The other day in class we were talking about the book of Jonah and how the book has this weird ending, where God is asking Jonah why He shouldn’t have pity on the 120 000 inhabitants of Niniveh.
I guess you know the story. But why is that a weird ending?
Well, if you read the last verse, God is not only saying that He has mercy on the population of Niniveh, no, actually the very last thing he mentions in the entire book are … animals. The cattle on which God also has mercy on. Funny, hm?
We continued the discussion and (seriously) talked about the typical question a child would ask when his or her pet dies. The questions if animals will go to heaven.
To be honest, at first I was like ‘Really? Are we seriously discussing this right now?’.
I’m not gonna tell you what our conclusion was (this you can study for yourselve :p) but another thought developed because of this discussion, namely the position and purpose of animal in relation to human beings.
If we read Genesis 1:26 and skip the part we all know where God says ‘Let us make man in Our image’ it also says in the same verse:
‘let them [meaning humans] have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.’
So what’s happening here?
God in the beginning, at creation set man as the ruler over the animals of this planet.
Now it’s important that we remember one thing! Back then sin had not yet corrupted the earth. Everything was still at peace and in full beauty. Just the way God had created it.
There was no sign or appearance of that devastating change that sin would bring to every level of life. No fear. No death. Nothing bad. Only very good things existed. Perfection.
This means, that the rulership that God had intended for man to have over animals was also a very good one. Definitely not one of hunting or killing. One that had nothing to do with tyranny, brutality, pain, struggle or any other outcome of sinful, unfair and selfish rulership as it exists everywhere in hierarchies today.
Try to imagine how Adam and Eve must have felt. God told them ‘Look guys, these other creatures which you can see here, they are yours. You go and take care of them just the way I take care of you!’
God did not put all knowledge of all time into Adam and Eve’s pure, still young and fresh minds. No. Also without sin God had the plan, that life (also if being eternal in ‘length’) should be a life of constant learning, working and gaining knowledge.
So our very first parents had none but one school to attend in order to gain a knowledge on how to treat beings that are depended on a higher being – and that was in the school of Jesus pre-incarnate. In their daily communion with Him, their Ultimate Teacher.
In the way God treated Adam and Eve they could find patterns and principles which they could apply to the beings which God had put under their control. The animals.
Why did He do that? What was God’s intention with giving human beings the dominion over the animals?
The answer to this lies in the answer to another, wider question:
Why does God do the things He does?
What is the whole point of His acts?
The answer is (again) found in John 17:3:
„Now this is eternal life–that they know you, the only true God“
Adam and Eve were created for eternal life. Eternal life back then and today still is about nothing else than getting to know God better and better!
So how does this apply to the whole animal-thing we’ve been talking about earlier?
Well, when God gave man the rulership over the animals He did it, because through the beautiful connection that would have been developed between human beings and animals (if sin wouldn’t have kicked in), humans would have, through the taking care of these precious and beautiful beings, gained a better knowledge about the character of God.
See, for animals, we humans are like God to them.
How is God? God is a God of complete selflessness. A God of pure love – complete living for others. Taking care of others. Sustaining others.
Ok Jonathan, but I don’t live in paradise. What does this mean for me today, who lives in a degenerated world of sin? Must I go to the next lion and offer myself as food because of selflessness?
No. Of course not.
Things changed when sin came into this world. Animals learned to avoid, fear and attack man because of bad experiences with them.
The same way humans fear, avoid and attack God. The difference is that animals are mostly right in their assumption that humans are dangerous and evil. God on the other hand is not evil.
I believe even though we humans would never be able to recreate the circumstances of Eden (meaning a world without sin), we should still take care of animals. They still are in a way dependent on us and they still are created with a purpose.
I don’t think I need to explain that our society is a ‘Nazi-regime’ to the animals of this world.
So the next time you see a dog, a hippo or a snail, remember that there are still glimpses of God’s character to be found in the very connection that can exist between you and that animal. There is still something you can learn about who and how God is!
Isn’t this beautiful?
And who knows, maybe through an encounter with you, the reaction (positive or negative) of that animal on you, is a picture or a mirror of your own current relationship with God. A reflection on how you treat and meet God.