Try something with me, please.
Close your eyes for 30 seconds.
For the first 10 seconds imagine the sky empty of life with wings.
For the next 10 seconds imagine the land around you empty of life with paws, hooves, and claws.
For the final 10 seconds imagine the waters below empty of life with fins and shells.
Were you successful in this exercise? I hope not.
The Creator couldn’t imagine a world without animals either.
In the beginning God created animals—beasts, birds, bees, fish, and behemoths of the seas—even before He created humanity. “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). Good in form, good in function, good in relationship: Adam and Eve had a perfect relationship with the animal kingdom, interactions of such an exalted nature as we hardly ever come close to fathoming. In fact, humanity “was placed, as God’s representative, over the lower orders of being.”1 Animals that eat from God’s hand would have eaten from theirs (Ps. 104:28); in God’s stead humans would have been satisfying “the desire of every living thing” (Ps. 145:16).
Then sin happened. Humans sinned. Animals did not. Humans have suffered the consequences of their choices ever since, while animals have suffered the consequences of humanity’s choices.
When Adam and Eve chose to believe a lie about God and acted upon it, the purity of their relationship with animals came to a devastating end. As rebels against God they could not represent Him to His animal creation. Since that rebellion, animals have suffered gravely from the continuing tragedy of humanity’s decline from God’s image and character. They have been abused and killed. They have been abandoned and neglected. The evidence is heartbreaking, and we have much to answer for.
Some say animals have no voice. They do have a voice; they just cannot speak humanity’s language.
Our callousness strongly contrasts with God’s care for the animals, clearly seen from our first day, in His charge to us to exercise godly dominion and care over all of earth’s living creatures (Gen. 1:27, 28; 2:15). Multiple stories show how closely He and they relate to each other: above and beyond His constant caring there’s Balaam’s talking donkey (Num. 22:27-33), Jonah’s huge fish (1:17), Elijah’s ravens (1 Kings 17:1-6). At the time of Noah’s flood, birds, wild and domesticated animals, creepy-crawly critters—all showed more sensitivity to God’s program than most humans did (Gen. 7:13-16).
And He thinks highly of them: note Jesus’ choice to express His virtues by representing Himself as a lamb; also, as a lion. Oh, the lessons we need to learn from these comparisons!
So why, you might ask, am I taking time to write about our God-given responsibility toward animals? Aren’t there more important issues that demand humanity’s attention, such as humanity itself? Aren’t the lives of those who are poor and sick worth more of our attention than animals?
I suggest that the issue of animal welfare is just as important as any other in life. Why? Because God Himself structured our relationship with these creatures. Unfortunately, we have sometimes misused and neglected them. Whatever our gender, nationality, age, social class, etc., we have a responsibility to honor God’s creation.
I recently served as an advocate, helping animals as a way to connect people to Jesus in a country in which no laws protect animals. With few exceptions, many get away with acts of violence against animals and are OK with it. Because of my sense of calling, and to help change conditions for animals, I’ve created the hashtag #AnimalsToo to enhance awareness.
Some say animals have no voice. So we need to be their voice. From the beginning, their suffering has been our fault; and today it continues to occur for diverse reasons: cultural traditions, lack of education, lack of empathy, kindness, and sensitivity.
The good news is that we can do better for God’s creation. People can question harmful cultural practices, can be educated, can learn empathy and kindness, and can change health habits.
Here are several simple ways in which we, as lovers of Jesus, as Seventh-day Adventist Christians, as bearers and reflectors of God’s image in humanity, can honor God’s mandate for animal welfare. We can:
Through these avenues and the many others available that you are willing to employ, we can show the world what God had in mind when He created birds that fly, fish that swim and beasts that He gave into our care for our blessing and theirs. Our care can sweeten the songs of the creatures of the air and the field, music that even now testifies to the “tender, fatherly care of our God.”2 Their music and ours may ascend together to heaven in response to the stirring invitation of that glorious hymn expressing the thoughts of Francis of Assisi as paraphrased by William H. Draper: “All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voice with us and sing: Alleluia! Alleluia!”3
The future, fearless, careless joy of birds on the wing and beasts in their lairs depends on us humans. It isn’t too soon to let Jesus have His way with us. It isn’t too soon to see Jesus descend, to return with anthems of aweful joy to our original garden home and revel together with them in Eden, our common home restored.
Cecilia Luck works in global community development, with her primary concentration in animal welfare.
I’m a missionary. On July 1, 2015, I threatened suicide. I didn’t act on it; it was simply a threat.
