By / Aug 18

The Bible is clear that (1) Christians should care about injustice (Micah 6:8, 2 Chronicles 19:7, Prov 20:23) and (2) Christians should respect civil government and laws (Rom 13:1-2, 1 Tim. 2:1-2). Yet over the centuries, Christians have toiled over the dichotomy between a godly passion for justice and the biblical call to submission. 

Believers have often found themselves at odds with the rulers and laws of the land they live in. In America today, laws stand that threaten the lives of the unborn, diverge from the biblical understanding of gender and sexuality, and forsake the widow and orphan. Currently, the U.S. House of Representatives is considering 12 appropriation bills for FY2022 that propose the removal of pro-life riders from the budget such as the Hyde and Weldon Amendments. Thankfully, Christians living in the 21st century are not the first group of believers to find ourselves in disagreement with the laws and norms of their culture. Jesus prepared us to expect as much, when he prayed for the protection of his people in the garden of Gethsemane, “they are not of the world, even as I am not of it” (John 17:16). 

The book of 1 Peter was written as the church faced persecution and focused on instructing Christians about how to live faithfully in a time of extraordinary evil. Peter instructs believers to use good conduct and submission to those in authority as a testament to the gospel (1 Pet. 2:13). We have been made free by the blood of Christ, we must now use our freedom not to bring chaos but instead to show the world the gentleness and servant nature of our Savior (1 Pet. 2:16). This includes submission to human authority (1 Pet. 2:15). Peter gives us a beautiful framework for what living as a servant of God looks like, calling Christians to “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor (1 Pet. 2:17). 

Honor everyone. 

The first two principles at work in Peter’s framework inform how the Christian is to go about showing honor to those outside the church (the first principle) and those within the church (the second). The first portion reminds believers that we are to honor (or rightly respect) all people, which includes recognizing and standing up for their dignity as image-bearers. The way we treat people should reflect the inherent worth each individual possesses as one created by God. 

Regarding those who are particularly vulnerable, Proverbs 31:8-9 calls believers to: Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” The Bible is filled with accounts of brave men and women of faith who defied their rulers to hold fast to their faith and protect the innocent: the Hebrew midwives who resisted Pharoah’s command to kill the Israelite babies (Ex. 1), Rahab’s defiance of Jericho’s rulers and protection of the Israelite spies (Josh. 2), and Obadiah’s hiding of the prophets of God from the murderous queen Jezebel (1 Kings 18). This is rooted in the reality that the Lord is a God of justice, who hates abuses of the poor, vulnerable, and powerless.

Love the brotherhood.

The second principle — love of the brotherhood — calls Christians to love one another. This includes within our own local churches and Christian communities, but it also extends to the body of Christ across the world. This should also inform how Christians respond to cries for justice from within the church. It was the Black church and its advocacy, activism, and exercise of peaceful civil disobedience that called the United States to respect the full equality and dignity of Black Americans during the Civil Rights Movement. 

Christians should strive to see an expansion of God’s kingdom here on earth. We should seek justice in a way that displays the character of God and his compassion for the hurting, and especially those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ (Gal. 6:10). We should work to cultivate justice that points to the kingdom of perfect righteousness that is coming.

Practicing this principle can take many different forms. As we look to the Scriptures, we see that Paul spent a great deal of time collecting funds from other Christians for the relief of the church in Jerusalem (1 Cor 16:1–4; 2 Cor 8:1–9:15; Rom 15:14–32). We also see Paul instructing Philemon to treat Onesimus not as a slave but as a brother (Philemon 1:16). Today, showing love for the brotherhood could mean financially assisting a believer facing a medical crisis, volunteering for a Christian justice or poverty relief ministry, helping to repair a church building damaged by a natural disaster, or providing resources and support for a community of Christian refugees from another country. 

Fear God.

The final two principles are important because the first one controls the second. The fear of God is to take priority over our honor of the emperor, and it’s also our motivation for respecting the rulers he has set in place (Rom. 13:7). The same Peter who writes the epistle is the one who told the Jewish leaders in the early days of the church, “We must obey God rather than human men” (Acts 5:29). When the early church was forbidden from speaking or teaching in the name of Jesus, Peter and John refused and said, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:18-20). 

Similarly, during the reign of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, the young Israelites Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego courageously refused to worship the King’s statue and were thrown into a burning furnace (Dan. 3). Later, Daniel would be cast into a den of lions for his refusal to follow the king’s unjust command forbidding prayer (Dan. 6). 

Again, the Civil Rights Movement illustrates how Christians should be willing to accept punishment and consequences for refusing to obey unjust laws. Those who protested against the prejudiced treatment of African Americans under Jim Crow segregation were willing to face jailing (and often unlawful physical punishment) to demonstrate that the government’s policies were not only unconstitutional but unjust. It was in one such prison that Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his Letter from Birmingham Jail as a plea to forsake silence and delayed justice.

