The problem with following Jesus is that he keeps sticking his nose into matters that seem to be none of his business. Like my picking up eggs from the supermarket. But it turns out that the grocery store is a holy place.
The local grocery store is the space where we gather the fruit of the earth — all of which come from God's gracious hand — and distribute them to the creatures made in God's image. Take away all the sophisticated marketing labels and bold two-for-one signs, and you have a place where the gifts of God and the people of God meet.
Among those gifts are the products or the very flesh of the "beasts of the earth and birds of the air," given to us as food, according the Book of Genesis (9:2-3). I think it's fair to say that Jesus — through whom all things were made (Col. 1:16)—has a special interest in grocery stores and what we do there.
He's concerned about, among other things, the fact the eggs we have for breakfast and the rotisserie chicken we pick up for a quick dinner may have come from circumstances that are appalling — chickens crammed in buildings by the tens of thousands, treated like machines that are fed a diet designed simply to make them produce more eggs or tastier flesh.
When my eco-friendly friends tell me facts like these, well, I sometimes resent it. I feel like they are sticking their noses into my business. But as I think about it, I know that Jesus is using them — even the self-assured and self-righteous among them — to remind me that he's just as nosy as they are.
And our concern for animals has to go deeper than so-called "animal rights," for reasons that are too complex to go into here.
No, the biblical rationale for creature care is cosmic in scope. In a startling prophecy of Isaiah, for example, we are told that not only will there be a new heaven and earth, but also that
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. (11:6)
Some argue that this is mere metaphor for the abstract idea of peace. I think not. Too many biblical passages suggest that human beings aren't the only part of creation that will enjoy peace and joy in a new world order. For example, listen to a line from the prophet Hosea:
In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the creatures that move along the ground. Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety. (2:18).
So the answer to the $64,000 question that every pet owner asks is, yes, Fido will be in heaven. The question has usually been debated around the question of whether animals have souls. The Bible doesn't seem to think so, but it nonetheless says time and again that "all creation," including "beasts of the field, birds of the air, and creeping things on the ground" have a place in God's heart and our future.
What exact place? We read this from another startling book, the Revelation of St. John, in a passage in which we see a vision of heavenly worship:
Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. In the centre, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and behind.
The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle.
Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come. (4:6-8).
In this Picasso-esque vision, we see a grotesque collage of animal-like creatures praising God day and night. And even more remarkable:
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. (vv. 9-10)
The 24 elders (representing all the elect in the age to come) worship only "whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks." That many scholars regard these animal-like creatures as angels is less interesting than that the writer choses to picture angels as animal-like creatures. In this vision, creatures and humans are shown worshiping side by side for eternity.
(Perhaps this is why, through God's providence, we often end up sitting right next to people we find grotesque in one way or another — he's just preparing us for heaven.)
The point is simply this: We cannot pretend that God cares only about how we treat the poor and oppressed here and abroad. He created a harmonious world, populated with man and beast, and he intends to restore that world, man and beast, to its harmonious state.
To be sure, we still live between the times, the time before the kingdom, when by God's design we have the right and responsibility to use animals for clothing, for scientific research, for entertainment, and for food — especially on behalf of the poor and oppressed. Given the poverty and hunger and disease that infects our world, I do not believe that these wild and arresting biblical images demand we all become vegetarians or buy only cage-free eggs or only organic-fed beef or whatever.
But surely it may mean that, and more, for some, both as a witness to the rest of us that a new world is coming, and as a reminder that for the nosy Jesus, there is no corner of the created order that he does not care about.
Mark Galli is senior managing editor of Christianity Today. Mark replies to comments here and on his blog.
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