3.10.2009

All Creation Groans

My children have had abundant experience witnessing the conception, birth, and death of animals. We have had sheep (up to 160 breeding ewes) on our farm, barn cats galore (countless), and a puppy whose life ended under the wheel of a car in front of our home. I have also done some hunting, both for food (geese and deer) and for pest management (raccoons, coyotes, and possum).

Just this Saturday, our family dog died.

Mocha was a very special animal to us, and was a loving member of our family for the past 14 years. We found her as a puppy, abandoned on the side of our road, when our third daughter was an infant. She was a good and faithful dog. It was very difficult to watch her suffer with the infirmities and pains of old age and then to suffer even more over the last weeks, days, and hours of her life. She died gracefully for a dog.

With the death of our fellow Christians, we have the tremendous comfort of knowing that we will see them again - that this is not their end. We cannot say the same thing at the death of a beloved pet. I believe Scripture teaches that there will be animals on the new Earth, but whether those animals will include our pets we are not told. In light of this, and knowing that Mocha's death was imminent, I asked my pastor and searched the Scriptures myself for what would be of value to speak to my family at Mocha's burial. I settled on the following:

Job 1:21 And [Job] said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.

Matthew 5:4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Isaiah 11:6 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.

Revelation 21:4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

However, what I chose to teach on primarily for this thundering, dark, rainy day of Lent was this section of Romans 8:

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

In particular, I sought to answer the question that was nagging all of us: "Why do pets suffer and die?" Lenski's Commentary provided this helpful answer in explaining Romans 8 as follows:

For to vainness the creation was made subject, not of its own will, but because of him who made it subject on the basis of hope that also the creation itself shall be liberated from the slavery of the corruption for the liberty of the glory of the children of God.

A calamity came upon the whole earthly creature world when its crown and head, Adam, fell; then the creation was made subject to vainness. The creation was subject to man before the fall but not subject “to vainness.” It was subject to man for true effectiveness, to accomplish the purpose for which God had created it. The creature world was compelled to fail in its divinely intended purpose of glorifying God by serving man in a perfect way.

The world is full of sinners, full of ungodliness; God’s wrath is revealed against it (1:18–32). How can the creatures who were made for man serve him in the way in which God intended when he made them for man? They are abused at every turn for “vainness.” The purposes and objects for which they are used are failures, utter failures. Man eats the fruits of the earth and dies; that was not what these fruits were made for. Man uses the animals, and his life ends by perishing; that was not God’s intent. This “vainness” has entered the creatures themselves so that they even help to hurt and to destroy man. In countless ways all is against him: “Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life,” Gen. 3:17.

The creation was made subject to vainness “not willingly,” not by an act of its own will, it was not like Adam who willed to sin against God. Man is evil because of his own guilt, the creatures have no guilt. Man suffers justly, the creatures unjustly. Our restoration is pure grace, that of the creature world is simple justice. Its subjection to vainness and failure was “because of him who made it subject,” because of God who so arranged and ordered it when man fell from God. This was not an arbitrary act on the part of God but was due to the original connection of the creature world with man. It was made with the purpose that he should live in it and be served by it. When man became sinful and perverted, how could he remain in a perfect creature world, how could it fulfill God’s original purpose toward him? God might have removed man, but then what about all this creation made for him? Then it, too, would be purposeless. But God intended to extend grace to man, to give him time to repent, to be restored; so he subjected the creation to vainness and let man continue, and the whole creation ever reminds him of his sin and his guilt.

So it is man’s sin that caused this entire frustration of and derangement in nature, but it was not the ultimate cause. God is the one who subjected the creation to this vainness for his great ulterior purposes.

[Lenski, R. C. H. (1936). The interpretation of St. Paul's Espistle to the Romans (533). Columbus, Ohio: Lutheran Book Concern.]

Until now, I never clearly thought about the suffering and death of animals in this way. They are subjected to such corruption because of our sin. It's our fault! It has been that way ever since the first animal skins were used to cover our nakedness in the Garden of Eden. Indeed, all of creation groans as a grim reminder of our sin and guilt.

We heard the pitiful "groaning" of creation, loud and clear, at our home during this Lenten season. Mocha, a creature of God who served us with love, protection, and companionship in her life, also served us while she suffered and died, visibly and audibly reminding us of the horrible penetrating depth of our sinfulness and guilt, and thereby showing us even more how great a Savior we have in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of all creation. "The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD."

2 comments:

terriergal said...

I just had to do this to our dog who was a rescue airedale. He was with us for 11 years, 3 months, and 15 days.

It's the first one we have had to decide to do this to, the first dog we had as a married couple. Even my non-dog-person husband was very choked up. We all stayed with Ernie to the end. What a horrible thing.

Thanks be to God that he has provided a way of escape for us, through Christ's atoning sacrifice. We can have hope that all shall be restored.

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