those above) a raft, owls a parliament, sharks a school, whales a pod, and wolves a pack.  Human groups go by different names: crowd, community, gang, mob, tribe, etc.  But what if we wanted to come up with a group name for all creatures, what would it be?  I’d like to suggest family.

Obviously there are many things that are distinctive for each animal group but there is also much that they all have in common, especially theologically.  For starters, we all owe our existence to God.  Every creature, including man, can say with the Psalmist “It is He who has made us and not we ourselves.” (Ps. 100:3)  Second, God has declared all of His creatures to be good.  Following the fifth and sixth days of creation (the days all creatures were made) we are told “God saw that it was good.”   Third, we have all been “blessed” by God.  This, too, has been made clear in Genesis 1 (see v. 22 and 28).

 There are still other things all creatures have in common.  Fourth, we have each been given the ability to reproduce and perpetuate our species.  For all of His creatures God said “Be fruitful and multiply” (once again see v. 22 and 28).   Fifth, we are all mortal.  No creature can live forever.  Finally, we all look forward to Creation’s fulfillment in the age to come.  This is the apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans 8.  He writes, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (vs. 19-21)

There truly is much that all God’s creatures, including man, share in common.  That being so, wouldn’t it help if we began to look at all creatures as family?  I cannot help but believe that is precisely what God intended “in the beginning.”


Jul 8 2009

Creature Care

cn-fawns-308Last night I had the privilege of presenting a series of digital “slide shows” to about 250 individuals at Camp Nathanael.  Camp Nathanael is a Christian camp located in Perry County, Kentucky.  Two friends of mine, Bob and Carol Murr, have lived and worked at the camp for several years as the camp’s host/hostess.  They are missionaries who have devoted their lives to serving God in a Christian camp setting. 

Bob and Carol are also licensed wildlife rehabilitators.  Presently they are working with a whitetail doe and four orphaned fawns (two of these are pictured above), three baby raccoons, a baby coyote, a barred owl and a red-tailed hawk.  Watching them work with these animals it is obvious that they love what they do and love the animals they work with.  Once they come under their care each animal receives a name.  Bob and Carol consider their work as wildlife rehabilitators to be part of their ministry.  They even use the animals at camp to help teach both children and adults spiritual lessons.

Caring for wildlife might just be the oldest profession there is.  In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve were given the responsibility of naming and caring for all the creatures that God had made.  God said they were to have “dominion” over them.  Unfortunately many have misunderstood the true nature of this word and interpreted it to mean “do with whatever you like.”  That was never God’s intention.

Commenting on Genesis 1:28, Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, notes “The dominance is that of a shepherd who cares for, tends, and feeds the animals.”  Brueggemann goes on to say “…the task of ‘dominion’ does not have to do with exploitation and abuse.  It has to do with securing the well-being of every other creature and bringing the promise of each to full fruition.”    I get the impression that Bob and Carol Murr are doing just this and for that they are to be commended. 

–Chuck Summers