Our mid-week bible study was on the flood this week, so the combination of two by two and recently putting down a pet cat had me thinking about the animals. It is a cliché question, “will I ever see my beloved pet again?” And that question is usually treated in one of two ways. The elder being questioned might simply answer “yes” from a caring but ultimately patronizing place. It is what the questioner wants to hear, so you say it. The flip side of this elder is the one who has read Aquinas and thinks it the height of spirituality to tell the questioner, “no, animals have a lessor spirit” thereby initiating them into higher spiritual knowledge. But let me suggest that the biblical picture is more nuanced. I’m still going to say yes, but this is more about the reasons why.
The first reason is that God created them and declared it good. “And God said, ‘let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds – livestock and creeping things and beast of the earth according to their kinds…and God saw that it was good.” To do away with something that is good would itself be an evil act. That is ultimately what Satan wishes to do, negate every good thing. The good has its own existence from God. All evil can do is attempt to negate it. But one day, that last evil, death, shall be put away and the Good shall be crowned.
The second reason follows that act of creation. As Luther would add to his explanation to the first article of the creed, God not only made me and all creatures, but “he still preserves them.” The bible is full of passages about God’s care for the creatures of the earth. My two favorites are from Jesus and Jonah. Jesus takes the sparrow as his example. I think he takes it because of its complete humbleness. Nobody goes, “oooh, a sparrow.” Yet Jesus says, “are not 5 sparrows sold for 2 pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.” A little bit later he will talk of the Ravens who have always had an air of woe about them long before Poe took up his pen. “Consider the ravens, they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them.” God remembers even the sparrow and feeds the haunting raven. But the one that sticks in my mind is from Jonah. Jonah is sitting outside Nineveh, the work of preaching done, wanting and hoping for its destruction. The last line of the book is “should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many cattle.” One gets the sense that Nineveh’s deliverance might be more because of those cattle than anything. The animals are part of God’s continued providence.
But all of that simply points at stuff within this world. What gives me a sense of the animals’ spiritual worth? The funny story of Balaam gives me one point. We talked a bit about that story in last week’s sermon. Balaam’s donkey eventually prophesies to Balaam. But before that there is this humorous scene of Balaam riding the donkey and an angel appears holding a sword. The donkey can see the angel and it stops. Meanwhile Balaam is blind to the spiritual reality. The poor animal tries to save Balaam by turning aside. Balaam responds by beating the poor beast. But the donkey persists in trying to warn Balaam in multiple ways. The animals can at times be more spiritually aware than we are.
When you layer on top of that potential spiritual awareness two other things. First being that God’s covenant after the flood is not just with Noah, but is “an everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” The animals are worthy of the covenant. The Apostle Paul talks in similar ways in Romans 8. “All creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it in hope.” All creation waits with eager longing for the revealing. Those animals that are part of the Noahide covenant wait with longing for the final revelation and the freeing of our bondage. All creation has this hope. If you aren’t going to be there, why hope for it?
I’ll finish this mediation by returning to Jesus’ word’s about the sparrows. “They are remembered. Not one of them is forgotten before God.” In this sense all those animals are very much like us. Our hope is in God remembering his covenant. He has engraved us on his hand and will recall us from the pit. The same type of statement is given about the sparrows sold for pennies for sacrifice. God remembers them.
So I think that simple “yes” is correct. But there are some mighty good reasons behind it. Reasons that go to the heart of the Gospel. The entire world is Gods, and he’s going to remake it all good.