In preparation for Lent we share the following article from Roslyne Smith‘s book, Animal Welfare: Through The Cross, A Collection of Animal Christian Concern Articles. You can order her book here. The article is one of my (Kathy’s) favorites and is written by Roslyne! As I re-read her fine penmanship, I was reminded how much our Lord suffered for us – the innocent taking the place of those who are far from innocent, not only to save us but to restore the created order for all life and the entire cosmos.
During a recent nostalgic visit to my birthplace, I stood for a while gazing at the house where virtually all of my childhood memories of my mother have been. She died when I was just four years old, following a long battle with cancer, leaving my father to look after three children, as well as continuing to run his two pet food shops. Fortunately, my mother had seven siblings, who had all taken turns to help, both throughout her illness and after her death.
Being the youngest child, I was perhaps the least affected by what had happened, but I was moved around to live with various caring relatives. Eventually, at the age of eight I came to settle happily, forming a very close bond, with my mother’s younger sister. When I was twelve, however, she suffered a massive stroke which left her semi-paralysed. Determined to continue to care for me in addition to her son, she struggled through for several years with her husband’s help, but sadly died a few months after I was married.
My sister was nineteen when our mother died and, unlike me, will have been fully aware of what was happening. She must be emotionally scarred by the memories she has of hearing her cry out in pain. Our brother was only eight and was probably affected more than any of us. He was left under the care of our father and never really experienced having friends home to play or having birthday parties, family outings or holidays.
This is just a very small example of suffering and the knock-on effect it can have upon loved ones, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. Most of us will have had our own particular experiences of suffering. In the Bible, Jesus made it clear that we must NEVER assume that personal disaster is God’s punishment for personal sin: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no!” (Luke 13). And, certainly, despite how it may feel, we are NEVER abandoned by Him. We may well ask then, “Why does God allow our suffering?”
Furthermore, what about animal suffering? Having heard through the media about the plight of commercially and legally abused animals, this is something which had been troubling me for some time. I joined various secular animal welfare societies and, in the summer of 1985, I had a phone call from the then Secretary of the local Humane Research Trust, May Tripp, inviting me to a coffee morning she had organised in aid of that charity. I duly attended this event and met for the first time with May, who spoke with me of her concern about animal cruelty and the fact that there seemed to be no Christian voice to speak for them. On 15 July 1985 a group of 10 of us met in May’s home and Animal Christian Concern (ACC) was formed. Just over a year later this small group had grown to around 600 members and we were amongst 700 people attending our inaugural service at York Minster! Although I’d had a ‘traditional’ Christian upbringing and had been influenced by many wonderful people throughout my life, I believe that, by introducing me to May, God taught me about His love and perfect will for His Creation.
One of the first things I learnt in the early days of working with ACC (pronounced ‘Assisi’) as Co-ordinator’s Assistant was that, whether we view the Biblical account of Creation literally or metaphorically, Genesis 3 shows mankind with a choice of either remaining within dependence of God’s loving care, or of disobeying Him and eating from the ‘Tree of Knowledge’. As mankind opted for independence from God, the WHOLE creation became fallen from His perfect will and we handed over the reign of this earth to Satan and the powers of evil. Self-centredness, broken relationships, wars, natural disasters, disease and death are all attributable to the Fall: “Nation will rise against nation … there will be famines and earthquakes in various places” (Matthew 24).
God gives us FREE CHOICE – choices would not be free if the consequences were ‘cushioned’ by God. For man to be free, the world we inhabit must necessarily have real – potentially painful – consequences. Moreover, any loving parent knows that their child must be allowed to experience the ‘real world’ and suffer the consequences of their actions in order to learn and develop their physical and moral awareness. We are, therefore, all born into a world where the innocent, including animals, are just as likely to suffer as the guilty. Could it be then that suffering exists because humans chose this option in Eden? Perhaps the alternative is worse – a world without free will?
Thank you for reading and following our blog; stay tuned for Part Two coming up next! God bless ~ Roslyne