I recently got my hands on an excellent anthology of essays–Creaturely Theology: God, Humans, and Other Animals, edited by Celia Deane-Drummond and David Clough. It brings together essays on history, theology, philosophy, and ethics to deepen the conversation about the place of animals in Christian theology and practice.
So far I’ve only read a few of the essays, but they’ve been good ones. In his essay “The Redemption of Animals in an Incarnational Theology,” Denis Edwards, the Australian theologian of ecology, develops a theory of redemption that is inclusive of non-human animals. Following Athanasius, he proposes an incarnational theory of redemption as an alternative to theories that lean heavily on notions of substitution, satisfaction, or sacrifice.
It has the great advantage of bringing into focus the overwhelming and unthinkable generosity of God. It presents redemption as a divine act of self-bestowal rather than as something that changes God. God gives God’s self to us in the Word made flesh and in the Spirit poured out in grace. The Word enters into the world of flesh, that in the Spirit the community of fleshly life might be forgiven, healed, freed from violence, reconciled, and find its fulfillment in the life of God. (p. 91)
In becoming incarnate and living a life of self-giving love, the Son of God bestows the divine love and presence on a sinful and suffering world. In taking the journey into the depths of pain and abandonment he identifies with the suffering of all sentient creatures; in rising he overcomes death and sin and makes possible the redemption of all creatures as the first born of the new creation. In Christ, not just human nature, but creaturely, fleshly nature is reconciled to its Creator. In this scheme, creation and redemption are held more closely together than they are in many other accounts of atonement: the Logos or Wisdom of God is both the agent of creation and of God’s loving self-bestowal on that creation. “In the Word made flesh, God embraces the whole labor of life on Earth, with all its evolutionary processes, including death, predation and extinction, in an event that is both a radical identification in love and an unbreakable promise” (p. 95).
This boundless compassion of God gives us reason to hope that individual animals will find some kind of ultimate fulfillment in the divine life, in whatever way is appropriate to their natures. It also provides the ground for transformed relationships between us and the rest of creation. Incorporating some of the insights of French theorist Rene Girard and the theologian Raymund Schwager, Edwards proposes that Jesus overcomes violence and sin through non-violence and love of enemies. The death and resurrection of Jesus and the sending of his Spirit unmask the powers of scapegoating and death-dealing and form a new community dedicated (however haltingly and incompletely) to overcoming tribalism and competition and exemplifying a more universal, unrestricted love. This should properly extend to our relations with non-human creatures, and part of redemption for animals means transforming human attitudes toward them and beginning to overcome our violent exploitative ways.