How does the Bible approach animals and their relationship to humanity, eternity and God?
Kevin Hines was standing on the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge. The wind was cold, and the water below was rough, the proud buildings of San Francisco’s business district reared up into the bay fog. Kevin climbed over the rails and leapt into the misty air.
The moment his feet left the steel struts, his mind cleared, and a cold thought shot starkly across his mind: “I’ve made a terrible mistake.”
The Golden Gate Bridge’s railing that Kevin jumped from is about 245 feet above the water. He fell for only four seconds, but it felt vastly longer. Most jumpers like Kevin hit the water at around 75 mph and die due to broken bones or ruptured organs. Only about five percent of those who attempt suicide from the famous bridge survive the initial impact, and most of those drown or die of hypothermia in the frigid Pacific waters.
Kevin was one of the few five percent. He surfaced in the channel’s rough water, badly hurt and struggling to keep his head above water. The shore was too far for him to swim to without help, but now he was desperate to try. His sodden clothes were dragging him down, then a firm pressure beneath him nudged him up. Kevin’s heart began to race. This could be a shark. Was he about to be eaten? He feebly attempted to punch whatever had bumped him. It swam out of reach, so Kevin began to paddle harder.
Each time he sank, the creature in the water pushed him up again. Unlike so many other jumpers, Kevin made it to the shore, and the creature helping him disappeared into the channel’s depths before he could see it. He was taken to a hospital and began recovering. It was so unusual for a jumper to survive that his story was featured on the news. A young man wrote in, “Kevin, I am so glad you are alive. I was standing less than two feet away from you when you jumped.” This onlooker had also taken a picture of a sea lion swimming alongside Kevin, helping him in his fight to survive.
What exactly is a biblical view of animals and their place with humans both here in the world and in eternity?
In Genesis, we see the descriptions of God creating the animal kingdom and blessing his creation. He then created the first man and woman and ordered them to use all his world’s creatures and vast resources in the service of God. We know so little about how early humanity interacted with animals, but we have a clearer view of how it changed after the flood. God told the remanent of mankind, “The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens and upon all that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you” (Genesis 9:2-3).
Fear and conflict was introduced into our relationships with animals as a consequence, it would seem, of the gross indulgence of sin that led to the flood. Scripture indicates that animals are also cursed as a result human sin (see Ecclesiastes 3:19). Some animals seem even more deeply affected like tigers that become man-eaters or elephant bulls in musk that brutally attack travelers. Even among domesticated animals, there is a degree of tension that can lead even the gentlest Labrador or Maine Coon to snap at a person who is frightening them.
The Apostle Paul wrote that all of creation groans under the weight of humanity’s sin and is waiting for redemption (see Romans 8:20-23). It would strongly suggest that a grand variety of animals will be in the new heaven and earth. On this topic, John Piper noted on Desiring God, “Did he [God] create amazing diversity in the animal realm only to simplify everything by getting rid of that diversity in the age to come so that you have stunning, amazed worship at God’s diversity in creation in history, but you don’t have it in the age to come — that is all gone? I doubt that.”
Piper pointed out that several scriptural passages that discuss heaven also describe animals. An excellent example is this passage in Isaiah: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play upon the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:6-9).
It seems highly unlikely that God would choose to describe heaven through animals’ relationships with one another and humanity if the Lord didn’t intend for creatures to be part of the redeemed world. He also seems to place a certain importance on how humans interact with their animal companions in the world.
God demonstrates over and over tremendous compassion for creatures throughout the Bible.
When the prophet Jonah was asking God why he wouldn’t destroy the corrupt citizens of Nineveh, the Father responded, “Should I not also have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 people, who do not know the difference between their right hand and their left, as well as many animals?” (Jonah 4:11, NASB). Part of God’s question to Jonah raises the issue of innocent creatures that would inevitably die in his judgment of human sin.
Concerning Jonah’s story, David Wilkerson noted, “In the midst of all this, Jonah became angry. He actually sulked because God spared Nineveh rather than rejoicing that they were made righteous. In short, Jonah didn't enjoy God's lovingkindness. Beloved, as the people of God, we dare not make the same mistake. We need to thank God for his merciful lovingkindness…”
Like Jonah, we can easily become irritated by the inconveniences we may experience by God’s loving concern for others, especially animals since they seem so much lesser than us. God insisted, though, that his creatures be given care. He confronted Balaam about beating his donkey (see Numbers 22:32-33), prescribed a right to rest for animals (see Leviticus 25:6-7), required that animals get their fair share of food (see Deuteronomy 25:4), and told his people to care for their neighbors’ animals and even enemies’ animals (see Deuteronomy 22:4 and Exodus 23:4-5). The writer of Proverbs even noted that a close walk with God will include consideration for creatures. “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel” (Proverbs 12:10).
Very much in line with the sentiment of that verse, the eminent Charles Spurgeon preached, “Children should be taught to avoid everything approaching to unkindness… It is not only for the sake of the creature subject to cruelty that we would, plead for kindness, but with a view to the good of the person causing the pain; for cruelty hardens the heart, deadens the conscience, and destroys the finer sensibilities of the soul. The most eminently spiritual men display great delicacy towards all living things…”
Will they be the same animals who have lived on the earth before death and the transformation of the world? Scripture is silent on the matter of animals being resurrected with people. It does not say ‘yes’ anymore than ‘no.’
God clearly put great care into their creation; he’s concerned about their treatment, so much so that he included laws about their care; they are included in descriptions of heaven.
What should we make of our relationship with animals then? What purpose do they serve for as a eternal beings? As Pastor William Boekestein wrote on The Gospel Coalition, “We should not view animals as mere commodities. While God’s image makes humans distinct, the truth that animals are created by God, cared for by God, and invited to praise God should make clear they are endowed with value.”
C. S. Lewis further speculated, “…It is also worth considering whether man, at his first coming into the world, had not already a redemptive function to perform. Man, even now, can do wonders to animals: my cat and dog live together in my house and seem to like it. It may have been one of man’s functions to restore peace to the animal world, and if he had not joined the enemy he might have succeeded in doing so to an extent now hardly imaginable.”
What if our purpose with the animal kingdom is to bring order and peace to it wherever we may? What began in the garden of Eden with the stewardship of Adam and Eve, we continue here in flawed and sinful ways as best we can until God returns to transform mortal flesh into eternal and mend all the wrongs.