Someone asked me the old “Do dogs go to heaven?” question the other day, and it started a chain of conversation about the treatment of animals.
Proverbs 12:10 states, “The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.” This verse specifically links righteousness to the humane treatment of animals.
The line is couched in what is called “antithetical parallelism, ” That’s a form of parallelism where the meaning of two lines are obversed, although directly linked by providing the same meaning from differing perspectives. The second half here states: “The kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.” In other words, even the most compassionate works of a wicked person are bad—the wicked are always cruel.
In contrast, a godly person is always kind, and that kindness extends to the animals under his care. The righteous person cares about all life, including animal life.
You can generally make a sound deduction about what someone’s really like by the way they treat their dog. Herbert Spencer once said: “I could not befriend a man who knowingly stepped on a slug.”
This principle has important applications for the way we live. While Scripture expresses a clear priority for human life over animal life (see Luke 12:7), animals are part of God’s creation and are to be shown proper care and humane treatment.
Animal cruelty or mistreatment has no place in the life of a Christian.
Jesus asked in Matthew 12:11, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?” Of course, the point he was making was about sabbath-keeping, but on the way to making it, he referred to the way these normal, rural people would care about their own livestock. If they had an animal in trouble, they would react. That is good and proper. Jesus used the analogy to highlight the necessity of helping people, too: “How much more valuable is a person than a sheep!” (v12).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of the great care God has for animal life, including each bird that flies in the sky (Matthew 6:26). One of the psalms expresses God’s oversight of all the animals he has made: “The lions roar for their prey / and seek their food from God. . . . All creatures look to you / to give them their food at the proper time. / When you give it to them, / they gather it up; / when you open your hand, / they are satisfied with good things” (Psalm 104:21, 27–28). God cares for the needs of his animals, and God’s people should do the same.
Two important accounts in the Old Testament also reveal God’s care for animal life. In the account of Noah and the flood, God went to great lengths to make sure every kind of animal would survive on the ark. It’s not only a metaphor for human care, but the text includes the curious addition (in Genesis 9) that “I will require an accounting from every human -and from every animal.”
And finally, in the story of Jonah, part of God’s explanation of holding back his destruction of Nineveh was the importance of the animals of the city. God said, “Should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:11).
God cares greatly for the animals he has created. Those who seek to follow his ways will also care about his creation, including animal life. Animal cruelty, the neglect of pets, and the wanton destruction of a species are sin. Christians are called to care for animals, expressing the same attitude toward animal life as our Creator has.
And that leads us back to the opening question, to which i generally respond with the fascinating arguments of C.S.Lewis (in The Problem of Pain and The Great Divorce) that our destinies are linked, that all creation has value and accountability.