Saturday, March 7, 2009

Biblical Data: Genesis 1-11

Faith and Politics

To begin, I feel I must once again emphasize the importance of both separating and integrating faith and politics. It is very easy for us, as evidenced by the so called Christian Right and Christian Left, to allow politics to dictate the way we look at Scripture and apply our Christian faith. It is also easy for us to see the political extremes in our society and react against our "political enemies" or stand with our "political allies" instead of reacting to Scripture and allowing it to dictate where we stand on a political issue. I want to emphasize that I do not believe it is wrong for a Christian to be involved or informed politically. Politics is important and our faith should be integrated into every area of our lives. But we need to be careful that we are Christians who are republicans or democrats (or whatever else), not republicans or democrats who happen to be Christians.

I say this because some of the issues that I will be addressing are very much related to politics. On the left, we have some animal rights activists who would have us treat animals as equals. On the right, we have some who have an "animal rights are not important, let's just eat them because they taste good" attitude. It is important to allow Scripture to inform our politics and I think there are wrong headed attitudes and beliefs on both sides of the political spectrum.

With that out of the way...

The Bible as our Framework for Thinking

Merely looking at the Biblical data will not decide or close the book on the issue. For better and for worse, the Bible is not a theology handbook, or really even a theology book. WHAAT!? You protest. No, the Bible is not a science book, or a history book, or a philosophy book, it is not even a theology book. It does speak to all of these, and other, disciples however. The Bible provides us a framework from which to approach information, knowledge, and life but it does not provide a systematic index for every theological question we have and understanding what it says is essential for approaching varying topics. So before we work out a theology of animals, lets examine the data and make some observations. Next time we will examine data from other sources and evaluate it in light of the Biblical data and begin to make some conclusions.

The Biblical Data

Genesis 1-3

Genesis 1 is a very structured passage. It's structure is significant and there is much we could say but I'm not trying to publish a book here. But a basic structure of the days of creation can be helpful.

A Day 1: Separation of light and darkness. Heavens prepared for population.
B Day 2: Separation of clouds and sea; and of sea from land. Skies and waters prepared for population.
C Day 3: Plants planted. Land prepared for population.
A' Day 4: Heavens populated with sun, moon, and stars. Rulership granted to sun and moon over day and night.
B' Day 5: Sea and land populated with sea creatures and birds.
C' Day 6: Land populated with animals. Humans created in God's image and granted rulership over the land, sea, sky, and creatures therein.
D Day 7: God rests and the day is set aside as holy.

Okay a couple things can be noted here.
1) God carefully prepares the heavens, skies, seas, and land for their inhabitants. I think it is fair to say that all of his creation is important to him. At the end of each day, he declares it "good", which demonstrates that he is both pleased with his creation and that it is how he wanted it to be.

2) Humans are similar to animals in some important ways. a) Both have the breath of life (see 6:17); b) Both are created from dirt (see 2:19); c) Both are created on the sixth day (well, the land animals are anyway); d) Both are given some of the same instructions: be fruitful and multiply; e) Both are provided food from the same source, plants; f) God is apparently pleased with his work with both of them.

3) Humans are distinct from the animals in some important ways. a) Humans are made in God's image; b) Humans are given dominion over the land, skies, seas, and the animals therein; animals are not; c) Humans are given additional tasks reflective of their unique place: they are to name the animals and they are specially placed in the garden of Eden and are commanded to cultivate it; d) Humans are forbidden to eat from a particular tree, animals are not given any prohibitions (at least in the text); e) Human gender is different. Animals are apparently created from the beginning with sexual distinction but humans are not. The woman "comes from man", there is not apparent parallel with animals; f) From this we can also discern a greater need and longing for relationship which can be seen in Adam and Eve's relationship and their relationship with God.

4) Moving from #3, because of these distinctions, humans are held responsible in a way that animals are not. When humans sin, animals apparently suffer as well. Humans are held responsible for their dominion and their dominion suffers when they mess up.

5) Humans are given plants to eat originally. It is not until Genesis 9 that meat is allowed.

6) When humans fall, God covers their nakedness with animal skins (apparently).

Genesis 4-11

After the fall, we see some differences in animal-human relationships. Animals are not the focal point of the text anywhere in this section but they are mentioned and there are some significant observations to be made:

1) Animal sacrifices are seen immediately in the text post-fall. This is very interesting for various aspects of theology but lets stick with the animal aspect for now. But, despite animal sacrifices, animals are not yet given as food.

