Why Did God Create Animals?

Many Christians assume that God created animals as ‘natural resources’ for human use. Some even believe it was so that we humans could kill them and eat their flesh. As has been commonly pointed out by Christian vegetarians, that’s not what the Bible says. According to the creation narrative in the opening chapter of Genesis, God gives humans and animals alike, only plants for food:

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. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground–everything that has the breath of life in it–I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:29-30)

While Genesis insists that humans are specially made in the “image and likeness” of God, and that God gives humans dominion over the other creatures, it is equally clear that neither implies any right to kill and eat animals. “But,” some may ask, “if animals were not created by God to be food for humans, then what, according to the Bible, is God’s purpose for creating them?” While it’s important to approach the question with great humility, since as Job 39-41, reminds us, we know little of God’s purposes for and relations with God’s nonhuman creatures, the Bible itself seems to suggest a possible answer: Animals are made for companionship,community and relationship with humans:

“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name” – Genesis 2:18-19

While the issues surrounding the theology of animals, and in particular the proper treatment of animals, is admittedly complex, and underdeveloped, and while there arte many other biblical texts to be considered, Christians would do well to recall these passages, when making judgments about the “purpose” or “nature” of their nonhuman neighbors.

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12 thoughts on “Why Did God Create Animals?

  1. As I was reading through ‘A Faith Embracing All Creatures’ earlier today, I came across Judith Barad’s chaper on God’s covenant with Noah and the animals, in Genesis 9. Barad makes the same two points outlined above; that, according to the Bible, God didn’t originally create animals to be eaten, but to be our companions and partners. She does take note of something I overlooked, however; namely, the significance of Adam’s act of naming the animals God brings to him. “we do not name the animals we eat,” says Barad, “for in doing so, they become more personal to us.” Naming involves an attention to the particularity of the thing named, an attention that, in the case of animals, implies what Jewish philosopher Martin Buber refers to as an “I-Thou” relationship. Such naming implies an intimacy and care that cannot ignore the animals peculiar subjectivity. Contrary to the claims made by Christopher Southgate in his essay on “Protological and Eschatological Vegetarianism”, raising an animal for the purpose of killing and eating it is incompatible with such an “I-Thou” relationship.

    (2012-11-09). A Faith Embracing All Creatures: Addressing Commonly Asked Questions about Christian Care for Animals (The Peaceable Kingdom Series) (p. 15). Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

  2. Allen,

    Thank you for your post. As a recent vegetarian (started on November 5, 2013), these particular passages and cited works offer further validation for my decision. Based on the videos I have watched and research I have done regarding animal cruelty and the vegetarian lifestyle, I know that this change is permanent. I truly appreciate the purpose of your blog and applaud your dedication.

    Best,

    – That Theologian

    • Thanks for reading and for commenting! I have found these resources immensely valuable in my own life, and am delighted whenever I can share them with others. I encourage you in your recent decision to go vegetarian, and pray that it is one you are able to make permanent. I have been compiling a timeline of publications on animal theology and Christian vegetarianism here. There’s a small but growing interest in these topics. If youre interested, be sure to visit the “animal theology timeline” page to check out what books there are out there. I look forward to future discussions with you!

  3. Allen,

    Would you mind if I supply a link to your blog on my personal page? I would really like to further bring attention to your unique and powerful theological perspective in any way I can.

    Cheers,

    – That Theologian

  4. Pingback: Slaughter as God Intended? | Theological Animal

  5. Pingback: Were Humans Created to Be Vegan? | Honk If You're Vegan

  6. Interesting I was told by a woman of God to research this theology of animals . I wake up every morning feed the birds and any animal that feast on this food. So any thing else that can in lighten my research to becoming vegetarian or vegan would be a blessing!

  7. You took Genesis 2:18-19 out of it’s proper context. God brought the animals to Adam to name in order for him to realize that he needed a helper more like himself. Another HUMAN.

    • I recognize that’s the way this text is typically read and understood, but I disagree that this cones down to context. There’s nothing in the surrounding verses, or elsewhere in scripture that suggests, as you do, that God’s intention in bringing the animals to Adam was so that Adam would realize he needed a helper more like himself. There’s as much in the context to support my interpretation, as there is to support yours. What I’ve tried to do is offer another way of reading the passage that is just as consistent with what the scripture says as the standard reading. Moreover, the reading I offer has the added benefit of avoiding the implication that the purpose of animals was simply to demonstrate to Adam that he needed Eve. This post has been the single most popular post I’ve written, and it’s a shame, because I admit it’s a pretty inadequate answer to the question raised in the title. I’ve been planning on returning to the blog after a year long hiatus. Perhaps I’ll take up the question if the purpose of other animals more fully when I return.

    • I recognize that’s the way this text is typically read and understood, but I disagree that this comes down to context. There’s nothing in the surrounding verses, or elsewhere in scripture that suggests, as you do, that God’s intention in bringing the animals to Adam was so that Adam would realize he needed a helper more like himself. There’s as much in the context to support my interpretation, as there is to support yours. What I’ve tried to do is offer another way of reading the passage that is just as consistent with what the scripture says as the standard reading. Moreover, the reading I offer has the added benefit of avoiding the implication that the purpose of animals was simply to demonstrate to Adam that he needed Eve. This post has been the single most popular post I’ve written, and it’s a shame, because I admit it’s a pretty inadequate answer to the question raised in the title. I’ve been planning on returning to the blog after a year long hiatus. Perhaps I’ll take up the question of the purpose of other animals more fully when I return.

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