How you relate to animals is a revealing indicator of your worldview—even of your character. By virtue of our nearly unlimited powers over animals, how we treat them is no trivial matter. It is a litmus test of mind and soul.
We may note, on one radical fringe, those who speak of animal rights as if animals were superior to humans. Such people vandalize biology labs that experiment on animals in the interest of humans, throw paint on fur coats, and burn homes built in forested areas. Less maliciously, but just as tellingly, are those who wave mosquitoes away rather than slap them dead, tiptoe around ants, practice catch-and-release methods with mice found in their homes, and view the ingestion of animal meat as complicity in murder.
On the other radical fringe are those who torture and abuse animals. We witness this on the small scale when someone is exposed by the media for cruelty to a pet. On a grander scale, cruelty to animals has become a way of life at some farm factories.
One of the serious social implications of the demise of the family farm has been the rise of a few corporations that produce meat in the most cost-efficient manner. Here, executives in air conditioned offices pour over spreadsheets, pressing for higher profit margins. Their policies force workers, for instance, to confine millions of hogs to live out their days in 22 inch wide metal stalls in which they cannot turn around, never see the light of day, will never set foot on earth, and, due to medical “advances,” can now be raised in conditions that by all rights should kill them. And this is to say nothing of the genetic engineering quest to produce (and even clone) such hideous creatures as featherless chickens and stress-free hogs (zombies) to increase profit margins by minimizing farming hassles. (See Matthew Scully’s book, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy , St. Martin’s Press, 2002).
The biblical worldview commends an honorable corrective to these extremes. The Bible teaches that, first, every living thing is created by God to reflect His glory. He is every creature’s source, designer and sovereign authority.
Second, as creatures made by God, animals have inherent worth and are to be treated mercifully by human beings.
Third, all things are not created equal. God created mankind in his own image and likeness as the quintessence of his creative handiwork. The life of human beings is sacred and belongs to God alone. Other living creatures, by contrast, comprise a non-sacred realm in which they are assigned hierarchical order. Animals have greater glory than fish and birds, which in turn have greater glory than insects, etc.
Fourth, God commissioned mankind to rule over the creatures of the world as God’s stewards. We are to exercise this dominion with wisdom, mercy and dignity, in full view of the Creator and in a manner fitting to the inherent worth of the creature.
The biblical worldview suggests that exercising dominion over creation is no license to torture or abuse animals. It is wrong, for instance, to mistreat animals for profit or twisted pleasure. It is wrong to bait wild game on fenced hunting ranches for sadistic slaughter. The reason such treatment is evil is explained well by Scully: “Animals are…a test of our character, of mankind’s capacity for empathy and for decent, honorable conduct and faithful stewardship. We are called to treat them with kindness, not because they have rights or power or some claim to equality, but in a sense because they don’t; because they all stand unequal and powerless before us” (Introduction, xi-xii).
On the other hand, a biblical worldview understands that the stewardship to extend mercy toward animals includes the right to honorably take their life. The Creator who has intimate regard for the sparrow (Matthew 10:29) and commends merciful treatment of animals (Proverbs 12:10) is the same God who specifically gave to human beings the privilege to kill and to enjoy the meat of animals (Genesis 9).
Killing animals is not the issue. How and when we kill them is. Choosing to squash a mosquito is not sin, it is sanity. Severing the spinal chord of a mouse with a trap set in your home is not evil, it is faithful stewardship of your home. Legally hunting game in the wild is not murder, it is legitimate sport. And eating meat is not complicity to murder, it is enjoying a God-given pleasure to the glory of the Creator.
On the other hand, we must recognize that it is denigrating to our Creator and to human dignity to abuse our dominion over other creatures. They are not our brothers and sisters. They are, however, our responsibility. And how we treat them says much about who we are and what we think of their Maker.
Dan Miller has served as the Senior Pastor of Eden Baptist Church since 1989. He graduated from Pillsbury Baptist Bible College with a B.S. degree in 1984 and his graduate degrees include a M.A. in History from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and the M.Div. and Th.M. from Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He is nearing completion of D.Min. studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Dan is married to Beth and the Lord has blessed them with four children: Ethan, Levi, Reed and Whitney.