Okay–this is probably one of those occasions where the things of God will seem like foolishness to those who don’t believe, but I have based most of the following opinions on Scripture. You’re free to look ’em up.
Can animals be evil? I believe they have a will, and they can certainly choose to do wrong. All you have to do is look at the dog who’s lying on the sofa and knows he’s not supposed to be there. If that doesn’t cut it for you, Dr. Penny Patterson tells the story of when Koko was using a stick to pry a window open. (I think I also used this with Sema.) When she was caught, Koko quickly used the stick as a “cigarette” and pretended to smoke it. Ah! Deception!
So yes, I believe some animals have at least a basic knowledge of good and evil and can choose between the two. Not nearly as well-developed as man’s of course, and we’ll probably only see this in higher animals. (I don’t know–do soldier ants whip lazy worker ants into submission? I know ants can use tools.)
I also believe that animals can be used of God–and by Satan. Satan used the serpent to tempt Eve. God used Balaam’s donkey to speak to Balaam. God also used two bears to devour a group of boys who called Elisha “baldie” (look it up, 2 Kings 2:24).
I suppose we could also say that God used frogs and locusts and flies in the plagues of Egypt.
If you think of animals as servants, I think we begin to see their rightful position. Not that the position of servant is to be disdained–Jesus said HE came as a servant, after all. God gave man dominion over the animals. They serve us, but we are to be benevolent rulers. “Blessed,” says the Scripture, “is the man who regards the life of his beast.”
Animals originally lived in peace with man in the Garden–and man was apparently vegan. But after man’s fall, God used animals to provide Adam and Eve with clothing. After that, God told man to use animals for food and sacrifice as well.
Notice Genesis 9–a lot about animals in this chapter. First, notice that animals who kill people are to be condemned to death (evil animals?) verse five.
Second, notice verses 8-10: animals are included in the Noahic covenant. They are included in the promise that God will never again destroy the earth by flood.
Third, notice verse 2: for the first time, God says, “All the wild animals, large and small, and all the birds and fish will be afraid of you. I have placed them in your power. I have given them to you for food, just as I have given you grain and vegetables.”
Apparently animals weren’t naturally afraid of man until this point–and they will return to this fearlessness at some point in the future, perhaps when the lion lays down with the lamb, i.e., in the Millennium or on the New Earth, depending upon your eschatology.
The fact that all the animals came willingly to Noah before the flood is interesting when you realize that this natural fear didn’t appear until after the flood.
Aside–did you know they’re making Bruce Almighty 2? From the previews I’ve seen, looks like there’s a Noah thing going on.
In the story of Jonah, notice that the king of Ninevah (Jonah 3:7) had even the ANIMALS fast when the people repented. And later, when God chided Jonah for his recalcitrant attitude, God said, “Ninevah has more than 120,0000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”
God counts animals, too.
Finally: while I don’t agree with Native Americans’ pantheism, I do think they had one thing right–I’ve heard that whenever an Indian brave killed a deer, for instance, he would thank the deer for providing food for his family and giving of his strength. I actually think that’s the right attitude toward animals. God has given them to us for our sustenance. So we should be thankful, not domineering or cruel.
For this reason I am not a vegetarian, but neither do I support those horrible farms where pigs and lambs are raised in tiny little boxes, or any inhumane butchering of livestock. I DESPISE the hunting of endangered species and animals’ heads hung on walls for show . . . but do not condemn a hunter who kills a deer for food. But those people who go to Africa and shoot elephants and lions who’ve been penned in . . . don’t get me started. My blood pressure begins to boil.
I like elephants. I’m going to write about them one of these days.
Well, enough of my animal ravings. If you’re interested in reading more, read DOMINION: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, by Matthew Scully. It’ll open your eyes.