[Section from Bob Kaul, Ten Key Events from the Bible, Augsburg Fortress, 1996, pages 11-13.]
Let me tell you a secret: God loves animals. This isn't supposed to be a secret, but if no one tells it becomes a secret. There are many things that are true that no one seems to know. The problem is, I think, that the people who know the truth get out of the habit of repeating it. When that happens, no one hears the truth and even those of us who know the truth begin to forget.
Some of these forgotten truths are about God, and this is one of them: God loves animals. As I was reading today's scripture, trying to figure out what I should be telling you today, this is the message that was shining out of the pages at me: God loves animals. How do I know? Because the Bible tells me so.
In the beginning, God created the universe. According to the great poem on creation in Genesis 1, God spent 4 days building the environment, the next one to make the fish and birds, and most of the 6th day making the land animals. All of which were good.
Then, in the time of the Flood, God directed Noah to save breeding pairs of all the animals. When the flood was over, with whom did God make the rainbow covenant? With Noah, of course, and also with all of the animals that had been on the ark: The birds, the wild animals, the farm animals, in fact, with all animals everywhere. Listen to what God says in Genesis:
9I am now making my covenant with you and with your descendents, 10and with all living beings - all birds and all animals - everything that came out of the boat with you. … 16When the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the covenant between me and all living beings on earth. [TEV]
The covenant is between God and all living beings. God is very emphatic about this; in the part of the story we read today, God repeats this 5 times. The covenant is between God and all the birds and all the animals. This is important, and God intended that we notice.
God's love for the wild animals doesn't end with the rainbow. Bill McKibbon points us to the book of Job to learn how God enjoys the animals. Listen to how God speaks of the animals, how much joy and pride God has in them:
39:5Who gave the wild donkeys their freedom? Who turned them loose and let them roam? 6I gave them the desert to be their home, and let them live on the salt plains.
39:13How fast the wings of an ostrich beat! But no ostrich can fly like a stork. 14The ostrich leaves her eggs on the ground for the heat in the soil to warm them. 15She is unaware that a foot my crush them or a wild animal break them. … 17It was I who made her foolish and did not give her wisdom. 18But when she begins to run, she can laugh at any horse and rider.
41:1Can you catch [the crocodile] with a fishhook or tie his tongue down with a rope? 8Touch him once and you'll never try it again; you'll never forget the fight! … 32He leaves a shining path behind him and turns the sea to foam. 33There is nothing on earth to compare with him. … 34He looks down on even the proudest animals; He is king of all wild beasts. [TEV]
God loves the wild donkey, the foolish ostrich, the crocodile. You can tell from the way God speaks of them! God loves them. God loves to watch them run.
Remember, too, the vision of the peaceful kingdom in the book of Isaiah. God promises a wise and just government for the people and a closeness with God that includes all the living creatures. You remember this famous verse:
11:6 Wolves and sheep will live together in peace
and leopards will lie down with young goats.
Calves and lion cubs will feed together,
and little children will take care of them. [TEV]
God loves the wolves and the sheep. God loves the leopards and the goats and the calves and the cubs … and the children. God loves them and wants all of them to be part of the promise.
Much later, when Jesus came to the Jordan River and was baptized by John, God's Holy Spirit came to rest on Jesus in the form of a dove. (God loves doves.) And after Jesus was baptized and God's Holy Spirit had rested on him, where did Jesus go? To the wild places, with the animals - as we read today in the Gospel according to Mark:
12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. … 13He was in the wilderness 40 days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. [NIV]
Jesus didn't spend a lot of time talking about the animals when was teaching,
but he did not forget about them, either.
In Luke we read of a time when Jesus told his disciples,
12:6bnot one sparrow is forgotten by God.
God loves sparrows.
Yes, God loves animals; the Bible tells us so. But of course this is not the whole story.
The rest of the story is that God loves you even more than the animals. When God was creating the world, God saw that the animals were good. Then God added human beings ... and that was very good.
When Jesus spoke of God's love for the sparrow,
he went on to say,
7cyou are worth more than many sparrows!
And after Jesus had finished 40 days in the wild places with the wild animals,
he came back to us and said,
15The kingdom of God is near you.
I have reminded you of a secret today: God loves the animals. This should not be a secret; God has said it, right out loud, but we have too often forgotten to say it: God loves animals. When we remember this secret, it can help us to find our rightful place in God's world, to understand better what God wants us to do, and to be more confident in our hope of what God will do for us.
First, God's love for all of creation helps us keep our lives in proper perspective.
We humans are not the sole focus of God's attention:
that teaches us a little humility.
As it says in the first chapter of Ephesians,
God's vision for the church is all of creation coming together in Christ:
1:23the completeness of him who himself completes all things everywhere.
One definition of arrogance might be seeing only our own interests and assuming that God, or anyone else, is looking out for those interests. Humility, on the other hand, is knowing that we have a place and a part in the universe and that others have their own places and their own parts to play.
The fact that God made the rainbow covenant both with Noah's family and with all the animals emphasizes that we share the world and God's attention. Humility means that we try to find our rightful place in God's universe, not taking over someone else's place and not hiding from our own place, either. If God loves the animals, perhaps they should not always have to move in the face of human progress. Humility means that we should at least ask this question.
Second, if God loves the animals, we see that we have some responsibility to exhibit love to them as well. We who have been loved by God love those whom God loves. We've seen that God loves the wild animals, the farm animals, the birds, not to mention people from Nicaragua or Kosovo or Michigan. We've seen that God loves them; therefore, we too must love them.
This is not the annual stewardship message, so I am not going to speak about specific ways that we might join in God's love for the animals. I've decided not to talk about reducing our energy use to slow the rate of climate change, or finding alternatives to road salt and lawn fertilizer to protect those who live in the wetlands and lakes, or spending our dollars to rebuild habitats which we previously spent money to destroy. I am not going to talk about how the burden of international debt oppresses both animals and humans, or how resettlement of refugees may reduce the damage done to all living things in war-ravaged parts of the world.
Rather than delve into these specifics, I will only note this: God's love extends more widely than our own lives and our own interests … and we who have been loved by God love those whom God loves.
Finally, God's love toward the animals is a message of hope and promise for us. In the flood story, God does not make a promise to the "hyenas and the warthogs" because of the work that they did. Some might think that God loved Noah because he was obedient and built the ark. But the animals didn't build an ark - and God loves them and makes the same covenant with them as with Noah.
God loves the animals for who they are. God made the animals, and God is happy with the results. God loves dragonflies mating in the air, or a puppy nuzzling someone's face, or a frog croaking in a muddy pond. God loves dragonflies for being dragonflies and puppies for being puppies and frogs for being frogs.
Anyone who can love a frog for being a frog just might be able to love me for being me.
Jesus came to us
to bring us to God (as our reading from 1 Peter says).
Jesus came because God already loves us,
enjoys watching us, and likes being with us.
Jesus came to bring us into a world
where ducks and cats and bats and turtles
and every one of us
is loved and welcomed because of who we are:
creations which God has made and found to be very good.
That is good news. Change your way of thinking and put your faith in this: God loves the animals and God also loves you.
15 … The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near.
Change your thoughts and believe the good news!
[Mark 1, from the Greek]
Share the love God has for you with every living being. and be confident in the friendship and love of Christ Jesus.