Early Baptists in England and North America also faced persecution from the government on account of their religious faith. Men like Thomas Helwys and Isaac Backus refused to attend state-sanctioned churches and suffered retribution from the state. Like the apostles in Acts, because of our fear of God, Christians should be unwilling to submit to unjust laws that deny justice and equality to our fellow human beings. 

Honor the emperor.

First Peter 2:11-17 identifies Christians as sojourners and exiles in this world and urges believers to “keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable” and to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” Therefore, Christians should instead give thanks and pray for those given authority over us “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Like Peter, Paul wrote Romans, his letter to the church in Rome, during a period of persecution from the Roman Emperor Nero, making his commands concerning government all the more powerful. Romans 13 clarifies that every person should be subject to their governing authorities because their authority has been instituted by God. Though we are often tempted to forget, government in general is a good gift from God intended to keep order and lead to the flourishing of society. And Paul warns that we risk incurring the wrath of God and violating our consciences when we disobey the civil authorities he has established (v. 5). As Christians, we should honor our rulers, pay taxes, and respect those in authority with our words and actions. And as we do so, we remember that we are actually submitting to and honoring our King.

So what now?

In his commentary of Acts 5, John Stott says, “We are to submit right up to the point where obedience to the state would entail disobedience to God. But if the state commands what God forbids or forbids what God commands, then our plain Christian duty is to resist, not to submit, to disobey the state in order to obey God.” 

As Christians, we should default to respect civil authorities and submit to the laws we are subject to. When a civil mandate contradicts our heavenly mandate, our allegiance to God’s kingdom should win. Christians should resist laws that command sin and constantly work within the existing rules to change evil laws and promote righteousness. Above all, we should do so as we remember that our effort and obedience is ultimately aimed at pleasing God.

By / Dec 18

We live in a world where issues arise in the news and culture daily. Behind every issue, however, is a person—a person made in the image of God. This new ERLC Podcast series, “How to Handle,” will tackle tough issues for today with the hopes of equipping the church on how to handle the topic, care for those struggling with sin and temptation, and care for those who have been hurt. 

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By / Mar 24

The world tells women that they need and deserve to find time for themselves. Yet, as a Christian mother, I find myself a bit hesitant to pursue it.  

Don’t get me wrong. I’d love some me time. As a mother of little ones, I rarely have a moment of uninterrupted thought. My hesitation comes as I consider the idea of spending time solely on myself, rather than on serving the needs of my family. It just seems contrary to what I think I ought to be doing as a Christian mom.

As I look at the heart of the world’s advice, it seems women are being told they must find the time to escape from their normal reality and re-energize by focusing on themselves for a while. This might include being pampered by a massage or facial, or it could be a night out with friends. The main idea, though, is for women to relax and treat themselves to activities that make them happy and refuel them for their everyday lives.

That doesn’t sound all bad—and those activities aren’t bad in and of themselves. Yet, the secular worldview doesn’t take into account several realities that I believe could transform the typical me time mentality into a more God-honoring time of true refreshment. By acknowledging the following truths, I believe me time can be redeemed for Christian women.

1. We can never really escape reality, especially the reality that we live in God’s kingdom.  

The secular idea of escaping reality for an evening of personal relaxation forgets to take into account that we live in a universe where God exists and that he is King (Ps. 103:19). We live, move and have our being under his rulership, whether or not our families are in our proximity (Acts 17:28).  

Our alone time can never be viewed as a way to do whatever we want with no regard for the King. It is always secondary to his authority over us. As believers we are happy to be his subjects and under his good care. Time alone can be considered a gift from him, especially as we acknowledge that he is primary.

2. Since we live in a kingdom that is not our own, “me time” is really his time.

Since God is creator and owner of everything that exists, even our time must be considered his. The world would have us believe otherwise. The name itself depicts this. It is mine. I have rights to it. I deserve to spend it however I choose. These are thoughts that even my own sinful heart seeks to demand. But Christ has bought us with his blood (1 Cor. 6:19-20). As Christians, we are fully his. Just as our lives are not our own, neither is our time. How we spend time alone must ultimately be how he wants us to spend it.

3. We must take into account the paradoxical nature of God’s kingdom.  

Me time insists that if I live for myself, I will benefit. But in God’s kingdom, the way up is down. When the disciples disputed over who is the greatest, Jesus declared the greatest will be the least (Luke 22:26). At other times, he said the first in this world will be last (Matt. 19:30). The humble will be exalted (Matt. 23:12). Giving is better than receiving (Acts 20:35). And dying brings life (Luke 9:24).    

The world calls these things foolishness because they do not have eyes of faith. But sadly, I think many Christian moms have also neglected to believe this principle. We get caught up in serving our families more out of obligation than by faith and begin to view mundane tasks as insignificant. If we really believed that God brings eternal rewards for us as we serve by faith, maybe we wouldn’t need alone time as much as we think we do (Matt. 10:42, Col. 3:23-24). Loving our families would become more of a joy instead of a burden. Our hope and sense of fulfillment would be set more on the Lord and his promises, instead of on finding time alone for ourselves.  

