This blog grows out of my conviction that every aspect of our lives is sacred and is to be nurtured and celebrated as a good gift of God. Most of the posts will be the sorts of things you would expect from a historian and worldview teacher, but some are likely to be a bit surprising. Since God created all things good, including all aspects of human life, everything is interesting and important from the perspective of a biblical worldview. Everything under the Sun and under Heaven is thus fair game here. I hope you find it interesting and enjoyable.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Echoes of Eden

I’ve been away for five of the last six weekends, with the sixth being Easter, and the end of the semester hit this past week, so my blogging has been almost non-existent lately. I have been thinking about different things, though, and so I’d like to put in a bit of theological speculation here.
I have a friend from China whom I’ll call “Faith” (not her real name). She was visiting us at one point and commented that she couldn’t figure out why Americans like to have animals in their houses—it struck her as a strange thing to do. I don’t know if that was just Faith, or if there was something in her cultural background that led her to that conclusion.
She’s not alone. Some Puritan divines thought that having pets was a frivolous waste of resources.
As the owner of an Australian shepherd and two cats, I must admit that there are times when I’m inclined to agree with Faith. I didn’t grow up with normal pets—all of ours were cold-blooded, invertebrates, or rodents. And sometimes, they can be a pain. But I would genuinely miss the animals if they were gone, especially Scooby (our Aussie), who is getting on in years.
So I began wondering about pets. I know they exist in lots of cultures. Dogs are used for hunting and herding; people keep birds and sometimes hunt with them; cats have been used to control vermin and even as guard animals. But even aside from working animals, people around the world keep animals for companionship. Shar Peis were bred to be companions in China, as were Pekinese. Dogs and cats are common pets in all European cultures, and our Compassion International child in India had a pet goat. I know very few young children who aren’t fascinated by animals and want to pet them.
So what is it about animals that so intrigues us?
I think the answer lies in our past and our future.
The Bible tells us that with the fall of humanity into sin, it estranged us from God, from our neighbor, from ourselves, and from nature. The vision the Bible gives us of Eden suggests a place and time where people lived in perfect harmony with the natural world, a harmony that is now broken.
The harmony of Eden is something we long for, and its restoration is promised in Scripture. Isaiah gives us a picture of our eschatological hope, a redeemed world in which:
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Is. 11:6-9)
In other words, in the New Heavens and New Earth promised in Scripture, the harmony of nature will be restored. The Gospel of the Kingdom promises no less than Jesus, who is Lord of all, making all things new and restoring and redeeming our broken world to wholeness once again.
In light of this, I suggest that our love for animals is a distant echo of Eden and an anticipation of the redemption of all Creation in Christ. It’s something people are instinctively drawn to, as the image of God in us cries out for its fulfillment in being stewards of God’s Creation.
So I’m sorry, I can’t agree with the Puritan divines on this one. Hopefully, Faith, if she reads this, will understand a little better the charm in having animals. And for those of you who do have pets, I encourage you to see yourself as stewards of Creation before God as you take care of them, and look forward to the day when the harmony of nature is fully restored by Christ.