Dominion over the Animal Kingdom

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, [amazon 0312261470], 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.

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There are 5 Comments

martins's picture

I have noticed the escalation of everyday people, not necesarily treating animals superior to humans, but treating them as equal to humans. let's face it, people these days have a very cult like relationship with their pets and animals in general. When regular folks place their pets equal with a human being, I believe this is sick and evil. If people are honest and asked this simple question, I know what the answer would be for a simple majority: Question- If your pet and a stranger fell into a river and you could only save one, which one would it be?


Aaron Blumer's picture


As USA moves further toward a "post Christian" mindset, I think we're going to see more and more confusion on these points. For the most part, people already have no idea what it is that makes human life special at all, let alone "more special" than other forms of life. It's a grace that a majority of Americans still believe a human fetus has more rights than a blob of tissue. If trends continue, though, I wonder if as "respect for unborn human life" grows, respect for "other kinds of life" will not grow with it and, as a result, still amount to a devaluing of human life relative to animals and plants.
So, don't want to be cynical, but I doubt the recent improvement in attitudes toward the unborn are rooted in a solid way of thinking.

I appreciate Dan's balance here. After all, we do have Proverbs 12:10, among other passages, and "dominion" doesn't mean "exploiting with wanton cruelty."

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Matthew J's picture

This is off-topic, but I heard a person one time say that when evaluating a possible pastor see how they treat children and animals. I think that is good advice, since how someone treats the weaker is a mark of how they will lead God's people. (BTW, I am not saying children and animals are equal, but in a sense both need adults for their survival, they are therefore dependent on the mature-much like God's "sheep").

Ann B.'s picture

As USA moves further toward a "post Christian" mindset, I think we're going to see more and more confusion on these points.
I think this is very true. Notice the pet food aisle. Fancy foods are not being designed for the dogs and cats - they are being marketed to the adults who think their animals deserve the same treatment as their human children. I see more and more articles, newspaper columns, and just everyday comments that reveal how people today are thinking more highly of their pets than they ought to think.

A new business was recently featured on our local TV news. It's a funeral home for pets. The advertising slogan is "Because animals are people too."

Kent McCune's picture

Pastor Dan Miller wrote:

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" [emphasis mine ]

I wonder if Timothy Treadwell would agree with this statement...

Kent McCune I Peter 4:11

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