Anna is a pastor, writer, and theologian who obtained her BA in religion in '06, Diploma of Ministry in '16, and Diploma of Divinity in '17.
Understanding Animal Emotions
For years I was an animal trainer. I worked with dogs and other pets who suffered from behavioral issues, animals who needed basic obedience, and people who needed service animals for various ailments. Some animals were easier to train than others. Animals, like all sentient beings, came to me with emotions that needed to be addressed. If I was to be successful, I had to understand those emotions. Some people will deny that animals are emotional beings; not only is this assumption false, it can actively prevent any kind of meaningful training or behavioral modification.
In order to effectively train, I had to understand what the animal was feeling. Was the driving force behind the behavior fear, excitement, anger, frustration, panic, joy, or some other emotion? Some people came to me when there was no other hope left, the next stop would be to either re-home or euthanize the animal. In these cases, where it was literally life or death for the animal, the pressure was intense. I always desperately wished I could bark like a dog or meow like a cat, so that I could tell them in their own language that if certain behaviors didn’t cease, that they could die.
But of course, you can’t sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk with an animal who doesn’t speak English. All I could do instead, was work with them the best I knew how, utilize all my previous experience and training, try my best, and pray. I prayed constantly for all the animals I trained, regardless of circumstances. It was a huge comfort for me to know that a God who feeds the birds of the air (Matthew 6:26) loved my clients’ pets far more than their guardians or I ever could. God was a safety net in my training. All of my limitations that I had as a human, and therefore a member of a different species, it was of great comfort to know that God was always right there to pick up where I left off. The God of all creation is not an impersonal deity, but a loving Father to all the world.
Being the Bad Guy
It wasn’t just animals in training that I would try so desperately to reach, it has been many animals throughout the course of my life. I, being a human being with a fully developed neocortex and the ability to plan, have always been better equipped than animals to understand what was necessary for the health and well-being of another species. Since I’ve been an adult I’ve had to do things that animals would consider quite unpleasant. I once spent twenty minutes in sub-freezing weather trying to put a jacket on a stubborn goat. I’ve given nail trims to squirrels in rehab, become a one-woman fitness camp for dogs, restrained animals as painful mats were combed out of their coats, given hoof and tusk trims to pigs, medicated countless species, and once even pried a snake off the finger of an unfortunate pet store employee.
In all of those instances I knew that I knew better than the animal, and as a higher order mammal, I felt a responsibility to act to help them in that moment in time. In Genesis 2:15, God instructed us to take care of the Earth and the animals, so I knew that it was my Christian duty to help. But, oh, how often have I desperately wished that I could get on their level and explain to them why I did what I did. I knew that I had to be the bad guy to save them from themselves. If I had the power to become a squirrel, or a dog, or a cat, or a pig, then they would have understood my actions and things would have been much easier and less scary for them.
But of course, I can’t ever be a dog or a cat or any other animal. I can’t become something I’m not to save what some may consider an inferior species. As much as I want to, I can’t stoop down and save another species. I can’t do that, but God can. And God did.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
— Romans 5:6-8
God Became Human
In the beginning, God created everything that is in the universe. Amazingly, as big and powerful; as omnipotent and omniscient as He is, He still bothered to care about us human beings. When God put us on the Earth, He had ideals, as described in Genesis and Isaiah, plans for us that we, in our rebellious state, have failed to live up to. God could have written us off as a bunch of dirty, rotten, sinners from the moment that Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. God could have given up on us after the great flood, but He didn’t. From the beginning of time onward, God has refused to give up on us. He sent prophets to act as His spokesman and warn His children about the dangerous path that they were on. But more often than not, it was to no avail. He just couldn’t get through to us.
Mankind, throughout history, has refused to listen to God’s warnings. Compared to God we are an inferior species. God knows what is right for us, but we refuse to do it. Like a cat getting a bath, or a squirrel getting a nail trim, we claw and bite and refuse to let anybody save us from ourselves. God tries to get it through our thick skulls what we need to do, but we’re too ignorant, too inferior, and we just don’t understand.
Eventually, God stopped charging walls. He couldn’t get through to us on His terms, so He came to us on our level. Roughly 2,000 years ago in a stable in Bethlehem, God came to us as a human infant. He could not come to us as a deity, our feeble brains couldn’t comprehend that. He couldn’t come to us through prophets, we’ve had a tendency to scoff, imprison, or outright murder God’s spokesmen. So, He came to us as us. A God in human form. He spoke to us in our language, plain words that we could understand. And He showed His care for us and His solidarity with us, by sending His Son down here to be one of us.
After spending some thirty-three years in human form, His time was up. He’d taught us what He came to teach us. And so, as the ultimate sacrifice, He stretched his arms as wide as He could, to show us how great was His love for us, and He had those arms nailed to a cross where He died. Righteous people die all the time, but Jesus was no righteous person. He was God in human form, the grave could not contain Him. He did not stay dead, but briefly walked among humanity before ascending to His heavenly throne.
God knew that humanity was on a dangerous path. In His love for us, he became us, and in so doing, He was able to save us. I have often wished that I could become an animal to save the animals. Despite my love for animals, and despite my previous training, I could never experience the world as they experienced it. To them, my benevolent acts were viewed as punishment. I couldn’t explain to them my purpose, I couldn’t always reach through their fear, and for their part, they couldn’t understand my actions. Everything must have seemed so arbitrary. God was able to accomplish for humanity the very thing I could never do for animals. Jesus was fully human; he felt hungry, thirsty, frustrated, angry, sorrowful, compassionate, annoyed, joyous, and even intense physical pain. And in the end, He managed to save us all.
© 2018 Anna Watson