Which part of the previous paragraph caught your attention most? That I’m a missionary, or that I threatened suicide?
Would I have ever acted upon the thought? No. The threat itself was a desperate cry for help.
The point is: I wasn’t well. I had hit rock bottom.
I suffer from depression: a mental illness. Did I just say that out loud? How does that make you feel? Nervous? Awkward?
Would it be easier if I said that I was in an accident and broke some bones? Would a physical illness be easier to pray for? Would it be easier for me to talk about?
In my roughly 18 years as an Adventist, I have never heard any mention of depression in a church service. No sermons preached. No prayer requests mentioned aloud. I’ve heard it addressed in our seminars, and since I haven’t attended every church on every Sabbath since becoming an Adventist, my perspective may be a bit skewed. But I still wonder why I have not heard about depression at least once in the past 18 years. Isn’t the wellness of our minds just as important as the wellness of our physical bodies?
Paul thought so, and so does God. Why then does it seem as though mental wellness (or the lack thereof) is one of those hush-hush topics?
Let’s be more aware of the inner battles people face. It’s not easy to struggle alone.
In my host country as a missionary, I lived near a small community known for its mental (or “crazy”) hospital. In fact, the way you catch a minibus to this particular community is moving your hand in circles over the right side of your brain. But not everyone who suffers from a mental illness lacks a sound mind.
My depression took center stage while I was in mission service. I love the people and culture where I served, but I still felt out of place. It was my heart. Within the financial, social, and career walls in which I served I wasn’t equal to the other missionaries. I’m single; the other missionaries my age weren’t. I was on a slightly elevated volunteer stipend. The other missionaries my age, well . . . you get the picture.
The other major issue was that I wasn’t doing what I really wanted to do. Teaching isn’t my calling; I was doing what God had opened to me at the time. I was also in the final stages of my M.A. degree. I was both a teacher and a student, a mid-30s single among married couples the same age. I wasn’t making enough income to do anything more than basic travel, etc.
With my emotional and mental state, my feeling out of place even in the country I loved to serve, the sadness and frustration of not living the life I really wanted to live eventually overwhelmed me. The gifts and abilities God gave me weren’t being utilized.
My depressed state didn’t begin during my time of service in the host country, however. I hadn’t been able to put a label on it, but for the longest time I felt a deep sadness, even on the greatest days. There were moments of laughter, of course, but an overall sense of peace and happiness just didn’t exist.
My family background isn’t that great. In fact, it would take a book to share all the reasons my family is a big factor in my mental wellness. From a human perspective I have a lot to be sad about. My depression and other circumstances interfered with my mission service. Yet as a daughter of God, I have much for which to be thankful.
I’m a missionary. I claim this.
Here’s the thing: Just because followers of Jesus suffer from mental illness doesn’t make them any less followers. I love Jesus, and even though I currently am experiencing this internal mental and emotional battle, I spend time with Him every day, talk to Him, and want His will to be done in my life.
As we look in God’s Word, we find a number of people who suffered from depression. Have you read through some of the psalms lately, or Lamentations? David and Jeremiah, just to name a couple, experienced mental and emotional distress. In this sin-sick world Satan has so many avenues through which he can destroy the peace of mind and abundant life God intends for us.
And this brings me to my final point: Can one truly be in the mission field and suffer from depression? Think about that. It surely hinders the fullness of life that service requires. However, there is hope. Through years of distress David could still be a man after God’s own heart. And thankfully, God has provided resources that work through His awesome power to overcome this illness. Here are some verses that speak directly to depression. Read them if you need help, or share them with others to encourage those who suffer from depression: Psalm 13; Psalm 34:18; Psalm 42; Lamentations 3:19-24; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 11:28; 1 Peter 5:6, 7.
Once overcome, missionaries—and everyone else who suffers from depression—are all the stronger in their partnership with God. I can live with that hope.
Let’s be more aware of the inner battles people face. It’s not easy to struggle alone. And those of us who suffer from this type of illness need prayer and tender loving care just as much as anyone who suffers from a physical illness.
I’m a missionary, and I suffer from depression, but not forever. I’m back in the United States regrounding my life and becoming a stronger woman in my Savior. Then, by His grace, I will return to the mission field and serve people in a way that glorifies Him through the gifts and abilities He has given to me.
Jesus promised: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). That is my prayer for us all, especially for those of us who suffer from depression.
Cecilia Luck is working on a graduate degree in global community development at Southern Adventist University.