O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; The earth is full of your creatures. (Psalm 104:24)
As you read these words, I will have just returned from the summer peace camp of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (Bautistas por la Paz) in Toluca, Mexico, where I was sharing a presentation on the environmental roots of lasting peace. But it’s not just that we can’t have peace without a sustainable relationship with the earth and its resources, it’s that we humans can’t truly love God and love one another if we don’t appreciate, love and cherish all the denizens of God’s creation.
Bart Simpson asked his Sunday School teacher if his dog could go to heaven. The teacher didn’t answer. I would have given Bart an unequivocal “yes.” When scripture speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven, it speaks not only about a redeemed humanity, but also of a healed and renewed creation in which
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. (Isaiah 11:6)
Scripture also speaks of a beautiful city,where human society and nature’s gifts coexist.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing … through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.(Revelation 22: 1–2)
For most of human history our ancestors lived surrounded by animals, both “wild” and domestic. We had an intimate connection with those creatures who provided us food, clothing and other goods. We gathered our own eggs, spun our own wool and dispatched our own chickens, pigs and cattle with our own hands. Animals earned their keep. The cat was a mouser and the dog was a hunter, a guard or a herder.
Today less than 20% of Americans live in rural or small town settings. Nature seems far away sometimes,and “working” animals nonexistent. Still, God’s other creatures are always with us. The resident density of crows, pigeons, jays and house sparrows in urban Portland may outstrip bird populations in more “natural” areas. Squirrels, possums and racoons prowl our shade trees, backyards and alleyways. Coyotes inhabit every Portland neighborhood except downtown and deer graze suburban gardens.
And then the pets we keep! Their name and number are legion. At one time or another I have shared home with dogs, cats, tropical fish, goldfish, hermit crabs, frogs, turtles, newts, parakeets, canaries, gerbils, snakes, rabbits and guinea pigs. Every animal has its story. Shadow the dog followed Carol home one day in Kansas City when he was a little lost puppy. Chris the cat belonged to a tribe of snow white alley cats Carol used to feed on the side porch; then he invited himself in.
I have no interest in denying our special human connection with God – that we are made “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27)– and have a special vocation that goes along with it. But we enrich our lives by looking for reflections of the Creator in God’s other faithful creatures, who praise God by living out their own life patterns. And many of them love us as well, as they share our lives in faithful companionship. Thanks be to God.
All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.
–Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895)
—Dr. David L. Wheeler