Right now, at this very moment, God wants YOU to never hurt an animal again.
Contrary to several common interpretations of the bible, God has always wanted us to be compassionate and loving toward animals and never violent toward them. An honest examination of the scriptures should make this readily apparent. That’s exactly the subject I take up in this article.
To begin, let’s consider the characteristics of God’s holy spirit.
God’s Holy Spirit
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).”
You cannot love someone if you kill them. You cannot be at peace with someone you enslave. Kindness toward an animal, at minimum, involves not taking that animal’s life. Slaughtering animals for the purpose of satisfying the desires of the flesh, whether for fashion or for appetite, runs contrary to self-control.
In contrast, love has mercy on animals and seeks to make peace with them, not enslave or kill them. Kindness spares the life of a calf that is powerless to defend herself from you. A gentle heart will understand the suffering of a baby lamb enough to refrain from causing it. The spirit exercises self-control over the vain appetites of the flesh that desire animal suffering to satisfy its lusts.
Based on this analysis, it is my reading of the bible that animal slaughter is a practice that runs contrary to God’s holy spirit and that God does not want us to slaughter animals.
Does God Desire Animal Sacrifices?
The most common criticism made against this reading of God’s attitude toward animals is the passages suggesting that God requires animal sacrifices to please him.
It is false that the sacrifices please God, but it is true that he instituted them as means of atonement for sin. In other words, if a person acts contrary to God’s spirit by breaking one of his laws of conduct, the way to make up for it is to slaughter an animal as a gesture of remorse and a plea for mercy from God.
There are several interpretations as to why animal sacrifice was the chosen means for atonement:
- God desires animal bloodshed over mercy toward animals (most common view).
- God wants to soften our violent hearts and learn mercy by confronting us directly with the suffering we cause to innocent animals.
- As in the case of commanded wars, executions, and genocides, all such commands were tests of the heart and each time someone carried out such a command they failed the test.
Despite the most common view being that God is bloodthirsty and desires that animals be sacrificed and their dead bodies burned as an offering to him, there is clear biblical evidence for the opposite being the case:
“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings (Hosea 6:6).”
Regardless of whether interpretation 2 or 3 is correct, or some combination of them (or whether some altogether different interpretation proves correct instead), the bottom line is that the whole system of animal sacrifice as atonement for sin is a system God has always wanted to cease altogether. God warned against sin from the beginning and all he has ever wanted from us since its onset was to turn away from it (a.k.a. “to repent”). Without sin, there is no need for atonement. Therefore whichever interpretation proves true is trivial because it’s at least clear that God wants the whole system of sin-atonement to go away forever and that he never wanted it to begin in the first place.
Based on this evidence, I find any reading that characterizes God as desiring animal sacrifice to be a weak reading of the bible on the subject.
What is God’s Plan for Mankind?
Instead, what God wants is for us to return to the image of himself that he created us in, the image of loving dominion over all creatures:
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-7).
God gave mankind a perfect diet that does not involve animal abuse in any way:
“Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” (Genesis 1:29).
It wasn’t until Noah got off the ark and started sacrificing animals that God announced the precursor to atonement, namely animal fear resulting from mankind desiring to kill them for food:
“The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands (Genesis 9:2).”
Nearly all interpretations acknowledge that God’s original plan in Genesis 1 was for people to eat only fruit and vegetation, but the common view is that God changed his mind after the flood and suddenly decided he wanted us to kill animals.
Did God Change his Mind after the Flood?
To me this is a very crude reading of the bible. For one, God states very clearly that he never changes (Malachi 3:6). Secondly, after creating the whole world, including Adam and Eve in God’s own holy image (Genesis 1:27), and arranging it such that they had loving dominion over the whole earth and ate only fruit and vegetation, God declared that the whole creation was “very good” (Genesis 1:31).
In contrast to this depiction of the whole created world, including mankind, as being “very good,” God described the post-flood world very differently. As soon as he stepped off the ark, Noah’s first mentioned act is that he immediately started killing animals, prompting God to declare that “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Genesis 8:21).
Furthermore, in the beginning God blessed mankind and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). In contrast, after Noah immediately started sacrificing animals upon exiting the ark, God blessed Noah and his family and said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). The part about having dominion over the animals is replaced by a warning that animals will be afraid of mankind and that man will see them as food (Genesis 9:2). In short, by killing animals and treating them as food, we lost our divinely inspired dominion over them.
Despite how widespread and longstanding this attitude of violence toward animals has prevailed, the bible prophesies that it will not always be this way. Isaiah prophesies what it will be like when mankind returns to God’s way of loving dominion:
“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand in the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of [God] as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:6-9).”
The dominion not only entails man treating animals mercifully but also guiding them in the way of divine love such that animals will not harm each other so that they may lie down in peace together. God likewise promises that all human-to-human violence will cease when he says, “In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky and the creatures that move along the ground. Bow and sword of battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety” (Hosea 2:18). According to this prophecy humans and animals will all be ruled by love, and it starts with humans returning to their divinely ordained role of leading by example.
Which Path will YOU Choose?
The final point I would like to address is the common legalistic justification for continuing the practice of animal slaughter. Despite the evidence strongly favoring the idea that God detests animal slaughter, the retort of those who vehemently desire to slaughter animals is that God ‘permits’ it, and they cite the above passage from Genesis of Noah exiting the ark and God “giving [the animals] into [man’s] hands” (Genesis 9:2).
This appeal ignores what God clearly prefers from us and follows a pattern of conduct that Jesus directly spoke against in his Sermon on the Mount.
This sermon, which encapsulates the crux of Jesus’ entire ministry, encourages his followers to go beyond the minimum that is required of them by law. He was hyper-critical of the Pharisees (mainstream Jews of his time) for their legalistic justifications for mercilessly orphaning children, rendering widows homeless, and neglecting the poor – all in the name of God. They would find loopholes in the Mosaic Law that would allow them to exhibit the bare minimum amount of charity required toward others. Instead of being motivated by a desire to please God, they were motivated by the desires of the flesh and by worldly things. Jesus bitingly referred to such individuals as “brood of vipers” and “blind guides” (Matthew 23).
If your justification for slaughtering animals is that there is this one passage in Genesis where God seems to have permitted it, despite there being dozens of passages where God clearly expresses that he does not want it, then ask yourself this question:
Are you going beyond the bare minimum that is required or are you searching for a loophole that justifies putting the desires of your flesh above the mercy that God desires you to have in your heart toward animals?
God chose YOU to have dominion over all the animals and it is up to YOU to choose mercy over the desires of the flesh. It is not too late to make the right choice, even right now, at this very moment.
Love God, love animals