We skin 'em, stuff 'em, grill 'em, yoke 'em and take them for walks. Animals share this planet with mankind. God commands us to steward them with care and respect. It's just a crying shame that animals don't have eternal souls. A puppy may be for Christmas but Heaven, it appears, is only for humans.
Open your Bible and it might seem that animals get a raw deal. Beasts of all shapes and sizes are fattened, slaughtered, chopped up and eaten. Or else someone drags his sacrificial offering to the Temple in Jerusalem, rips open its throat, pours out a libation of blood, scoops out the fat, and then burns the gloppy mess on the altar. Not nice. Not at all. But it's all there in Holy Writ.
But now and again God shows that there's more to animals than walking hamburgers. The Creator reaches down into the midst of his magnificent creation and does something way out of the ordinary. Two she-bears responded to Elisha's curse by teaching a painful lesson to a bunch of yobs.1 Tooth and claw is a fair cry from cute and cuddly, but then again Winnie-the-Pooh is very much a modern invention. Simba in the Lion King may have opted for a diet of bugs and beetles, but the Bible is far more realistic. When an unnamed prophet broke his fast early, the lion sent to execute judgment didn't think twice about drawing blood.2
In both cases, God could have despatched an angel; instead he called upon a dumb beast to carry out his will. Eddie Murphy may do a passable talking donkey, but Balaam was scratching his head in wonder long before Shrek posseted his first belch.3 And where would Jonah have been without his Heaven-sent submersible?4 Peter caught a lot of fish in his lifetime but only once did he make a cash withdrawal using a scaly ATM.5 Elijah experienced the world's first fast food franchise, McRavens, but it was long time before the idea caught on.6 Jezebel may have been oblivious to her lack of a proper burial, but a pack of dogs enjoyed being tasked to polish off the wicked queen's bones.7 Each animal chosen by God to carry out his specific purposes.
Spare a thought for Legion's myriad demons.8 One minute there they were creating havoc throughout the Gerasenes, haunting the tombs, tearing apart manacles like they were paper chains, screaming and terrorising with impunity. Then along came Jesus and the horde of foul spirits found themselves involuntarily rehoused. I guess that it's hard to sound menacing when all that comes out of your mouth is Oink.
So how sure am I that animals won't make it through to Heaven? The Book of Revelation mentions a Lamb on the throne but that is of course a reference to Jesus.9 The Apocalypse has some particularly bizarre creatures standing before God, one looking like an ox, another like a lion, a third like an eagle, but the consensus among most Bible scholars is that these are merely an unusual form of angel.10
So love your kitty and pat your pooch. Snuggle up to your hamster and caress your pet python. And do think seriously about taking that leopard cub back to the zoo. God, it seems, created animals only for this life, to be loved and valued, to serve and to benefit mankind. Yet you and I are profoundly different. Amidst all of God's creation, the wonder of resurrection is granted to mankind alone. Your beloved canary will one day fall off its perch; your tortoise may be a centenarian but it too will shuffle off this mortal coil. Even King Kong gave up the ghost and took up sky-diving. But we will live forever. That's gotta be worth celebrating.
Need some help with those Bible stories?
1 2Ki 2:23-24
2 1Ki 13:11-28
3 Num 22:22-35
4 Jon 1:17
5 Mt 17:24-27
6 1Ki 17:1-6
7 2 Ki 9:30-37
8 Mk 5:1-13
9 Rev 5:6
10 Rev 4:7
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