So, is me time biblical? Given the world’s definition, I wouldn’t exactly say yes. However, time alone can certainly be a kind gift from God, especially as we acknowledge the realities explained above. If he gives you some time to yourself, thank him for it, put your hope in him and use it for his glory.  

How? Meditate on the Scriptures. Journal or reflect on how he might be growing you through specific life circumstances. Talk with him about these things. Prayerfully dream of ways he might want to use you in ministry, either more intentionally to your family or to others. Actually minister to others. Have life-giving conversation with a Christian friend. Go for a walk, enjoying the world he gave us. Or, use the creativity he put within you to make something unique. These are all ways to use alone time that honor him and acknowledge his kingship.

By / Mar 10

What does the Bible say about rape or sexual assault? Never before has the issue of sexual assault against women seemed so ubiquitous. In January a Nashville jury convicted two Vanderbilt University students of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery when they assaulted a student in a dorm room in 2013. Amid widespread campus sexual assault, 80 percent of which goes unreported, many hope this strong ruling will communicate to other victims of rape that they, too, will be heard. The case is just one of many instances of on-campus sexual assault, some of which have gone unaddressed, despite being reported. And sexual violence on college campuses is not the only mainstream news story concerning rape. Last fall witnessed the staggering number of allegations of sexual assault committed by comedian and household name, Bill Cosby. According to these women, their assaults have been kept quiet for the better part of a lifetime. From college sophomores to senior adults, women are speaking out and seeking justice.

The Bible is not silent about rape. The accounts of sexual assault against women are heartbreaking, even gruesome. But they are not brushed under a rug or hushed up. In fact, of the three accounts describing a woman who was sexually assaulted, each of them precipitated civil war. When Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, was violated by the son of a neighboring ruler, Shechem, her brothers murdered him, his father, and the all of the men of his city in revenge (Gen. 34). After the Unnamed Concubine was gang-raped and left for dead by men in the tribe of Benjamin, the other tribes went to war against them upon hearing of her injustice (Jgs. 19-21). And after Tamar was raped by her half-brother, Amnon, her brother Absalom killed him, and incited a rebellion against his father, King David (2 Sam. 13). Rape was neither covered up nor ignored. Instead, it was answered and avenged. It was such a cultural convulsion that it was answered with outrage and further violence. The cases of rape in Scripture tell us something about the cases of rape we are hearing today: These women must be heard and they must be protected.

The Old Testament Law gives us an even greater picture of just how much God takes up the cause of the victim and the vulnerable. There is one passage in particular, Deuteronomy 22:23-29, that safeguarded women who had been violated. Like all of the legal codes, these laws reveal the heart and character of God.

Deuteronomy 22:23-24

“If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city, and the man, because he has violated his neighbor’s wife. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you.”

Compared to the other scenarios in this passage, these verses describe a consensual encounter. This law does not use terms like “seize” or “force,” but simply “finds” (matsa’). The significant thing in this verse is the surroundings it defines. Since it is described as happening in city, it implies that there were people nearby who could have helped her had she cried out. Since she didn’t, the implication is that she did not resist, and, therefore, she is also responsible. Because she was betrothed to another man, she was already considered his wife, making this equivalent to adultery (Deut. 22:22).

Deuteronomy 22:25-27

“But if in the field the man finds the girl who is engaged, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lies with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the girl; there is no sin in the girl worthy of death, for just as a man rises against his neighbor and murders him, so is this case. When he found her in the field, the engaged girl cried out, but there was no one to save her.”

I was stunned when I first read this passage! Not only did the rapist receive the death penalty, but the woman was protected from all recourse. She was neither shamed nor shunned. The word used for “force” (chazaq) in this verse is rather specific, especially since it isn’t used in either of the other two laws. It means to take or keep hold of, specifically to seize with violence. The location is significant here also. Unlike the first scenario in which the woman was within earshot of help, this woman was caught in a secluded place, alone and defenseless. She cried out for help but was overpowered, “but there was no one to save her.” God defends her innocence and ensures both her protection and her reputation. He shielded her from blame for the assault and shame after it occurred.

Deuteronomy 22:28-29

“If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days.”

The implications of this law are more subtle, but equally significant. This verse does not use the word for “force” (chazaq</em>); it uses the word for “seize” (taphas), which can also mean to lay hold of or wield. Its other uses have the idea of capturing or overwhelming (2 Kings 14:13). Unlike the other two scenarios, this one concerns an unengaged virgin and does not specify where the violation took place. Also, there’s another detail in this law that is quite telling. The verse uses the phrase “they are discovered.” The language moves from an individual man and an individual woman to a “they.” (Hang with me, here.) Coupled with the fact that this verse does not use the same verb for “force,” I believe this law describes something other than a violent rape. Was she overwhelmed? Yes. Did this dishonor her? Unquestionably. Is the man responsible for violating her? Absolutely.

