Sharks. As one of the most feared and maligned creatures on earth, sharks represent a group of creatures which are one of the Lord’s greatest tests of our love for Him. This group includes the annoying and inconvenient like spiders, leeches and mosquitoes but also the ugly, the insignificant, the useless and the unknown species of the world. Their defining characteristic is that they are ignored, feared or hated by the majority of humanity. We have passed a value judgement on them and found them unworthy of our love.
In direct contrast, species like the panda, elephant and whale are so loved by many that conservation groups, and even individuals, will go to extraordinary lengths to save them. The unspoken but harsh truth is that the efforts expended saving these species often mean there is nothing left to do for our first group but to sign their death warrants and hope no one notices. After all, why would they? The Cuban Solenodon is small, ugly and insignificant. Its extinction is not an issue for humanity.
But is it an issue for God?
Now, do not mistake me for claiming that it is not worth conserving the cute and cuddly species... far from that. I believe God does not want any of his precious creations to become extinct. My challenge though is this, that as the sons and daughters of the creator; Christians have a responsibility and a calling to save the species the rest of society doesn’t care for. Why should we do this? Because of God’s love for them, and for us.
To understand how God feels about these creatures, and what that means for us, we must look to the first chapter of Genesis. The passage of particular relevance is verse 20-26.
20 And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth." 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.
24 And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, [b] and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
There are three very important things to note in this passage.
“And God saw that it was good”
As God surveys each stage of his creation he declares it good. There is no exception when he creates animals. What is significant about this passage is the timing, and that it refutes a belief held by many people (both Christian and non) about where animals obtain their value. This belief is that animals receive their value from their usefulness to man. Therefore cattle are more valuable than wild kangaroos, edible fish more valuable than inedible, and predatory species that occasionally take human lives should be killed.
This worldview influences our conservation efforts as well. We often justify preservation of rainforests by stating that there is a chance the ‘cure for cancer’ could be found in one of the plants or animals living in that environment. We justify the conservation of species and habitats in developing nations by noting how it helps the poor. We may even allow the hunting of endangered species by indigenous people for cultural value. These all seem like reasonable ways to decide upon our actions towards God’s creatures.
But look at the passage above again. You will note that God declares the animals good before he even creates humans. He does not wait until the animals are of use to humankind and then declare them good. No! According to God, animals are good. They have intrinsic value, in and of themselves, completely independent of mankind. The value of animals comes from God, and from being a part of his creation- much the same as ours does.
“Let them rule”
When God creates mankind he makes them rulers over all the earth and its creatures. Especially over the last 200 years, this verse has been exploited by many to use the earth and its creatures for their own ends; claiming that this is the will of God. It is interesting to note that earlier in the chapter (v16), the Lord makes the sun and moon to rule over the day and night. Consider how the sun rules the day... The sun provides the earth with the energy for life. It never takes anything from the earth, but rather gives constant light and warmth for the good of all creation.
“In our image”
The final clue from this passage as to how we are to treat animals is also found in verse twelve. We are made in God’s image and likeness, so we can easily answer the earlier question of how we are to rule by looking at God and how he treats the creatures. Here we have many answers throughout the Bible, but perhaps the best illustration can be found in Psalms 104. This entire Psalm tells of God’s provision for his creatures, but perhaps the best summary is in the following verse:
27 These all look to you
to give them their food at the proper time.
28 When you give it to them,
they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
they are satisfied with good things.
The well known passage of Matthew 6:25-34 in the Sermon on the Mount also tells of God’s provision for his creatures.
So God’s creatures have intrinsic value as his creations and we are expected by God to rule over them by caring and providing for them as he does.
Let us return to sharks in order to see our stewardship at work. It would, perhaps, be more appropriate to speak of a lesser known, or less awe inspiring creature , but alas, we care so little about many of these creatures (particularly invertibrates) that we have not done enough research to know anything about them. This is perhaps a better fate, though, than the thousands of species we have made extinct even before their discovery.
It is estimated there are somewhere around 440 species of shark, of which approximately ten species are considered dangerous to humans. Ten. Spare a thought for the 430 species which, not being potential man eaters, are generally deemed too uninteresting for our notice. Or for species like the Grey Nurse Shark, a species who became critically endangered because their menacing looking teeth made them seem likely man-eaters. In fact, they eat fish, crabs, lobsters, squid and octopus.... The fervor with which this relatively harmless animal was almost systematically exterminated is disturbingly reminiscent of another Australian icon- the Tasmanian Tiger.
