Both of my sisters' are veterinarians, and I have been thinking about this post for a long time. There's an unfortunate subtle assumption in the Christian world that pastors have the most important job a person can have. I hope this post will show that there's a million ways to fulfill God's call in his creation, and thus many great callings in the kingdom of God. Veterinarians are perfect examples of this.
When God created everything, it was "good" (Gen. 1). God created beautiful and lushious earth, filled it with animals on land, air, and sea. Our minds can barely fathom how beautiful it all must have been before the Fall. In the pinnacle of this creation stands humanity, and our human world has been linked with the animal world since the start:
God blessed [humans made in his image] and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground. Gen. 1:28.
This human rulership over the animal kingdom was never meant to be exploitative; the fall brought human exploitation of animals. The human to animal relationship was always meant to be close and intertwined. C.S. Lewis comments on this in his chapter on animal pain in The Problem of Pain:
Man, even now, can do wonders to animals: my cat and dog live together in my house and seem to like it. 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...Man is to be understood only in his relation to God. The beasts are to be understood only in their relation to man and, through man, to God.
To elaborate on this exploitation concept, I appeal to the Mosaic Law. Many laws in Exodus and Deuteronomy appeal to how humans, especially after the Fall of humanity into sin, are to treat animals. The most famous few are these, found in Deuteronomy 22:4 and Deuteronomy 25:4, respectively:
If you see your brother's donkey or his ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it. Help him get it to its feet.
Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.
The principles are simple: God cares about animals in their distress and in their labor. If an ox is working hard for humans as they do agricultural work, let that ox partake a little of the fruits of his labor. Don't muzzle him when he's working for your food. Clearly, God has a heart for the way humans treat animals. Again, that's because our relationship on earth is intertwined with them. Indeed, our redemption that will come when Jesus Christ comes again is tied to the redemption of the entire creation, including the animal kingdom:
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Rom. 8:20-22.
What will that redemption look like for the animal kingdom? We need look no further than Isaiah 11:6-10:
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.
As Lewis explains elsewhere in the Problem of Pain:
The intrinsic evil of the animal world lies in the fact that animals, or some animals, live by destroying each other.
And yet the picture we get in Isaiah is one where that violence will be accounted for and creation will be restored to its original harmony, including even the animal world. Our redemption will be accompanied by the redemption of the animal world. We must not get locked into foolish thinking about unobstructed nature and how wild animals are the purest form of animals. In fact, Lewis asserts:
The 'real' or 'natural' animal to [atheists] is the wild one, and the tame animal is an artificial or unnatural thing. But a Christian must not think so. Man was appointed by God to have dominion over the beasts, and everything a man does to an animal is either a lawful exercise, or a sacrilegious abuse, of an authority by Divine right. The tame animal is therefore, in the deepest sense, the only 'natural' animal- the only one we see occupying the place it was made to occupy, and it is on the tame animal that we must base all our doctrine of beasts. Now it will be seen that, in so far as the tame animal has a real self or personality, it owes this almost entirely to its master. If a good sheepdog seems 'almost human' that is because a good shepherd has made it so.
And so almost magically, a quintessential human enterprise is engaging in the taming and domesticating of the animal world. In a way, we can take part now in that redemption that's promised in Isaiah. Veterinarians and zoologists do this everyday, as do people who love animals so much that they live with many of them. It's a totally human thing to do. And in God's economy, it's a totally God thing to do. You rock, veterinarians.