Let Us Discover God in Creatures
A sermon based on Genesis 8:1-19
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on August 20, 2017
by Rev. Scott Elliott
I have a word problem for us to consider this morning . . . You are on a horse, galloping up and down at a constant speed. On your left side is a sharp drop off, and on your right side is an elephant traveling at the same speed as you. Directly in front of you is another galloping horse but your horse is unable to overtake it. Behind you is a lion running at the same speed as you and the horse in front of you. What must you do to safely get out of this highly dangerous situation?
The answer is: you need to get off the merry-go-round!
Here is a little known fact. While working my way through law school I had a part time job that required me to operate a merry-go-round! It was the most popular ride of the customers. And even when I was not running the ride, I can attest that every merry-go-round everywhere was always my own little children’s favorite ride.
Merry-go-rounds and stories like Noah’s ark are popular with children because humans at an early age have a fascination and delight in other species. There are, of course, often safety concerns when we deal with any other living being, which is implied in the joke I told, but the humor in the punch line is that we also know that animals can be a fun and fascinating and wondrous to consider.
And naturally, there is also the aspect of our genuine affection, care and compassion for and with and from animals. Indeed with our pets and livestock that we come to have long term personal connections with – our furry and feathered and scaley friends like dogs and cats and birds and fish that we tend to call “pets,” but also “livestock,” like horses and sheep and goats – these critters can and do engendered our love and reciprocate it as well.
I think it is fair to also claim that humans have affection, care and compassion for animals outside of domestication. We are moved and touched and even sense awe (dare I say God) in our animal friends in the wild. From magnificent whales to baby deer to soaring eagles to spawning fish and so many other animals – indeed all those that we are told were saved by God on Noah’s ark– we often do feel connected to . . . God created animals and declared them good in Genesis and many humans appreciate that.
And it is not just God and us moderns who like and appreciate other species. The Bible has many references to animals. To name just some that start with A, B and C: there are Ants (Proverbs 6:6); Antelope (Deut 14:5); Apes (1 Kings 10:22); Bats (Leviticus 11:19); Bears (1 Samuel 17:34-37); Bees (Judges 14:8); Buzzards (Isaiah 34:15); Camels (Genesis 24:10); Chameleons (Leviticus 11:30); Cobras (Isaiah 11:8); Cows ( Isaiah 11:7) Cranes (Isaiah 38:14) and Crickets ( Leviticus 11:22) in the Bible. And that’s just some of the animals we know by A, B, C names! All told there appear to be more than 90 species of animals listed by name in the Bible. 1
God cares for animals. Our snippet from Genesis’ Noah’s Ark story has God remembering and caring for not just Noah and his human family but both wild and domestic animals– the whole of the animal family is rescued and delivered into the Bible’s post flood era. Moreover the covenant God makes after the flood is not just to humankind, but WITH all animals. In Genesis 9:9-11
God said to Noah and to his sons . . . “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” (Gen 9: 9-11)
And God hangs the rainbow in the sky as a sign of that covenant for both humankind and animal-kind.
And it is not just Genesis that understands God as caring for animals. Psalm 104 (24-25) poetically observes:
O Lord, how magnificent are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures . . .
The Psalmist (Psalm 50:10) also tells us God declares that “every wild animal of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.” In fact God cares so much for animals that Deuteronomy (5:14) requires that there not only be a day of rest in the week for humankind, but also for animals: “the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work . . . or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock . . .” And Jesus himself notes that care for animals naturally supercedes the day of rest, in Luke (14:5) he tells his followers “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And in Matthew (10:29) Jesus points out that not one sparrow “will fall to the ground apart from [God].” And, of course, in Matthew (6:26-30) Jesus also says “ Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”
God and Jesus care about animals. And to insure people do too there’s lots of advice, dictates and chastisement in the Bible requiring our good relations with animals. Perhaps most famously humans in Genesis are given the sacred task of stewardship over creation including all animals. But there are other concepts and rules of care too. Proverbs (12:11) tells us “The righteous know the needs of their flocks . . .” and also instructs “Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds.” (Proverbs 27:23). Deuteronomy (25:4) dictates “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.” Isaiah (30:24) provides “ the oxen and the donkeys that work the ground will eat seasoned fodder, which has been winnowed . . .”
See the Bible has many caring provisions for animals and about animals. They have the breath of life. They matter to God and are a part of the very God we live and move and have our being in. Meaning, if we think about it, that nature is a window that can show us God. Irenaeus, a very early leader of the church, noted that “the initial step for a soul to come to knowledge of God is contemplation of nature.” 2 I agree with that and would add that having animals about, whether as pets or as livestock, provides us with opportunities of that contemplation and so can serve to help us know God better. To quote another early church leader Augustine:
Some people in order to discover God read books, But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! Read it. God whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink. Instead, He set before your eyes the things that He had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that? 3
This morning we can look below and beside us and soon up here to see and hear pages of that book in our beloved animal creatures and of course we look to those in the wild too . . .
May we never stop discovering God in our sister and brother creatures. And may we give them the care and compassion and love God’s goodly creatures deserve.
2 The Green Bible, p98.
3 Ibid at p 100
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