While outdoors sweeping debris from the morning’s yard waste pickup, I came upon a very large worm and tossed it aside in the cleanup. But I wasn’t settled about it and thought I had better check and be sure about what it was. It was actually a young snake 5-6 inches in length, although I couldn’t immediately tell. It was turned upside down and was rigid, playing dead. Once I got it turned over on its belly, its little head rose to attention, striking at the broom once, tongue flicking.
I’ll probably draw the ire of some now. I found a plank of wood and killed the little feller. I hated doing it with everything in me; and perhaps I didn’t have to. I considered freeing it, but I wasn’t certain that I wouldn’t be creating a ‘bigger’ problem for a later time or for someone else. So I just did the deed and ached inside.
It wasn’t unlike other times I nearly needed therapy for cutting down squirrels, birds, and turtles in their prime. And who has been more afflicted than me by unwittingly “manslaughter-ing” three mice in three separate incidents, at home and work, with well-placed steps. I still freak out when I step on things. Kyrie eleison.
This moment, however, brought a scripture to mind that afforded me some peace: “A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, but even the compassion of the wicked is cruel” (Prov. 12:10, NASB). At least I know I wasn’t being cruel. We can dispute what animals deserve life in certain situations at another time, but the verse offered me a chance to meditate, even about snakes.
I believe we have a duty to God to care for and treat animals with respect for a few reasons.
First, we have God’s direct commands and scriptural implications. God created the earth and filled it with life, and he took pride in what he had created. The animals are his creation just as we are. Part of his Sabbath injunction is rest for working animals. Everything gets a break. There were also a number of civil rules in place protecting animals and their masters in certain cases for economic purposes.
Second, we can conclude that God loves animals. We must assume that the mercies of God extend to all his works, not just humans. Jesus, in his several references to God’s care for us, often draws upon nature in his teachings: “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matt. 10:29). Furthermore, animals, as part of Creation, are not only God’s creative expression, but perhaps also an expression about his character that isn’t evident now.
Third, animals have souls. As our theological understanding goes, the soul is the seat of aspects such as the will, emotions, personality, conscience, and even the life force itself. All of these features are found in animals, including their physical senses that are often more advanced than the same in humans. Journalists know that stories about cute pets—puppies and kittens—quickly grab people’s hearts. And who can forget the stir created by quarterback Michael Vick and his dogfighting crimes. If animals were any less what we ourselves are, we might not react the way we do about them.
So, finally, animals have deep meaning to human life. We say of dogs that they are “man’s best friend” because they love unconditionally. Animals bring enjoyment to families. They work for us and with us to make life happen, like in farming. They sense our emotional and physical ailments, even disaster, and they warn us and save lives. They lift our heavy spirits when life has taken its toll.
Theologians relegate animals and creation to general revelation, opposite special revelation. General revelation assumes knowledge about God through what is plain in nature, in human conscience, or through divine providence. Some go as far as to conclude that it doesn’t bring us to special revelation, spiritual or saving knowledge, often understood as derived by means like the scriptures and other supernatural experiences.
I’m not sure I fully agree with that notion. No, nature doesn’t specifically tell of Christ; however, if it is indeed God’s revelation, he can do what he desires with it, including open the eyes of the heart. Psalm 19 is the supreme text on both revelations. Countless many have encountered the Holy One simply by pondering nature, reminding me of Brother Lawrence. Have you ever watched a bird close-up from your kitchen window or a spider building its web in the early evening? Does the budding spring or fading fall connect you to something immensely deeper than this life? If these things don’t catapult you to God, I challenge you to look again.
I cannot be sure that our pets go to Heaven, but I am sure animals are there, according to scripture. Maybe too I’ll recover all my heartache when I arrive at my mansion on a gorgeous mountain there. And I’ll discover a few squirrels, birds, turtles, mice, and, yes, even a friendly snake waiting to greet me. Wishful thinking? Maybe, but with God, well, nothing is impossible.