This is going to be an extremely challenging read for many of you. I predict that some will misinterpret what I’m going to say, so let me first make it irrevocably clear that I don’t hate animals and I have nothing against pets! The image on the right is my favourite dog, Turbeau, a handsome Bernese Mountain Dog. He is, by far, the best dog in the whole world, and I love him very much. Please read what I am about to say with an open mind and an open heart.
We live in an age that values animal life over human life. To be sure, there is nothing immoral about caring for animals or having pets. As stewards of God’s creation, which we will see, caring for creation is part of our duty as human beings. However, God does not value animal creatures in the same manner He values human creatures. Because animals were not created in God’s image, animals are not part of God’s family and are not as important as people, nor are they more important. Saying animals are just as important or more important than humans undermines the image of God and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Humans Created in God’s Image, Not Animals
The fundamental difference between animal creatures and human beings is that humans are created in God’s image whereas animals are not. When God created the creatures of the waters, air, land, and sea, He created them “according to their kinds” (Genesis 1:20, 24). When God created human beings, there is a fundamental difference.
God did not create humans according to their kinds, but rather, He said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the flesh of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (1:26). Animals lack a single fundamental characteristic given to humans alone: God’s image.
To understand what we mean by “image of God,” we have to distinguish between both its wide sense and the narrow sense. In the wide sense, humans are rational beings, relational beings (able to live in communities with responsibility and accountability, i.e. stewardship), and are given dominion over all creation. In the narrow sense, the image of God is true knowledge and service of God, which was lost at the Fall (which is why humans are naturally born in hostility toward God).
Animals were not given either sense of the image of God. They do not have rational and relational abilities to the extent of human ability, they do not exercise dominion over creation, and they were not given true knowledge and service of God. Rather, animals (and vegetation) were given to humans to serve humans (Genesis 1:28-30). Therefore, there is no biblical basis for animals being as important or more important than human beings.
Animals were created first and foremost to serve human beings. They exist merely to serve our needs. This was so in Genesis 1:28-30 and God recapitulates their servitude to humans in Genesis 9:1-4 after the Flood. Additionally, the punishment for taking another human’s life is to have the murderer’s life be taken (Genesis 9:6); this is never the case when an animal is killed. Why? Because human beings are created in God’s image; animals are not.
Animals always serve our needs. This is why we have pets to begin with. We purchase pets because we desire companionship, and they serve us by providing this need. We may even claim to adopt a pet for their own benefit, but even then they exist to serve us for the purpose of companionship. For what other purpose do they have other than to serve your needs of companionship?
By faith, God’s image is restored to us (true knowledge and service of God). This occurs also in Baptism. Scripture does not speak of faith for animals. Neither does it command we baptise animals (cf. Matthew 28:18-20). Baptism is the means by which God adopts human beings into His family (Ephesians 1:3-14).
Animals are not included in this command or adoption. Therefore, there is no means by which animals become part of God’s family and, therefore, cannot be considered just as important or even more important than humans. If they are, and if they’re just as important as humans or more, then we should start baptising animals and preaching to them from the pulpit! We should start evangelising to them in the forests and the streets! If this sounds absurd to you, then it is equally absurd to think animals are as important or more important than humans.
We are to care for animals, yes. When animals are injured, when evil men harm them, when a species (kind) is under threat of extinction, it is the responsibility of human beings as stewards of God’s creation to protect them and to care for them. Dominion over creation does not call for abuse of stewardship or anonymous living. Mankind’s dominion over creation is a gift of God.
Since the beginning, God has given us all creatures—animals and otherwise—to serve us and our needs, and we are to care for what God has given to serve us. To contend that animals are just as important or more important than humans undermines the image of God. The image of God is what it means to be human. Jesus Christ died for the redemption of humans, not animals.
