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What does the Bible say about cruelty to animals? Should we become vegetarians?
Thank you for your question about animal welfare and the Bible.
The animal kingdom in all its variety and beauty is testament to the mighty wonder of God. Each of the creatures was designed by him and out of obedience to his command came into existence.
“Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so...and God saw that it was good (Genesis 1:24-25). Of course this goes for the creatures of the sea and air too, also mentioned in Genesis 1.
However, humans are created differently. Whereas the other creatures came into existence because of God's words, Adam was created when the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature (Genesis 2:7). Unlike other creatures, we are created in the image of God, having the ability to imagine, design, create, reflect and have deep emotions. It is therefore clear, biblically, that we differ from the animal kingdom.
However, this does not give us the excuse to abuse or be cruel to other creatures. After humans were created, God said that everything was "very good" (Genesis 1:31) and this is the way we should be today. The first command that God gave to Adam and Eve was to "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (Genesis 1:28). However we must be careful not to misunderstand the words 'subdue' and 'dominion'. Human beings are commanded by God to be leaders of the earth. In our human government, a good leader is one that looks after and gives prosperity to its citizens, and the same applies with us to the animal kingdom; we are called to look after and give prosperity to the animal kingdom.
Until the time of the Noahic covenant, humans were only to eat plants. However, after the flood, God gave permission for humans to eat meat: "Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything" (Genesis 9:3). However, God also gave the instruction that "you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood" (Genesis 9:4). This is to say that the meat should be dead and clean.
In the New Testament, Peter received a dream where Jesus told him that there is no restriction on the type of animals that can be eaten. You can read this story in Acts 10:9-16.
In both cases, this is taken by our understanding that animals are present both for our enjoyment, but also for our food. God has blessed us with this provision.
However, cruelty to animals is not good and could even be sinful in God's sight. Going back to our instruction, we are called to give prosperity, not harm, to the creatures of the world.
In our modern times, there are different ways of combating cruelty. We are able to protest for the treatment of animals. We are able to buy free range or organic meat, or even go vegetarian or vegan. Many Christians will have made decisions on their eating practices based on the welfare of animals but this is ultimately a personal decision.
Earlier in this answer we looked at the fact that we are different compared to the rest of the animal kingdom, including the fact that we are made in God's image. However, this is exemplified in no greater way than what God has done for us. Jesus, God's Son, came to earth and lived a perfect life as a human. He died for our sin on the cross and rose from the dead to show his authority and power over death. Jesus did not die for animals, but died for human sin, including sins that we have committed against animals.
It is good and right that we seek God and ask for forgiveness for our sins, including the sin of being cruel and abusive toward animals. Remembering that we are to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16), let us show the world by our example the way we should look after animals, and do all we can to bring about God's purpose on earth.
Let us remind ourselves of the prayer that Jesus taught us:
"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (Matthew 6:9-13).
In all areas of our life, including the treatment of animals, let us revere God, seek His will, ask for forgiveness where necessary and be delivered from evil. If you have never asked for the forgiveness of your sins, I encourage you to do so today; call out to Jesus for forgiveness and ask him to be the Lord and Saviour of your life.
In summary, the bible shows us that humans and animals are created differently, but that humans have a responsibility for the earth and the creatures of the earth. Animals are there for both our enjoyment and food, but Christians should expect and put pressure on producers to be the best for animal welfare. It may be that God is calling you to seek for such improvements. May God guide us and help us in this endeavor.
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*All Scripture references are taken From The English Standard Version of the Holy Bible unless stated otherwise
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