Christian Conservation

Just a short, but powerful, thought for you today from my reading:

“How many are you works O Lord!

In wisdom you have made them all;

The earth is full of your creatures.”

Psalm 104:24

“Every loss of species is a diminution of man’s opportunity to observe the [wisdom and ] perfection of God.”

Michael Bullmore, “The Four Most Important Biblical Passages for a Christian Environmental Ethic,” Trinity Journal, 1998


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Sir Francis Bacon on Compassion Toward “Bruit Creatures”

I started reading a new and exciting book the other day, called “The Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of Vegetarianism from 1600 to Modern Times” by Tristam Stuart.    I’m only 50 pages in and am already fascinated.   I had no idea upon picking it up at Half Price Bookstore  that the first third of the book would be about church history.  I should not have been surprised, however, since the Christian conscience has, throughout time, been pricked by the slaughter of creatures and the shedding of blood, Christians have always recognized that in the Garden of Eden God gave man plants to eat, to the exclusion of flesh, and much of the Enlightenment age and all its advancements was pioneered by Christian scientists and philosophers, who seamlessly worked agricultural, animal welfare, food science, moral philosophy, and theology together, among many other disciplines.

I will continue sharing quotations from the book as I read.  For today I want to share this Biblical-philosophical thought from the famous English philosopher, statesman, author, and scientist Sir Francis Bacon.

File:Pourbus Francis Bacon.jpg

As quoted in “The Bloodless Revolution”:

Bacon did not challenge the universally accepted doctrine that man had rightful dominion over nature; indeed he held this as his philosophical paradigm.  But Bacon did argue that man’s power over creation carried an important caveat: “There is implanted in man by nature,” he wrote in The Advancement and Proficience of Learning (1605), “a noble and excellent Affection of Piety [pity] and compassion, which extends it selfe even to bruit creatures”.  God had given man dominion, but He had also encoded him with a sentiment of compassion which moderated his behaviour to animals. Only “contracted and degenerate minds,” said Bacon, failed to heed the edict encapsulated in the biblical book of proverbs, “A Just man is mercifull to the life of his Beast (Proverbs 12:10)'” [Bacon’s own translation].   

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What’s in a Name?

Adam Naming the Animals and Man’s Rightful Authority

“Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. (Genesis 2:19-20)

Historically and Biblically, naming someone, or something, is a sign of authority.  God names Adam, for He created him.  Adam names his wife, Eve, indicating his leadership role in the family.  Parents name their children.  When God calls Abram into a covenant with him, He renames him Abraham, and his wife is no longer Sari, but Sarah.  And so God brings all the animals before Adam and tells Adam to give them names.

Naming the animals, and then the later call to have dominion over them, clearly indicates Adam’s special position of authority over the creatures God made.  There are animal rights and animal welfare groups out there, who, despite their excellent and effective work in furthering compassion and humane care for animals, stand on the belief that humans are merely a highly intelligent, and therefore somehow morally responsible animal (explaining this assumption is a very complicated philosophical question, which I think has no solid grounds).  Therefore, as an animal with unparalleled capacity to do either good or harm to the rest of creation, we simply must chose compassion, especially considering that fundamentally we are no better or different than the other creatures.

The Bible calls us to a different understanding.  We are charged with responsibility for the creatures of the world because God explicitly gave us authority over them.  Our authority over animals is God-given and is part of the original creation order before the Fall – it is good.

It’s hard to imagine now, but Adam did not sit there with the animals parading before him and name the pig Pork, the lamb Lambchop, and the cow Shortribs.  Look at Genesis 1:29 for a moment.  “And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.”  Adam and Eve, in the midst of a world teeming with living creatures, were given all the green things for food.  This one short sentence in Scripture undoes much of our cultural understanding of animals; it turns upside down the assumption, the presupposition, that animals were made for man, made to eat, and that we were made to eat them.

In fact, we see none of those archetypes established at creation.  We see the animals created before man existed and called good and blessed in their own right by God (Genesis 1:22, 25).  Then we see man created and established as an authority, told to have dominion, but not given the right to eat them.  This means that 1) we were not originally created to be meat eaters, slaughtering animals to satisfy our appetites and 2) that animals were not originally created for us to eat them.  In some mysterious way, beyond our ability to even imagine (at least I speak for myself), man and animals existed together in the Garden, in the presence of God, with man reigning in the image of God, with no sin, no selfishness, no lust, and no bloodshed.  As God named Adam, now Adam would name the animals.  As Adam named his beloved wife, and as they would name their children, he bestowed upon the creatures his mark of authoritative care: names.

So what in the world happened between the Garden of Eden and our current and historical landscape of constant battle between man and animal?

The Fall.  Through man’s first disobedience against God, every relationship was plunged into disorder and strife: Adam’s relationship with God, with his wife, with the creation, and with the creatures.  All of creation, with all of Adam’s descendents, fell under the curse of sin.