But the Holy Spirit inspired a different word in verses 28-29 than the verb used in verses 25-27 and He did it intentionally (2 Tim. 3:16-17, 2 Pet. 1:19-21). The detail that they are discovered together implies some level of mutual responsibility that is different from what we see in verses 25-27 (If you’ve season one of Downton Abbey, think Mary Crawley and the Turkish diplomat). The man is held accountable and must marry (and provide for) the woman. Plus, he can never divorce her for the rest of his life. Exodus 22:16-17 describes a similar scenario, where a young woman is “seduced,” and adds that the father can refuse to give his consent to the marriage. But the man still had to pay the price of a dowry, which means he was out the money set aside for a bride, and he still had no wife. Notice that there was no punishment for the girl. For the young woman who was seduced, there is no indication that she was ostracized from her community or shunned by her family. Instead, she was vindicated and her honor was restored. What does this mean? He couldn’t use her and lose her. A man couldn’t take a woman as an object of pleasure and then bear no responsibility for her. God was protecting the woman in this situation from being left without protection and provision. Women were not to be used and discarded.

An assault against Eden

Some look at these laws and claim that the Bible permits, even legalizes sexual assault; therefore, the Bible is oppressive to women. Yet, in each of these scenarios, the victim is protected and the violator is punished. Where the woman was not at fault, she never received blame. If fact, she was vindicated. None of these situations were supposed to happen. God never intended for women to be violated and He certainly doesn’t turn a blind eye to it. These laws restrained human sinfulness and set God’s people apart from their surrounding cultures. But even more, they reveal the nature and character of a God who protects the victim, provides for the vulnerable, and sides with the violated. God is decidedly pro-women.

The atrocity of rape is a disordered exploitation of all that God designed when He created male and female (2:18-25). From the very beginning, He intended for women to be protected and valued. Whether she is a college sophomore at an Ivy League University, a 14-year-old Nigerian abducted by Boko Haram, or a 65-year-old woman finding the courage to break her silence, an assault against Eve is an assault against Eden. And, one day, every wrong committed against her daughters will be righted by a justice-keeping God.

By / Jan 5

I grew up in the city, without pets. My appreciation for animals developed much later in life. In fact, if it weren’t for a Golden Retriever named Rusty that I got for my children in 2004, I might never have made my journey toward animals. Rusty was the dog everyone should have—loving, playful, and eager to please. He was no Lassie, but he was plenty smart. Before long, Rusty was part of the family.

Rusty made a convert out of me. He taught me that there are no bad dogs, only bad owners who make dogs, and many other animals, bad. Animals do what they do. They are innocent even in their cruelty because they have no concept of morality. Morality is the territory of humans. We have the knowledge of good and evil, and we can choose between the two.

Rusty taught me that animals deserve my respect and care. He helped me understand that animals are also uniquely God’s creatures. When I considered the teaching of the Bible about animals from the perspective of my relationship with Rusty, I gained a new appreciation for all animals.

The Bible teaches us that God created animals. They aren’t the product of happenstance or fortuitous natural processes any more than humans are. Genesis 1:24-25 says God created the animals, from the beasts of the earth to the creeping insects. Scripture even tells us that the breath of life resides within them (Gen. 7:15). By virtue of our creation in the image of God, we humans are uniquely special in comparison to all of creation, but that does not mean the rest of creation has no value to God or that he doesn’t enjoy it.

When God created animals, he declared their creation to be “good” (Gen. 1:25). At the conclusion of the creation account in Genesis 1, God looked at “all he had made” and declared it “very good” (v. 31). Creation was “very good” when considered in its totality, not only in reference to humans. Humans are the crowning achievement of God’s creative activity, and as his image bearers, we possess something of the divine that nothing else in creation possesses, but we should not let that truth cloud our appreciation for the rest of creation or diminish our responsibilities toward it.

Here, I offer ten biblical truths about animals that should affect how we think about them and how we treat them.

1. God communicates with animals

This is the best explanation for the migration of the animals to Noah’s ark. In Genesis, God told Noah to build an ark in order to save himself, his family, and the land-dwelling creatures from the coming flood. However, he didn’t tell Noah to go out and round up the animals. He told him to bring them into the ark (Gen. 6:19), which meant to simply receive them. When it was time for the flood to begin, the text says the animals “went into the ark to Noah” (Gen. 7:9). The only explanation for the actions of the animals is that God drew them to the ark. God communicated with them directly, and they responded.

Another example of God communicating with animals can be found in the experience of the prophet Elijah. When Elijah fled from Ahab, king of Israel, he went to an area east of the Jordan River. The Bible says God commanded ravens to bring him food while he was there, and they did (1 Kings 17:4-6).

These examples don’t tell us that God is in regular communication with the animals, but they make clear that such communication has occurred. It is certainly plausible that God interacts with animals more than we realize.

