Deut. 22:6-7 - "If you come across a bird's nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. You shall let the mother go, but the young you shall take for yourself, that it may go well with you, and that you may live long."
Some of the recent news circulating online reminded me of these verses in Deuteronomy. Several years ago I was given the opportunity to teach through that book, the record of Moses' last five sermons to the nation of Israel before his death. I remember studying through some of the seemingly obscure laws, like the one above, and wondering why God was making such a big deal about how many birds were left in a nest. However, when you reflect for a moment, this is not the only time God reveals an interest in the lives of animals.
What about when God answered Job's complaints? As Job suffered, he accused God of being unfair and unjust. God did not provide Job with an explanation for his suffering. Instead, God reminded him that He was powerful and wise and invited Job to trust Him. To prove the point, He drew attention to the provision He makes for animals, including ravens. "Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God for help, and wander about for lack of food (Job 38:41)?" The answer to this rhetorical question? God!
Do you remember what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:26) when he explained that citizens of his kingdom were not to be anxious or troubled about their daily needs? "Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" Jesus' point was that if God cared enough to meet the needs of birds, then God would also meet the needs of men and women who were created in His image.
What do these passages teach us?
God Values All Life
If God is concerned enough about preventing extensive loss of animal life that He gave instruction to His people on the topic (Deut. 22:6), and He also revealed that He daily meets the needs of animals (Job 38:41; Matt. 6:26), then I think we can confidently conclude that God values every being that possesses the breath life (Gen. 1:30). God values life!
If this is the case, then as His image-bearer I need to cultivate a Godly concern for living creatures. God cares about how I interact with and treat animals. He will be displeased if I abuse or needlessly take animal life. There is a reason that we need to train children to interact with animals in a respectful and kind way, and why we discipline and correct them when a lack of respect is shown. What Deut. 22:6 should help us see is that showing a lack of respect toward animals demonstrates a devaluing of life in general.
God Values The Life of Image-Bearers More!
However, what Jesus makes exceedingly clear in Matt. 6:26 is that while God values all life, He values human life more! It is men and women, created in the image of a Triune God, who God seeks to dwell with eternally. God gave man the unique role of dominion over the rest of creation (Ps. 8). It is because of His great love for the men and women of the world that God sent His only son to die (John 3:16)! In serving mankind with his sacrificial death Jesus took on the form of those he was serving, a human form (Phil. 2:7-8), not the form of an animal (such as a lion).
That being the case, as an image-bearer of God I need to cultivate a growing respect for human life and value it to the same degree that God does.
So what is the connection this week? Think about some of the headlines you've recently read. Are there animals who are being abused, mistreated and killed? Yes. Should Christians be opposed to that? Certainly. Does the loss of animal life equate to the loss of human life? Absolutely not! It was Jesus who argued from the lesser to the greater in Matt. 6:26 by comparing God's daily care of animals and people, and we need to take a page from his book. "Are you not of more value than they?"
There is something broken in the reasoning of the person who can mourn the mistreatment of an animal while feeling indifferent or even promoting practices that callously rob unborn children of life and participate in the marketing of their remains. But there is hope for all of us whose thinking has been broken by sin. There is hope for each of us who have marred the image of God with our sin. Part of being a Christian is allowing ourselves to be recreated in the image of Christ (Rom. 8:28-29). We each need to be forgiven through Jesus for the thoughts, mindsets and actions that have separated us from our Creator (2 Cor. 10:5). After that we need to learn to think and feel about things the way that Jesus, in his perfect humanity, does (Col. 3:10).
Praise God that He has provided a way for us to be redeemed and remade! May we all learn to value what He does, to the degree that He does!