If animals are as important as human beings, then they must be humans. Are animals human beings? No. So then, they must not be as important. Are animals to receive faith and be baptised into Christ? No. So then, they must not be part of God’s family. Do animals go to Heaven? Scripture is silent on this, so no one can say; we can only speculate.
If we are bold enough to contend that animals are as important as human beings, then we must be equally foolish to depose the doctrine of the image of God. For if animals are as important as human beings and part of God’s family, that means we are just animals, which means we are left to somebody else’s dominion. Perhaps we would be the dominion of aliens! (sarcasm)
Jesus Died for Mankind, Not Animal Kind
Furthermore, such a contention undermines the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If animals are as important as humans, meaning we’re just animals, that means Christ did not die for us and that He did not rise from the dead for us. Humans were bought at a price—the price of Jesus’ death (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23). This cannot be true if animals are just like us, for Jesus did not say He came to die for them, but for mankind (Matthew 20:28). If we must exalt animals to humanhood, we must simultaneously cast aside God’s image and the death and resurrection of Christ.
Idolatry of Pets
This is an idolatry issue because we care for pets more than we do for other human beings. There are more efforts to get animals off the streets than there are to get humans off the streets. We are more willing to adopt copious amounts of pets than we are children who are lonely and unwanted. We cry when a pet is killed in movies but not when human beings are killed. Even worse, it is illegal to kill a bald eagle’s egg in America because it’s an endangered species, but it’s legal to kill an infant in the womb. We have become so desensitised toward the value of human life that we are willing to kill our own children for the sake of convenience and exalt animals in their place.
Antitheses to Consider
- “Pets don’t hurt you like humans hurt you.” I hear this antithesis a lot. This statement isn’t entirely true. Your pets—as cute and lovable as they are—can still hurt you. They can still choose to bite you, they poop on the floor, they chew up your furniture, they run away and perhaps don’t come back. Human beings do all of these things too. (Yes, even pooping on your floor and ruining your furniture; just look at babies.) I can recall many stories of seemingly docile pets suddenly mauling their owner or the owner’s child.
- As a follow-up antithesis, one may say, “Pets may poop on the floor, bite me, ruin my furniture, and run away but they don’t do this with the pre-planned intent to hurt me like humans do.” Maybe, maybe not. You can’t read their minds. Even if they can’t hurt you with pre-planned intent, there are two other things to consider: (a) Animals, when left to their instincts in the wild, will and can hurt you with pre-planned intent (especially predatory animals, which cats and dogs and even birds are by nature); and (b) even if they can’t hurt you with pre-planned intent, they still hurt you! I think it is better that a human knows what he’s doing when he hurts you whereas an animal, under this premise, wouldn’t know any better since they cannot distinguish between right and wrong (because they’re not created in God’s image). It is better that a human understands what he’s doing is wrong—even if he has no remorse—than an animal that doesn’t even know what wrong is.
- “Animals have souls.” If by “soul” you mean the נֶפֶשׁ (nephesh), then yes. In Hebrew, nephesh means the life which animates the being. Scripture calls animals נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה (nephesh chayah), literally “living soul,” or “living thing, living creature” (Genesis 1:20-21, 24), as well as “breath of life” (Genesis 1:30). Humans, too, have this nephesh. When God formed man (יצר, yatsar), “וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים וַיְהִי הָאָדָם לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה,” literally, “He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7). The word for “breath” (נְשָׁמָה, nushamah) is in the same word family as nephesh, as is the verb for God’s “breathing” (נפח, naphach). In the sense of nephesh, then, both human beings and animals have a “soul” insofar as they are living creatures. However, there is also a distinction to be made. Only mankind is described as having God’s “breath of life”; this is wholly distinct from nephesh chayah (living creature). Both are living creatures, but only humans have the breath of life, that is, God’s image. Therefore, the fact that animals have souls insofar as they are nephesh (living creatures) but do not have God’s “breath of life”—God’s image—means nothing for animals’ supposed equivalence or superiority to humans.