2. God cares about the well-being of animals

We often quote Matthew 10:29-31 to emphasize God’s concern for humans. In this passage, Jesus helped his listeners grasp the extent of God’s concern for them: If God cares about the death of a common bird, he certainly cares about the needs of humans. That isn’t all we learn from this passage, however. Jesus also gave us insight into God’s attitude toward animals. True, humans are “more valuable” than a common little bird, but Jesus didn’t say that animals have no value to God. In comparison to humans, the little sparrow has little value, but God still values the life of that little sparrow enough to be moved by its death.

It isn’t just that God notices the sparrow’s death, like one might notice that the wind is blowing. Jesus wanted his listeners to understand that God is emotionally invested in that sparrow. He cares about what happens to it; he just cares more about what happens to people. Once we acknowledge that God is emotionally invested in birds, i.e., animals, as well as humans, we are now talking only about a difference in the degree to which he is, not whether or not he is.

The story of Jonah also offers insight into God’s concern for animals. After Jonah preached and the people of Nineveh repented, Jonah expressed his displeasure at God’s decision not to send destructive judgment on the people. In confronting Jonah about his hard-hearted attitude, God reminded Jonah that not only have 120,000 people been spared, “many animals” were also spared (Jonah 4:11). The well-being of these animals mattered to God.

In addition, Scripture teaches that God is personally involved in feeding the animals. Psalm 104:14 is instructive here. It says God “causes” the grass to grow for the cattle. The Hebrew text uses the causative form of the verb “to grow” to reveal this. God isn’t simply passively watching nature take care of its own. Verse 21 continues this theme when it says the young lions “seek their food from God.” Pulling these individual examples together, the psalmist speaks of animals in general, saying, “They all wait for You (God) to give them their food in due season” (v. 27).

3. God enjoys animals

In Psalm 104:31, the psalmist declared, “Let the Lord be glad in his works.” Clearly the statement speaks broadly of all that God has created, but it is preceded by a long description of God’s interaction with animals—wild goats, rock badgers, beasts of the forest, young lions, animals both small and great (see vv. 18-30). In a few more verses, the psalmist used this same word translated “glad” to describe his own joy in God. He said emphatically, “I shall be glad in the Lord” (Ps. 104:34).

It isn’t difficult to fathom that animals bring God joy when we consider the joy we get from watching our own children. We even enjoy watching animals with whom we have no creative connection. Given that, it is understandable that the one who created all things would enjoy them.

4. Animals reveal God’s sovereignty

When Job complained that God had mistreated him, God pointed to creation to help Job understand his sovereignty. Animals figure prominently in his response to Job’s attempted indictment. God reminded Job that it is he who provides for the animals (Job 38:39-41). He appointed them their place in creation (Job 39:6). God also pointed out that he is more powerful than the feared Behemoth and Leviathan by the very fact that he is their creator (Job 40:19; 41:10). While they may be beyond Job’s reach, they are not beyond God’s.

In response, Job acknowledged God’s sovereignty. He said, “I take back my words and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). The fact God used examples from the animal world to convince Job of his sovereignty suggests strongly that this is part of God’s intended purpose for his creation of animals. God has built wonder into animals, and by design, they point humanity to him as the great and only sovereign.

5. Animals bring glory and praise to God

In Psalm 148, the psalmist called on everything to praise the Lord. He included in this call sea monsters, beasts, cattle, creeping things and birds (vv. 7, 10). The final verse of the final psalm of the entire psalter reads: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!” (Ps. 150:6). Even though they don’t do so with words, animals still bring glory and praise to God.

By their very existence animals: (1) Point to God as creator. Animals are as much the product of God’s creative energy as any other part of creation. (2) Point to God as love. God loves life so much he creates it in seeming endless variety. (3) Point to God as designer. Animals fill a crucial part of the symbiotic relationship between all of creation. (4) Point to God as artist. Animals are a living display of the natural beauty God has built into creation.

6. Animals are reasoning creatures

Some deny that animals are capable of reasoning. They prefer to credit instinct for their decision making skills. They believe that animals are “as smart as they need to be” to survive. I believe this is simply not accurate. Animals are smarter than they need to be. I have witnessed my dogs on many occasions trying to communicate with me. They make up for their lack of language by finding other ways through their reasoning abilities to communicate their will.

In the Bible, God reveals animal intelligence through the unusual encounter of Balaam with his donkey (Num. 22:21-33). In that incident, the donkey saw the Angel of the Lord standing in the way and moved aside. Balaam became angry with the donkey because it wouldn’t obey him. Yet the Angel of the Lord credited the donkey’s quick thinking for Balaam’s deliverance. He declared, “The donkey saw me and turned aside from me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, I would surely have killed you” (v. 33). The donkey recognized the danger and made a decision to get out of the way of the Angel, whom Balaam couldn’t even see.

Furthermore, we have all seen animals use tools to get food. They don’t need to use tools to eat. They have sources that don’t require the use of tools, but they have the reasoning capacity to know that a tool will help them get food. Also, we have all seen animals run from danger. How does an animal know it’s in danger? It must understand something about life in order to seek to protect itself. We credit reason for human responses to avoiding danger. Why wouldn’t we credit animals with reason when they do the same thing?

