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Why suffereth the animals?

May 17, 2007

We discussed with Ola the problem of animal suffering during lunch today and I tot it will be good if we get our thoughts in order.  If I din remember wrongly, the conversation was sparked off by the rivalry between the snowgoose and its nemesis, the arctic fox, which was featured in Planet Earth last night. It aches me to see the arctic fox scurrying off with one innocent snowgoose chick in its mouth, still chirping helplessly, away from the snowgeese parents who were still recovering from the shock of the arctic fox’s sneak attack. It is easy to sympathise with the snowgeese for their loss of an adorable chick; however if we see the equally adorable adorable cubs of the arctic fox, playing with each other like cute little puppies, but which will not survive through winter without ample food, we face a dilemma:  We probably have two questions (or more) in mind. (1)   Why did God allow this to happen?(2)   Will innocent animals which suffered unnecessary pain get to heaven? 

That brings us to the explanation for animal pain. Perhaps lets explore C S Lewis take in his article “Animal Pain,” in The Problem of Pain, 132-147.  I am sure you read it before.

 In this short article, Lewis offered three explanations. (though he made it clear that these are only possibilities as the Scripture is completely silent with regard to animal sufferings): 

1. That animals, though some may be sentient, and feel and share similar biological nervous system as man, are not conscious, and do not have a soul/ self  (I think for the benefit of layman, he seems to use these two synonymously.) Which means, like what Ola had suggested, they do not reflect on pain. In Lewis’ words, they see two sharp pains as two instead of one continued by another. This, I beg to differ. How do we explain animals’ ability to learn? From Lewis’ explanation, it seems like animals will fall into the same trap laid for them in the same place and same manner umpteen times! And as we have discussed about the visit to the abattoir, apparently pigs do sense/ know that they are going to be slaughtered and some even tear and oink loudly when they are sent to the slaugher house. In fact, my take is that probably they heard the cries of pigs before them being slaughtered, understand the pain, and oinked at their prospective plight. (Am I going too far if I say they grieve for the death of their fellow pigs? Perhaps.)  This aside, it is apparent that relationship between animals (mates or mother-child) does not diminish in intensity compared to human. Let us remember, for example, the case of the Emperor penguins. I do think that even royal penguins pursue meaningful relationship – a very high-order good. 

2. The second explanation is just a logical possibility. That the cruelty we see in the animal world is a result of the Fall of the animals. They have to thus suffer and are also exposed to the works of Satan. And it is interesting that Lewis conclude this section with a vague “It may have been one of man’s functions to restore peace to the animal world, and if he had not joined the enemy he might have succeeded in doing so to an extent now hardly imaginable.” Lewis agrees too that it is highly conjectural. 

3. In a way, the third point is related to the second- that only domesticated animals that has a meaningful relationship with human will go to heaven (as part of the homestead.)  This is in line with scripture’s saying of man’s dominion over animals and drawn parallel with God’s dominion over man – the gist is probably this- if man gets to heaven by having a meaningful relationship with God, then animals get to heaven by sharing a meaningful relationship with man. This is a very attractive offer. I am sure you would love to see your cats in Heaven! However, one sad thing about this is that abused animals will not get into heaven because, apparently, they do not share a meaningful relationship with their owners. (Goodness, probably their owners will go somewhere else in the first place- but is God going to “wipe the tears” of a cat which has suffered from intentional scalding by its owner?) Perhaps let me appeal to a thought experiment that you will perhaps feel more about: A kitten was born and lost her parents, it was picked up by a boy who used to like it but then grow tired of it, and the kitten learnt from this, and actually yearn for human love (that was once showered to it when it was first adopted – i am sure you agree that the kitten is able of doing that? ) The kitten was finally abandoned but later unfortunately picked up by another boy who the kitten trusted for a while (i am sure you agree that the kitten is able of doing that too?), but this boy is not a animal-lover, and due to neglect and finally abuse, the kitten died. The question is thus whether the kitten get into heaven? If yes, for what reason?

This bring us back to the fawn which spent five days in seemingly unnecessarily agony from burns caused by its inability to escape from a forest fire ignited by a lightning. From Lewis’ three explanations, the fawn does not seem to stand a chance. What do you think?

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