Since then, the creation has been suffering under the curse, subjected “to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it.”  But the story does not end there.  God did not leave us, or the creation without hope:  the creation suffers with the “hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”  Along with us, “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now,” awaiting the return of God’s rule on earth, the establishment of His Kingdom (Romans 8:20-22).

As children of God we are already “new creations” in Christ.  Indwelt by the Spirit we can affect the reestablishment of proper authority over the creatures, in our own lives, at least, as we wait for Christ to return.  Adam named the animals in accordance with God’s will, as an act of caring rule and authority, but then shattered that relationship through defying God’s good plan.  We who know God’s purpose of redemption, reconciliation, and rebirth through faith in Christ, can walk the path that should have been Adam’s: ruling over the animals in ways that reflect the goodness of our mutual Creator and our place as His special crown of creation, made in His image, to carry out His will on earth.

What do you think that looks like today?  What will that look like in the new creation?

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Flipping through magazines and browsing Internet news sites,  I continually come across examples of man’s “dominion” over creatures and creation.  Stories of our interaction with the natural world just set off a little bell in my head: Ding! What does God think of this?  I’m going to start posting some of those short examples here for your consideration.  I want to know: What do you think?  Does this represent godly, God-glorifying dominion?  Why or why not?  Some seem like no brainers, but others are much more complicated in their ethical dimensions.  You’ll want to first figure out for yourself, what is dominion?  There are a few posts on this blog to help you think that through:

The Ministry of Reconciliation,   Why Do Animals Exist?, What is Dominion?, and The Problem of Our Dominion.

“Tennessee’s Abrams Creek, which winds for just 25 miles, mostly through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, used to hold nearly 70 species of native fish.  (In contrast, the Columbia and Colorado river systems, which drain most of the American West, support only 54 species between them.)  But park officials decided in 1957 to poison the native fish and stock the stream with non-native trout for sportfishing.  They didn’t want all those little local “baitfish” competing with young trout for food.  Before long, Abrams Creek had lost nearly half of its original fish species.”

From:  Douglas H. Chadwick, “Silent Streams.”  National Geographic Magazine. April 2010.

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In the evenings you can usually find me buried deep in a theology book.  Legos, dinosaurs, and 200 matchbox cars put away, after the kids’ bedtime, it’s my time to work toward my master’s degree in theology.  Every once in a while one of my text books has something especially lucid to say about the created order and our responsibilities and response toward it as God’s stewards.  I came across such a passage the other night, and though we’ll come to Colossians later in our current series, I wanted to share it now as well.

“Those who have been reconciled to God become proclaimers of reconciliation, calling others to the reconciling love of Christ.  Finally, as Paul indicated in Colossians 1:20, the scope of reconciliation is cosmic.  God wills nothing short of the reconciliation and unification of all the created order.  This is not a far-fetched hyperbolic statement.  It has strong implications for ecology.  God desires nothing less than a completely harmonious and unified world as he created it to be.  Those of us who have been reconciled to God in Christ should seek to be ministers of reconciliation on every level – among our fellow human beings and toward the natural order as well.”  John B. Polhill, “Paul and His Letters.”

The language of reconciliation is beautiful.  No longer will everything be at odds: man against animal, animal against man, man’s interests against the environment, the environment pushing back against man, the dollar trumping compassion, compassion arresting our consciences, our consciences at war with our comfort.  All things will be reconciled.  All things will be at peace.  But we, Christians, should be the ministers of such reconciliation in the here and now, in the “already,” while we wait for the promises of God that are “not yet.”

I thought about our food production systems as I read the passage from Polhill’s book.  How do battery cages, gestation crates, force molting, feedlots, electric prods, double-decker trailers, foie gras force feeding,  veal crates, debeaking, dehorning, antibiotic overuse, and land degredation fit into our ministry of reconciliation?  How do they proclaim to the watching world a God who is compassionate and providential, who has sent His Son to die not only for our sins, but to reconcile the entire world to Himself – to free it from bondage and decay?  How do we support industries that allow for 10% of animals to be strung up by the ankle or scalded alive in the abbatoirs, that accept and standardize the percentage of chickens that will die from crushing and heat exhaustion on the trailers, that use antibiotics to make up for sickening the animals with the grains we chose to feed them, that allow for sows to chew their mouths to bloody bits in gestation crates so small they cannot turn around, that find it acceptable to raise cattle in conditions that guarantee the presence of deadly bacteria in our meat, that starve chickens into shock so that upon breaking the fast they produce a few more eggs – How can we support and condone and allow these industries?  How can we turn away, plug our ears, open our wallets, and pretend we don’t see the reality lurking beneath the surface of our grocery store shelves?