We cannot completely eliminate the concept of instinct as we think about animals, but at the same time, we shouldn’t rule out the evidence that animals are also capable of reason.

7. Animals may have a more acute awareness of spiritual reality than we realize

The incident of Balaam and his donkey brings into focus another insight about animals. It reveals that it is possible for animals to see angels (Num. 22:21-33). In that incident, Balaam was spared death at the hands of the Angel of the Lord because Balaam’s donkey “turned aside” when it saw the angel. The text does not say the Angel of the Lord revealed his presence to the donkey. It tells us simply that the donkey saw the Angel.

Humans see angels when the angels want to reveal themselves. The donkey saw the Angel of the Lord without his self-revelation. In fact, judging from the Angel’s comments to Balaam (see v. 33), the donkey was actually acting contrary to the Angel’s intentions. We could understand it if the Angel said he wanted the donkey to help Balaam avoid the fate he had planned for him. But the text does not say that. A plain reading of the text suggests that the donkey was actually frustrating the plan of the Angel. The donkey saw the Angel without the Angel’s assistance.

This conclusion gains further support when we see that the Lord had to empower the donkey to speak (v. 28). If Moses recognized the need to tell the reader the Lord empowered the donkey to speak, he could just as easily have said the Lord enabled the donkey to see the Angel of the Lord. Yet, he doesn’t tell us that.

While we should not attempt to develop a major doctrine around this single event, it still raises significant questions about our understanding of the relationship of animals to the spiritual world.

8. Animals have the capacity to enjoy life

The psalmist was lighthearted when he described the joy animals feel. In Psalm 104, he said God formed the sea creature Leviathan “to play” in the sea (v. 26). The Hebrew word translated “play” occurs fairly regularly in Scripture. King David used this word to describe his celebration as the ark of God was being brought to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:21). He was ecstatic. The psalmist said this beast of the sea can also be ecstatic.

The book of Job supplies additional insight. There, God, himself, described the joy animals experience. He mentioned the ostrich flapping its wings “joyously” (Job 39:13), and the beasts of the field “playing” in their surroundings (Job 40:20).

This isn’t some foreign concept to us. We have all seen animals playing. The testimony of Scripture and our own experience remind us that animals are more than automatons driven by instinct. They are beings with the capacity for joy.

9. Animals teach us about the nature of justice

In Robert Bolt’s play, A Man for All Seasons, Sir Thomas More delivers a brilliant summation of God’s purpose for creating the angels, animals, plants, and humanity. Regarding animals, he observes God created them “for their innocence.” It is difficult to find a better description of animals than this. Animals appear to lack the capacity for moral reflection. They simply do what they do. Scripture supports this understanding. It was humans who ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, not animals (Gen. 3:1-7).

This observation of animal innocence is not only important for our understanding of animals. It also helps us understand our sense of justice. When we ask why we are offended by cruelty to animals, we recognize we are reacting to an innate sense within us that is repulsed by wanton violations of their innocence and vulnerability. This recognition helps us understand some of our motivations for our criminal justice system. When we punish acts of aggression against our fellow humans, we are responding to violations of their innocence and vulnerability. Such violations should be punished. Our sense of justice demands it.

Furthermore, we learn about divine justice from animals. Israel’s biblically mandated practice of substitutionary atonement provides this lesson. Scripture teaches that rebellion against God is sin. God’s holiness demands a penalty in response to this rebellion. In other words, God requires justice. Either the guilty person or an acceptable substitute must answer for human sin. God created the sacrificial system in Israel to help his people understand this reality. He commanded that this system regularly kill innocent animals in order to satisfy the demands of his divine justice (Lev. 16:1-34). The innocent animals would bear the sin of the people. This bloody display served as a symbol for what was yet to come—when the innocent Son of God would offer himself as the true, eternal, substitutionary sacrifice for the sin of all humanity (Rom. 3:21-26; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 10:1-18).

10. Animals belong to God

Psalm 24:1 states without reservation—“The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains.” This fact is repeated regularly in Scripture. While God commanded the first man and woman to “rule over” every living thing (Gen. 1:26), He was not relinquishing ownership of every living thing.

In fact, God did not relinquish ownership of anything (Col. 1:16; Rom. 11:36; Heb. 2:10). He put the man and the woman in the Garden to “cultivate it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). He even gave humans authority over it, and after the Flood, he gave us all of the rest of creation for food. But none of this assignment of authority and power included a transfer of ownership. Humans serve a stewardship role toward creation, not an ownership role (Gen. 2:15). This stewardship pertains to everything and is intended to include an attitude of respect (Lev. 25:3-5; Num. 35:33). The animals are subject to humans, but they are not ours to do with as we will. They belong to God (Job 41:11; Ps. 50:10-11).


