Over the last 24 hours, the internet has been in uproar over the death of a creature named Cecil The Lion. I hadn’t heard of Cecil until now, but as the story goes, he’s one of Africa’s most famous lions. Cecil was a collared animal tending his pride that includes up to 24 cubs in a national park in Zimbabwe. He was hunted and killed by Walter Palmer, a dentist from Minneapolis who already had a felony record for poaching an animal in Wisconsin. Palmer apparently paid over $50,000 to kill the animal who was lured out of the national park and onto private property, before he was wounded by Palmer’s bow and finished off with a gun a day or so later.
Everyone involved in the hunt is now reportedly wanted by Zimbabwean authorities, and some lawmakers in the US are calling for an investigation to see if Palmer can be prosecuted in the United States for the kill.
For us as Christians, this news story invites us to ask a very important question: Does God care how we treat animals?
The answer, of course, is very much YES.
In fact, we see this revealed at the very beginning of God’s story. Genesis chapter 2 tells us of the vocation God intended for humanity: caring for the environment and animals.
“Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” Genesis 2:15
As I’ve explained previously, this vocational assignment in Genesis is what we call the “original mandate” meaning it is the first thing God required of humanity: caring for the environment and the animals. This means that environmentalism and animal care is absolutely central to an identity that flows from God– if one were to abandon the central calling as environmental caretakers, one would be abandoning the central vocation God assigned to humanity.
Later in Scripture we see God identify a concern for the welfare of animals as requirement as to whether or not one is living righteously, and reiterates that for the God-follower, caring for animals is not an optional calling we can just set aside. (Proverbs 12:10, Proverbs 27:23)
The reason why God is concerned for the welfare of animals is that God repeatedly lays claim to the animals of the earth as God’s own personal property. (Psalm 50:10, 50:11, Psalm 104:24-25)
Additionally, we see that God’s plan of redemption even extends to creation/animals themselves, as Christ ushered in the process of reversing the impact of sin on everything– not just humans. Further, in John’s Revelation he saw a vision of heaven where even the animals will worship God. (Romans 8:19-21, Eph 1:10, Col 1:19-20, Revelation 5:11-14).
Finally, Scripture includes a stark warning: those who rejected the calling to care for the environment/animals– instead behaving in a way that is destructive towards God’s property– will pay the ultimate price. Such people will not enter the new Kingdom, but will instead be destroyed by God at the final judgement. (Revelation 11:18)
Does God care how we care for animals? Um, yeah– God does. That’s his personal property and God’s holding us accountable for what we do with it.
What can that mean in a practical sense? Well, I think it’s easy to sit in judgement of the dentist who killed Cecil the Lion– it certainly was a heinous and callous act to kill for the fun of killing. However, those of us who eat meat often participate in horrific abuse of animals by not properly researching where our meat comes from, or by failing to only purchase meat that was raised and harvested ethically. Between locking pigs in crates where they spend their entire lives without being able to stand up, or a variety of other very common types of animal abuse, you and I are often as guilty as Walter Palmer without even realizing it. We need to repent of that.
Yes, God cares about how we treat his animals. Yes, killing Cecil the Lion was a disgusting and unnecessary action. But yes, you and I are often participants in the abuse and mistreatment of God’s personal property. Let us use this news story as an opportunity to begin researching where our meat comes from, and adjusting our consumption/purchasing habits in a way that shows God we honor his personal property.