How can we proclaim with our lives that the suffering of creatures and creation does not matter to us – and then proclaim with our mouths a compassionate, saving, gracious, holy, mighty God who is redeeming the entire world and reconciling all things to Himself through the blood of the Lamb? Is your God a great redeeming, reconciling God of all creation, all things whether on earth or in heaven, or a God who prefers frugality to compassion, ignorance to empathy, and a peace with the status quo to living radically for His kingdom?

My friends, God has secured salvation for our souls, but so, so much more as well.  How often we forget that!  The scope of his redemption is cosmic, the ends of his grace and mercy, limitless. This is the Christ we know through Scripture:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,  and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.   Colossians 1:15-20

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What is Dominion?

A Biblical Survey of Animals and Man Part II

In the previous post in our series “A Biblical Survey of Animals and Man,”  we asked, why do animals exist? and talked about the presuppositions we all bring to the discussion of animals’ place on earth and in our lives.  Off hand, it is easy and natural to assume an anthropocentric view of the world; that is, things have value as they relate to humankind.  We value things and creatures based on how useful they are, how entertaining they are, how aesthetically pleasing they are, and how delicious they are, perhaps.  But Scripture clearly calls us to a theocentric view of the world; it is all about God, and things have value because of their status before Him.  This applies to our discussion of animals and their welfare in the hands of man.  The creation account in Genesis reveals that animals were good and blessed by God before man had anything to do with them.  They have their own intrinsic value as creatures made by the hand of God.

Of course, as the drama of Genesis continues to unfold, man enters the scene as the major player in the future of the creaturely kingdom.

Let’s go to Scripture:

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”  And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.’” (Genesis 1:26-29, emphasis mine)

Right away the creation narrative deviates from its previous pattern; in Genesis 1:1-25 we read that God created the earth, waters, sky, stars, sun and moon, plants, birds, livestock, fish, and every other living thing, but now he decides to make a different sort of creature, a creature after His own image.  Creation is crowned with a special and unique creature called Man, who will be a representative of God in exercising dominion over all of creation.

Dominion is a concept that has been widely debated and often abused.  A brief discussion of the dilemma of dominion is on the blog here.  Several things are important to note about the original context of the command:

1) Man, in the unbroken image of God, had not yet fallen into sin.  Being in the “image of God” is a topic worthy of boundless research and thought, but here is a simple explanation I’ve paraphrased from Anthony A. Hoekema:

“The image of God” has both general and narrow meanings; in the general sense, all men are created with the ability to reason and be held responsible for their actions; in the narrower sense, Christians (and Adam and Eve, before the Fall) have the ability to function in “true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness,” through the power of the Holy Spirit (from his excellent book Created in God’s Image).

(This is barely an introduction to the concept of the image of God – we’ll discuss this in greater detail in the next post.  For more detail on man in the image of God as related to creation care in general see this post.)

2) ) In Genesis 1, the animals were not yet given as food (this becomes allowable in Genesis 9:3).   Dominion in this original charge to Adam and Eve did not include hunting, killing, trapping, slaughtering for food, and the like.  I think we can barely imagine a world in which animals were not used in such ways, but we must try in order to understand the Garden of Eden and the original relationship of man to animals.  (for a discussion on the ethics of modern meat-eating see posts here, here, and here.)

3) The animals did not have an intrinsic fear of man (which is described as beginning after the flood in Genesis 9:2-3) and presumably had gentle natures.  Both man and animals were given “every green plant for food” (Gen. 1:29-30).  The animals were not natural enemies or natural predators of man or each other.  Can you picture such a fairy-tale-esque world, in which birds might land on your shoulder, and deer graze quietly by your side?  Lions were not stalking the antelope, and rabbits were not cowering under the shadows of hawks.  Man had no worries about wolves killing their sheep, snakes strangling their children, or  crocodiles lunging out of rivers with open jaws.  There was, therefore, no need for a “heavy-handed” dominion in order to protect oneself or settlements against wild, poisonous, hungry, or otherwise dangerous animals, as became a problem later and remains so throughout the rest of history.

So what did dominion in this peaceable kingdom look like?  We have long acquainted “dominion” with control, and often violence.  The word conjures up images of barbed-wire fences, deer stands, feedlots, and butcher shops.  But the charge of dominion was given to a world without sin, pain, or death, without meat-eating, and was to be held over kind and gentle creatures unaffected by the curse.  In light of this, it is apparent that we need to revise our understanding of dominion to understand the application it was meant to have in the Garden.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the creaturely kingdom and its relationship to man before the Fall.  In the next post we’ll look at more of what we can learn from Scripture about dominion held by man in the image of God.

photo credits:

deer: paparutzi (creative commons license)

barbed wire: seriousbri (creative commons license)

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Meat, Oil, Water, Antibiotics…oh my!

Food for thought…

Meat eating is an ethically-charged decision for more reasons than you might think.  This article by The New York Times highlights a few reasons why you might want to think long and hard about what you put on your plate.  Every meal impacts more than your stomach and more than your family.

“Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all things to the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10:31)

Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler

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