Amy and I have practiced what we call a “cruelty-free diet” for more than a decade. We do this out of a conviction that it’s the least we can do to avoid moral complicity with the factory farming system in our country, which is so horribly inhumane to cows, pigs, and chickens. (I defy anyone to see what goes on in those places and not be disturbed by the extreme cruelty of it all.) We’re hardly radicals, but the little we do is aimed at honoring what we regard as a biblical duty of compassion toward animals.
There are numerous Scriptural passages that speak to the moral significance of our treatment of animals. There is a biblical duty of compassion for animals, and this has implications for the dinner table as well as the backyard. (See, for example, Exod. 23:12, Deut. 25:4, Psalm 50:10-11, Psalm 104, and Prov. 12:10.)
Recently, as I’ve been reading through the book of Genesis, a passage jumped out at me that I had overlooked before—Genesis 9:5. Amazingly, this verse refers to the fact that animals themselves will be judged. Getting a running start from verse 4, it reads like this:
“You must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man” [my italics]
That’s the New International Version of the Bible. Several other translations instead refer to animals giving a “reckoning,” and some use the term “punish.” But what is consistent in each translation I’ve seen is a sense of something like moral culpability and judgment. Now some folks could read too much into this and erroneously infer that animals are on the same moral plane as humans. Clearly, we can’t run to that extreme given the unique standing of human beings as divine image bearers (cf. Gen. 1:27). Still, it seems noteworthy that God will judge animals in this regard (and that God would make special note of this in Scripture). This appears to be one more biblical reinforcement of the moral significance of animals.