2) Cain's sacrifice of fruit is not accepted by God. There is some debate as to whether the content of the sacrifice even mattered, let's leave that for later.

3) When man gets really really evil, God expresses sorrow that he made man and then proceeds to threaten to blot out ALL life for MAN's sin.

4) When Noah is spared for his righteousness, animals are spared extinction as well.

5) Interestingly, there are already classifications of clean and unclean animals.

6) Noah makes animal sacrifices to God when he exits, apparently offering up a lot of animals (some of EVERY clean animal and EVERY clean bird).

7) After the flood, Animal-human relationships are fundamentally changed. Animals are now permissible for food. Animals are given an instinctive fear of humans. Animals are to be used as a substitute for humans when they sin.

8) I think this is an interesting observation. The Noahic covenant is made with all flesh, including animals.

Some closing remarks...

Genesis does not ignore the importance of animal life. Animals are not the focal point of the text but they play an important part in the opening chapters of the bible. This is not all of the Biblical data, but is, perhaps, the most important and definitely provides us with a foundation from which to build.

Next time I will make some observations from the rest of the Bible and will begin to move on to some observations from other sources. Finally, I will attempt to explicate principles for application in our contemporary context.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Moving Towards a Theology of Animals

First of all, let me apologize for my prolonged blogging silence, though I doubt many of you really noticed. Without further ado, allow me to introduce my next topic of conversation.

Introductory Questions Related to Building a Theology of Animals

Theologizing is all about answering questions. My next blogging topic is a consideration of animals from a Biblical view. This post will present some questions that I see as central to understanding how Christians ought to treat and think of animals. Subsequent will deal with these questions, though satisfactory answers may be lacking.

1) What is the essential distinction between Humans and Animals? The automatic answer is "image of godness", but what does this mean? What are the implications of this? What do humans have that animals do not? As we examine this in more depth, I hope to be able to convince you that this is much more difficult than one might think.

2) What is the essential relationship between humans and animals? Humans were given dominion over creation, but what does that mean? Does that mean that we have the right to do anything we want to animals, kill them, eat them, torture them, domesticate them, or wipe them out? Or does this give us responsibilities and duties towards animals?

3) What is the value of animal life in the eyes of God and, subsequently, why did God create them? Animals are not made in God's image, but do they have value? Are they all equally valuable? Is the life of a dog worth more than the life of a gnat? Probably, but why?

4) What effect, if any, did the fall have upon human-animal relations? Will animals be on the new earth? Will the original relationship between humans and animals be restored?

4) And finally, what are the practical implications for the Christian? Is eating meat okay? Is killing animals for furs okay? Is wiping out a colony of ants or termites because they threaten your house acceptable? Animal testing? Killing animals for pleasure? Hunting? Fishing? Is there a difference between what is ideal and what is permissible in these areas?

This may not seem like an important issue to you, but I would submit that, though probably not as important as a proper understanding of the trinity, a proper understanding of animals in God's plan and the practical implications of Scripture for the Christian is crucial. Animals suffer, often at the hands of humans. Humans were given responsibilities as God's representatives on earth to rule and have dominion over the earth. Understanding our proper relationship with animals and the essential difference between animals and humans are, I think, essential to understanding what it means to be in the image of God. In my neck of the woods, the pacific northwest, this is an extremely important issue to many people. Being able to explain what the Bible teaches about animals is crucial for living out and helping others live out their faith in the world. If there is inconsistency between our theology and our praxis we can misrepresent our faith to those who listen to our words and watch us for inconsistencies. Teaching the "whole counsel of God" should not only include teaching all of Scripture, but the implications of Scripture upon every area and aspect of our lives.

About Me

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Tacoma, Washington, United States
"It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt." Fyodor Dostoevsky. I'm a Northwest Baptist Seminary graduate (MDiv) and current student (ThM). I plan on someday going to Africa and teach Bible and Theology at a Bible College or Seminary level. I hope to continue my studies and earn a PhD, either after I go to overseas for a few years or before. I'm a theological conservative, but I like to think outside of the box and challenge conventional thinking and consider myself a free thinker. I am currently serving in my fourth year as a Youth Pastor at Prairie Baptist Fellowship in Yelm Washington. My blogs will reflect my thoughts on both seminary and ministry life, though not (of course) exclusively. I enjoy literature and occasionally try my hand at writing stories and poems. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes..." Paul