Ligurian Coast, Italy. By Marcello Newall

By Marcello Newall

  1. A Cruel World

We live in a cruel world. Violence often seems to be institutionalized and what is worse even celebrated. Wars, terrorism and random acts of nastiness pervade the news everyday. In all this animals are, among others, the forgotten victims of a fallen age. Their cries are muffled by the powerful industries and systems that oppress them and justify their sufferings.
‘Again I looked and saw all of the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed – and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors […]’[1]
What is particularly shocking about animal cruelty is the degree to which most people are completely desensitized to it: our society has effectively normalized behaviours that would normally create a strong sense of indignation through deeply ingrained defence mechanisms. As others have so excellently articulated in other articles, the professing church often seems to play the role of the passive bystander at best, and at worst provides the metaphysical framework for the current situation.

2. The Crucified God
Whereas the ancient Greeks imagined God as an ‘unmoved mover’, impassible towards the sufferings of his creation, Scripture presents us with a totally different image of God. Unlike the Hellenistic worldview that saw compassion ultimately as a weakness because it was linked to change and the idea of the deity being influenced by his creation, the biblical portrait presents us a God who enters totally into the suffering of his creatures. In this sense God is sym-pathetic, in that his heart pulses with empathy for the brokenness of his creation. The most powerful demonstration of God’s compassion, in the event of the cross, is in fact the supreme manifestation of God’s entering into the suffering of another.
‘Every symbol invites thought. The symbol of the cross in the church points to the God who was crucified not between two candles on an altar, but between two thieves in the place of the skull where the outcasts belong, outside the gates of the city’.[2]
In last analysis it was not the cross that killed Jesus, but his literally broken heart that was torn apart by the sin and evil of man, Jesus himself shortly before the crucifixion had said that his heart was ‘grieved to the point of death’. In the same way God’s heart is in agony for the suffering of his creatures both human and animal and he personally identifies with their pain and grief.
3. Romans 9:17
One of the strongest sensations that I believe is present in animal welfare is a certain sense of powerlessness. Whether it is the voicelessness of the animals or simply the enormous economic, political and cultural power wielded by the abusers one can get the impression of being crushed by the strength of the forces at work. When Moses confronted Pharaoh telling him to let the Israelites go, the ruler of Egypt scoffed at him and answered: ‘Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go’.[3] Pharaoh was considered a ‘god’ in Egypt and commanded the most astonishing wealth and power imaginable. The Pyramids, essentially gigantic royal tombs, are an example of his extravagance and ostentatious indulgence. And yet Pharaoh and his empire are also symbolic of every world system that raises itself against God and bases itself upon cruelty and despotism against the weak and defenceless. Having given Pharaoh ample time to repent, God ultimately hardened his rebellion and used him as an example of his power:
‘For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”‘[4]
Indeed, ultimately any empire, organization, industry, government, institution, tribe, nation or civilization that opposes God and his purposes will be crushed and consigned to the scrapheap of history. Jesus warned those who seek to resist God’s kingdom of their fate: ‘And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust’.[5] In this sense the forces that are currently opposing God by promoting some of the most outrageous forms of cruelty ever known to man will ultimately be used, despite their rebellion, by the Lord for his eternal purposes as examples of his wisdom and power.
 4. A New Passover
We often hear today about various foods being transformed into vegetarian versions, so called ‘veganized’ recipes. When we look to Jesus and the Passover we see a very important trajectory within Scripture: Jesus effectively veganized the Passover and yet little attention is given to this fact. What we see at the Last Supper and then in the early Christian Church is the replacement of the Jewish Passover with the non-violent Communion meal. In this passage we see how the culturally conditioned and accommodated Levitical priesthood is replaced by the universal Melchizedekian priesthood. The basis for this exchange is reported in Genesis and is considered highly significant to the writer of the letter to the Hebrews:
‘Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram […]’[6]
‘This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.’[7]
‘If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also.’[8]
We are specifically told that Melchizedek, who remains in many ways a mysterious figure, is the king of Salem or king of peace. The sign of his covenant, which Abraham accepted, was therefore oriented towards peace and is an anticipation of the world that God had always intended[9] and will one day be restored.[10] Melchizedek is, like Jesus, both king and priest whereas in the inferior Levitical order, priesthood and kingship had been divided because of the weakness of Moses.[11] Unlike the Levites, Jesus is ‘one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life’.[12]
5. A New Temple
The temple and its sacrifices was in many ways at the centre of the worship of Israel and yet with Jesus we see yet again a powerful movement away from violence and towards compassion as God’s ideal. Jesus had declared succinctly and in line with the Prophets: ‘I require mercy not sacrifice’.[13] When asked about worship by the Samaritan woman who was convinced that a certain sacred locality was necessary in order to encounter God’s presence, Jesus answered: ‘Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks’. In what can be seen as an eschatological sign of hope Jesus entered the temple and substituted the accommodated sacrificial system with the sacrifice of himself as the true and final Lamb of God. In his vision of the future world in Revelation John tells us that: ‘I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.’[14]
Once again the author of Hebrews gives us a startling insight into Jesus and his elimination of animal sacrifice:
‘Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
 with burnt offerings and sin offerings
you were not pleased.
 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
I have come to do your will, my God.’[15]
And finally:
‘Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool.’[16]
The Triumph of Jesus Christ
It’s Christ’s victory on the cross, in which God took every form of cruelty and violence onto himself that allows us to hope in a world without cruelty. On that cross Jesus triumphed over sin, death and the devil and through his resurrection offered us life, and that’s why compassion is going to triumph over cruelty.
[1] Ecclesiastes 4:1.
[2] Moltmann Juergen, The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology, Scm Classics, UK 2011, p. 35, pp. 280-283.
[3] Exodus 5:2.
[4] Romans 9:17.
[5] Matthew 21:44
[6] Genesis 14:18-19.
[7] Hebrews 7:1-3.
[8] Hebrews 7:11-12.
[9] Genesis 1, 2.
[10] Revelation 22.
[11] Exodus 4:10.
[12] Hebrews 7:16.
[13] Matthew 9:13.
[14] Revelation 21:22.
[15] Hebrews 10:5-7.
[16] Hebrews 10:11-13.

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