Sharks are currently facing a turning point in their history. After 40 million years as the perfect predator, they may be on the brink of losing the battle for survival. It is estimated that 90 per cent of shark species are currently threatened due to, but not limited to; overfishing, bycatch and the barbaric trade in shark fins. They are currently dying at the hands of man at the rate of around 3 per second!
Do you think this is God’s will?
The Poverty of Man
Isaiah 24: 4-6
The earth mourns and fades away,
The world languishes and fades away;
The haughty people of the earth languish.
The earth is also defiled under its inhabitants,
Because they have transgressed the laws,
Changed the ordinance,
Broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore the curse has devoured the earth,
And those who dwell in it are desolate.
Therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned,
And few men are left.
Ironically, the decline of sharks may contribute to our own species decline, or even extinction. By ignoring our God given responsibility to care for the planet and creation we have created a monster that may consume us all. And climate change is just a symptom. So what do sharks have to do with global warming you ask? It’s all to do with food chains. The ocean provides a massive carbon sink, and has provided the main restraint on runaway climate change, which may soon change as the ocean becomes carbon saturated. Tiny phytoplankton suck in carbon and release oxygen via photosynthesis. They create the oxygen we breathe. They also provide the energy for the rest of the ocean food chain. Sharks, in contrast, are the apex predators at the top of the food chain. As such, they control the health of the entire ecosystem. And without them, the populations of herbivorous fish could escalate out of control and consume the phytoplankton unsustainably. Without them, we have lost a massive barrier to runaway climate change.
Not only that, but God designed creation to teach us about him.
But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
or let the fish of the sea inform you.
So the more species we kill, the less we can learn; and the more mistakes we will make.
Hosea 4: 6
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.
Because you have rejected knowledge,
I also will reject you from being priest for Me;
Because you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children.
The Earth in Peril
Climate change is the biggest challenge and threat of our times. But it is also only part of a larger problem. We have failed in our responsibility as stewards of the earth. We have stood by while the greedy and the hypocrites desecrated the temple of our Lord
Ultimately though, it seems it will be weak leadership that allows climate change to kill us. Unless the church steps forward God’s species will slowly fall to its silent march until the earth ceases to sing praises to the Lord.
Now imagine you are God. All the earth praises you. The trees of the forest rustle to praise you (Psalm 96:13) and each species of animal praises you in their own special voice. How do you feel when the voices begin disappearing and you know that those you put in charge of their care have silenced them?
God will proclaim his judgement on those who destroy the earth, as Revelation 11:18 says, “God will destroy those who destroy the earth.”
As Christians we do not have the luxury of choosing to love only that which is pleasant or comfortable. It is our duty more than any others to love that which is unloved and care for that which is uncared for. We emulate a love which is unconditional in its demands and universal in its scope. We are the guardians of God’s Earth, and it’s time to start acting like it.
There is hope though. God promises to redeem all creation (Romans, Revelation) and return it to a state of shalom (as illustrated in Isaiah 11:6-9). Through the blood of his son, Jesus, and through the revealing of the sons of God, “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21)
As we pray:
“Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On Earth, as it is in Heaven”
We must remember that this prayer does not give us permission to simply wait for God to bring in the renewing of heaven and earth, but rather we must act to bring His kingdom and will into creation now, in preparation for his return. Then we can be hailed as “good and faithful” servants.
What you can do:
- Adopt an ‘unlovable creature’ with a conservation organisation
- Write a letter to Peter Garret protesting shark finning in the Great Barrier Reef or read more about the campaign at http://www.amcs.org.au/sharkwater.asp?active_page_id=490
- For a more extensive exploration of God’s will in relation to the earth visit http://fiveleaf-crownofthorns.blogspot.com/
- Stop eating flake and never buy shark fin soup
- Try to purchase fish from sustainable fisheries; if in doubt visit http://www.msc.org/
- To learn more about how shark bycatch is threatening their survival visit http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=48763181790&ref=ts#/group.php?gid=8143396935&ref=ts
- Support shark research by donating to Undersea Explorer http://www.undersea.com.au/shark_donations.htm
- Adopt an endangered Grey Nurse Shark from the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales http://nccnsw.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogcategory&id=66&Itemid=596
- Support the Fox Shark Research Program http://www.sharkfoundation.net/
- See the fantastic movie Sharkwater www.sharkwater.com (reviewed in Insights, see http://insights.uca.org.au/reviews/dvd/s/sharkwater.htm)