The following reflection from Dean Ohlman and The Wonder of Creation, 'Tweeners,' is a helpful bookend to the first few installments in our FAQ series (Is caring for animals a valid concern?, But don't we have other priorities as Christians? and What about conflicts between animal and human welfare?), and a thoughtful contribution to some recent community discussions about distinctions between humans and animals ...
God blessed [man] and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28, all passages NIV)
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You [LORD] made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.
You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:3-9)
A major biblical understanding that always causes a great deal of debate in the secular environmental community relates to what they sometimes call “speciesism”: the “problem” of putting mankind at a higher level than other species of living creatures. The point they often make is that by people thinking of ourselves as better or higher or more valuable than non-human animals we don’t give them proper consideration. As a result, we’ve caused the extinction of many species.
The sad fact is that mankind has indeed caused the extinction of many species—something I believe grieves our Creator. The problem, however, is not that mankind does indeed dominate the other creatures. It’s the fact that we are irresponsible in our dominion. Yet that would happen whether or not one believes what the Bible says about the place and role of mankind in God’s creation. The fact that the Bible does speak directly about this matter is extremely significant, however, for it gives us divine guidance that ought to help us carry out our duties in reference to the remainder of the creation.
As the psalmist David points out in our Scripture for today, we are truly the in-between creatures. Not too long ago I did a study of that biblical understanding. I looked at the meaning of our being what I call creation’s “tweeners.” Here are the distinctions the Bible makes about that role. Realizing these points ought to help us in both our thinking and acting in reference to rest of the creation:
People are between the Creator and the creation in . . .
1. . . . Authority
People are God’s vice-regents and have been given authority over creation (Genesis 1:26-31, 2:15, 19-20; Psalm 8:3-8; 24:1; 115:16). People are both the “responsible species” and the “servant species.” But Jesus the Son retains all authority as granted by God the Father (Matthew 28:18).
2 . . . . Intelligence (wisdom, knowledge)
People, unlike animals, can learn how the creation works (1 Kings 4:33; Proverbs 24:5; Colossians 3:10; James 3:17). People can outwit and tame the animals (James 3:3,7). But God is all-knowing and is the source of all intelligence and knowledge (Isaiah 55:8-9).
3. . . . Spirituality
People are material beings like animals, but unlike animals, we have a need to worship and can spiritually attain to eternal life. People can be indwelled by the Holy Spirit. But God is spirit and the source of all that is spiritual.
4. . . . Value
People are more “valuable” than the other entities of creation (Matthew 6:26). But it is God who establishes all value.
5. . . . Creativity
People, unlike animals, can develop technology to increase our power over the creation. People, unlike animals, can sense beauty in nature and creatively express that beauty in art. But God’s creativity is unlimited, ours being limited in both scope and nature (Jeremiah 32:17).
6. . . . Consciousness
People can remember the past and, unlike animals, can anticipate the future and therefore plan for the future. People have an unparalleled awareness of self. But God is the source of all consciousness as the eternally conscious One (Ezekiel 11:5).
7. . . . Will
People, unlike animals, can will to choose and are not slaves to animal instinct. People, unlike animals, have an inborn sense of law and moral responsibility (ethics) to direct the will. But God’s will is absolute (2 Chronicles 20:6).
8. . . . Love
People, unlike animals, can express and be motivated by love. People are under a divine requirement to love as He loves (Deuteronomy 6:5). But God is love and the source of all love (1 John 4:8, 16).
While there is no explicit statement in Scripture about our being representative between animals and God, I think what Catholic philosopher Jean Mouroux said in The Meaning of Man gives us a helpful understanding of our in-between nature in thinking of mankind as creation’s priest. Certainly if we thought this way, we would be more responsible as creation’s caretakers:
Man is linked with nature in the vital, moral, and religious orders; and with her he forms an organic whole which finds its meaning and definitive fulfillment in the glory of God. But man alone is conscious of it. He alone is able to present the world to God in thought and love and to glorify God through the world. Thus he is bound up with nature, but only to rule, complete, and achieve it: he is ‘the animal that commands,’ but commands in order to serve and do homage; and thus he is truly creation’s priest. And fraternal nature, not unhelpful, but seeking, desiring, looks up to him who alone can fulfill her desire by giving her a soul and a voice wherewith to honor her God.
This does seem, in part, to give meaning to the apostle Paul’s statement about man and nature:
“The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21, emphasis added).