It’s now two and a half weeks since we gave Oscar his frankly horrible send-off, I’m back to work so I’ve run out of time to write much other than sermons, and yet I’m still grieving, so thanks for continuing to sit here with me for a bit. By this point, I now also have reflections on the current state of CoVid-19…maybe we’ll get to those, too, someday, but for now…
After I reblogged my C.S. Lewis-and-animals paper, an atheist friend of mine said,
I won’t pretend to have read it all [I, Jenn, don’t blame him!], but one thing did stand out for me: the anthropomorphic tendency of christianity. Why shouldn’t an all-powerful god incarnate himself as a dolphin, for the dolphins of this world? Or a whale, for the whales? Or an elephant, for the elephants?
My first thought, on reading his question (because, you know, why wouldn’t it be), was, anthropic principle.
“Excellent question,” I said, affirmingly.
You might read some CS Lewis yourself for a more intelligent discussion of that question, but the anthropocentric tendency is, in fact, a pretty core aspect of Christianity, as you note. For some reason, God chose to “image” Himself through human beings, and through them to care for the rest of creation. Then humans screwed it up (for ourselves and…the rest of creation) and so God self-incarnated as one of us to demonstrate how human life was intended to function–a “viceregency,” as it were, of blessing and goodness, rather than the selfish, destructive type so many of our race (including–and maybe especially–Christians, inexplicably) have practiced instead. So…God incarnating as a human IS in fact also for the dolphins and the dogs and the elephants, because once the humans are renewed, that should address the ills of “everyone” else.
The idea is that at the crucifixion, the God of all this submitted to the atrocities of the humans created in His own image and so in some way to overturn both the physical effects of our atrocities and the spiritual implications thereof–but (and I touched on this in last Sunday’s talk) the fulfillment of what was accomplished that day is still pending, until the incarnate God returns again to stay.
Chapter 8 of the New Testament book of Romans says, “19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. 20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. 22 For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. 24 We were given this hope when we were saved.”
My second thought was, This is why the death of pets is worse than the death of humans. (At least, to me it is, and I don’t think I’m the only one.)
Or more specifically, This is why I can’t get over Oscar.
Because we are the reason death came to stay, and now in our role as broken God-imagers, we actually have a mandated responsibility for the life and death of the creatures in our care–different than the responsibility we have for the life and death of each other. God takes human death even more seriously than the death of His other creatures, because, as He repeatedly reminds us, we were specially created in His image. And yet, we are also the reason death came into the equation at all. Not just our species, but we, individuals, none of whom have ever perfectly imaged God in the world–except for the One who also was God.
Death is our fault. Death is my fault. So I rage against it, but also, no wonder I still feel guilty that maybe I brought Oscar to the vet too soon. And would feel guilty if I had waited and he had had to suffer worse and longer. In a perfect world I never would have had to be responsible for that decision. But this is no longer a perfect world. And so God made Himself a member of the offending species, and accepted the death we ourselves invited right into our own reality by repeatedly in large and small ways rejecting Him, the source of pure life.
If He had shown up as a dolphin or an elephant…or a dog…there would be no present or future hope for restoration, because those creatures–which do, all the same, reflect to us something of God (often better than we; they have not rebelled against the nature their Creator gave them)–were not the chosen image bearers, and it wasn’t their sin, their rejection of the One whose image they were meant to be bearing, that damaged the world. God dying as one of them would have been solidarity with creation, but not salvation for the world. God died (and resurrected) as a human to make restitution for the crime of humans, in order for not only us, but all these other creatures, to have hope of anything better.
Of course…there is the school of thought that if humans had never sinned, God would still eventually have become one of us. But that’s a topic for another post.