The reader will no doubt notice that most of my biblical references are from the Hebrew Scriptures. When one looks to the New Testament for evidence of the place of animals in God’s creation, there is less to work with. There are good reasons for this dearth. First, the New Testament is built on the revelation before it. It assumes the foundation of the Hebrew Scriptures. So, there is no need to repeat what has been previously stated. Unless the New Testament affirms that its teachings supplant the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures, we are to accept their infallible guidance and truth as we do those of the New Testament. Second, the New Testament is dealing principally with the establishment of the church. The writings that comprise it are mostly related to the immediate demands of this endeavor.

Drawing from this entire biblical witness, we can make some important conclusions about how to think about animals. First, we must recognize that animals may very well be co-inheritors with us of the new creation. When we consider that animals were part of God’s original design for his creation, it is plausible that they are part of his eternal design, as well. In his letter to the church at Rome, the Apostle Paul said all of creation was subjected to the corrupting effects of the Fall and that the day is coming when it too shall be freed from this corruption (Rom. 8:18-22). There is no reason to suspect that animals are not part of this vision of a redeemed creation. The prophet Isaiah saw a day when humans and animals would live once again in perfect harmony (Is. 11:6-9). The Apostle Paul may be telling us this is a vision of eternity, not only of the millennium.

I’ll confess that I am not one who believes that animals go to heaven when they die. I don’t see any biblical evidence for this. But given these statements from Isaiah and Paul, we should give more consideration to the place of animals in eternity. They may not be the same animals we have come to love in our lifetimes, but it seems they have a future beyond the Fall. Whether we are talking only about the millennium or about all of eternity, animals deserve to be treated with the dignity such a future bestows.

Second, we must lose some of our anthropocentric view of creation and replace it with a theocentric view, where God is engaged with all of creation, not only humanity. While a theocentric view of creation should not cause us to equate humans with the rest of creation, it should cause us to treat the rest of creation with more respect. God is interested in all of creation, not only humans. After the Flood, he covenanted with all flesh on the earth, including the animals, never again to destroy the earth with a flood (Gen. 9:11-17). The fact that God would enter into a covenant with the animals tells us something of his love for them. We, therefore, should be more concerned about all of creation, including animals, too.

Third, these biblical truths about animals mean we should be engaged in activities that help the rest of creation fulfill God’s design and interest in it. Possibly, we don’t know all that means. For example, who would have guessed that God would use the ravens to feed his prophet? He might very well be doing similar things in some part of the world today. Consequently, we should help to empower creation, not as its slaves or its equals, but as its caretakers.

Fourth, we must abandon unbiblical notions about animals and embrace a more biblical view of our animal co-inhabitants. The Bible compels us to develop a better appreciation and respect for them. I’m glad science is revealing many enlightening truths about the animal world. But it is clear that Scripture has already revealed much of what science is discovering. Animals are much more complex than they at first appear to be. We should do all we can to better understand them and their place in God’s creation. It will not only be good for them, but us as well.

God put animals on the planet and gave them a mandate as well. Part of the human calling is to help them fulfill this mandate in a way that enables them to reach their full potential in creation. They not only enrich our lives. They point to the creator of all things. Animals are not only worthy of our respect. They deserve it.

By / Sep 30

For a variety of reasons, it can be difficult for Christians who are the products of contemporary culture to see the connections between the life of the intellect and the life of faith. This is true even (or especially) of our Christian students, particularly at the undergraduate level. Most of us teaching in institutions of higher education find ourselves at some point, perhaps often, engaged in academic apologetics: explaining and defending not only the significance but even the very legitimacy of our field of study.

Teaching in an evangelical university, I have found it very helpful to begin most of my classes with a defense of literature. (I take comfort in the fact that even ancients and early moderns such as Aristotle and Sir Philip Sidney had to defend literature in their own cultures, as have many thinkers and writers throughout the ages.) Beginning my classes with this discussion (which usually takes two class sessions or more) provides, I have found, a strong foundation that carries students through challenging parts of the semester, and (they often later attest) is the part of the course students remember most.

Here is my biblical basis for the study of literature, which is very loosely defined as the art of language, and it is with the art of language that I begin:

  • Language is a gift of God. To study, steward and enjoy language is to appreciate God’s good gift.
  • Language is a reflection of God’s very nature and his image in us. Jesus is called the “Word.” Thus we know that language is not only something God gives and uses, but is part of his very nature. God is, in some ineffable way, language. To use and study language is to celebrate God’s nature and his image in us.
  • Language is powerful. Consider that God spoke the world into existence. He also thwarted the attempt to overreach human bounds (in building the Tower of Babel) specifically by dividing human speech into various languages. Proverbs 18:21 cautions us that life and death are in the power of the tongue. We must learn to use the tool of language responsibly, effectively, and in a God-honoring way.
  • Using language was the first work God assigned to humankind. Adam’s first task was to name (not count or classify or tame or paint) the animals. Through language we discover and create order in God’s creation; this kind of work was part of God’s original plan for man before the fall and continues to be part of our work today.
  • When we take delight in literary creations, we imitate God. God took delight in his creation in looking upon it and declaring that “it was good.” It is good to take pleasure and enjoyment in our good creations, including literary ones.
  • Aesthetic goodness (the beautiful) can teach us about moral goodness (the good) and intellectual goodness (the true). According to William Dyrness in his book Visual Faith, the word “good” in the Bible refers to both aesthetic and ethical goodness; in God’s perfect economy, the two realms are not divided. When God declared that his creation was “good,” this pronouncement was both a moral and an aesthetic judgment.
  • To read or write literature is one way we can take dominion over the earth. Art — including literature — is an attempt to take dominion over the aesthetic realm of creation; simply by observing God’s creation we know that God cares about beauty; we should, too.
  • Christianity is a religion of the written word. Christianity gives a primary place to the word over the image: God’s highest form of communication with us is through the written word (from the Ten Commandments to Holy Scripture to Jesus as the Word); God cautions us about the power of visual images or “graven images” (see Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death), and the Protestant Reformation reinforced the primacy of words over images); Christianity is responsible for preserving and disseminating the written word and literacy throughout the world as the invention of the printing press was motivated by the desire of Christians to get the Bible into the hands of the people. The word both spoken and written is central to our faith in countless ways.
  • Excellence in literary knowledge is exemplified by important figures in the Bible. Consider both Daniel and Paul, both of whom demonstrated mastery of pagan literature and used it to glorify God.
  • Faithful Christians and skilled readers share an important common trait. Both demonstrate faithfulness to the text—neither adding to nor subtracting from it.
  • When we enter new worlds by reading literature, we imitate Christ. Christ humbled himself by becoming human in order to experience our humanity with us (Phil. 2:5-8); when we read literature that conveys lives, places and experiences different from our own, we are humbling ourselves by stepping outside our own world to share in aspects of human experience unfamiliar to us.
  • Reading the great literature of the world is like fulfilling the command God gave to the Israelites to take silver and gold from the Egyptians. As St. Augustine argued in De Doctrina Christiana about pagan philosophy, Christians can put “Egyptian gold” (pagan treasures or wisdom, wherever it is found) into the Lord’s service. Of course, the “gold” must be tested by Scripture to determine whether or not it truly is gold.
  • Reading literature in light of scripture helps us to fulfill the command of 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22. “Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” Reading literature allows us to “test” ideas.
  • The study of literature helps us to be more like Christ, putting worldly things under our subjection. Matthew 15:11 reminds us that it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth. Through reading literature, we strengthen our abilities to discern good from evil (Heb. 2:8, 5:12-14; 2 Cor. 10-5, Rom. 12:2), and can grow to desire “meat” more than “milk.” The fall corrupted not only our sense of what ismorally good (what is right), but also what is aesthetically good (what is beautiful); both of these need to be brought back under subjection through Christ.
  • Encountering the truths contained in good literature makes us freer. And Jesus said, “The Truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). All human beings are made in God’s image and thus bear the image of Truth in them; similarly, as St. Augustine argued in De Doctrina Christiana, all truth is God’s truth. What makes great writers great—Christian or not—is their ability to express truth. Reading literature by the great minds of all times and all places helps us to discern more truth.
  • Reading literature from various views can cultivate virtue (see “Promiscuous Reading”). John Milton puts it this way in Areopagitica:

As therefore the state of man now is; what wisdom can there be to choose, what continence to forbear without the knowledge of evil? He that can apprehend and consider vice with all her baits and seeming pleasures, and yet abstain, and yet distinguish, and yet prefer that which is truly better, he is the true wayfaring Christian. I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat.

  • Reading literature helps us to fulfill the command to love our neighbors. The more we know and understand our neighbors the better we can love them.
  • Reading good literature helps us to fulfill the exhortation of Philippians 2:8. “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” The canon of literature is literature of good report. Good literature is praiseworthy for the truth it contains, even if those truths are hard, as is often the case.
  • Literary Christians are better equipped to engage a postmodern culture. Postmodernism is characterized by an emphasis on language and “story”; for many today the aesthetic experience has replaced the religious experience. Christians who understand this can more effectively engage the current culture.

While my points are centered on my discipline of English literature, perhaps they can provide insights for teaching the biblical basis for the study of other disciplines, as we each undertake to help our students and ourselves to love God with our minds.

For further reading:

Brown, Frank Burch. Good Taste, Bad Taste, and Christian Taste: Aesthetics in Religious Life. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000.
Dyrness, William A. Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001.
Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves To Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. Penguin, 1986.
Ryken, Leland, ed. The Christian Imagination. Colorado Springs: Shaw Books, 2002.
Veith, Gene Edward, Jr. Reading Between the Lines. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1990.
Veith, Gene Edward, Jr. State of the Arts. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1991.

Also, for various disciplines, see the Through the Eyes of Faith series published by HarperOne.

This article was originally pusblished at The Well.