I’d like to select 100 people at random from a busy street corner and ask them: if you could do away with one minor piece of the Curse, which would it be? By minor, I mean other than the biggies: spiritual death, physical death, hard labor and painful childbirth. There are many other effects of the Fall, both direct and indirect, and these would all be up for grabs to respondents in the survey.
I have a hunch that many people would choose to do away with the rift between humans and animals. This might well be my choice, although eliminating tooth decay would probably be a close second.
Before the Fall, humans enjoyed harmony with the animals. There is strong evidence that animals once had the capacity for speech (Gen. 3:1). Humans were created as vegetarians, and there was no natural animosity between us prior to the Fruit Incident (Gen 1:29). Now, however, because animals are on the menu, and for other reasons that aren’t always clear, animals make themselves scarce when people are around. What if we could go back to the way it was before?
Of course, we will, eventually. Scripture tells us things will be returned to their former state after sin and death has been destroyed and tranquility restored to the world. We see a glimpse of it in Isaiah 11:
6 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.
7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
To some extent, we have already patched things up with the Animal Kingdom. Humans have domesticated cats and dogs and hordes of other creatures. (It’s amazing what free food and shelter will do to bridge the gap.) But most of God’s creatures are afraid of us, and you can’t exactly blame them. The alienation that persists cannot be swept away on a whim. Just ask Timothy Treadwell. He was an Alaska bear lover who thought he’d made friends with a brown bear until he tried to give the creature a kiss. It turned out to be his swan song.
As strong as it can be, the rift between humans and animals can be bridged rather easily given the right circumstances.
In the summer of 1993, I got hired to serve a small private party at the Alaska Zoo. The guest list was made up of hospitality industry executives and professionals. They sat down for dinner on the grounds of the zoo for a simple dinner in the warmth of a sunny evening. It was about the easiest gig I’d ever worked. There were only about 15 people, so I was able to give them the moon without breaking a sweat.
The best part came after the dinner was all cleaned up. I went in to see the proprietor of the zoo about my pay. While Sammy was writing out a check for me, I asked her if I could take a gander through the enclosures. In retrospect, I can’t believe she consented. There must have been a dozen good reasons to say no, with insurance liability issues and everything. But she good-naturedly turned me loose on the grounds for “a short tour, please. We want to get everything shut down soon.”
I went around visiting with black bears, elephants, muskoxen, camels, llamas, sheep, wolverines, badgers, foxes ― and a mountain lion named Mariah. When I got to her enclosure, I stopped.
I’ve always loved the big cats. They have been described as nature’s masterwork, and there isn’t much not to like about them. They are sleek, handsome, powerful and fast as lightning. All that lithe strength is packed into a graceful form that exudes the legendary feline mystique. When I see the miniature, domesticated version (I’ve had a few cats), I remember their magnificent cousins in the wild and want to give them a steak just for being a member of such a beautiful class of animals. And they never object to the sentiment.
Mariah was all by herself in an elevated cage at the end of the southernmost trail. She was velvety-smooth and tawny, and her long tail twitched at the sound of my voice. I approached her as the warmth of the day was beginning to drain out of the sky. She was stretched out across the floor of her cage, her green eyes glinting in the fading sunlight. Of course, she had locked onto me long before I even spotted her. You can’t sneak up on a cat. I’ve tried.
“Hello, Mariah!” I called. Her ears swiveled in response, then she yawned and continued watching me. Her tail twitched some more at the unusual intensity of this meeting. I realized later that what made this encounter special was the fact that she and I had the whole place to ourselves. Her enclosure was in a secluded spot. And of course, the zoo was officially closed, so I was the only two-legged creature in a half-mile radius.
I decided to seize the moment. After looking around to make sure I was unobserved, I climbed up onto the fence surrounding her cage, then walked to the fencepost at the center. At this point, I was about six feet out and three feet below the door to her cage ― much closer than I had ever been to a big cat. She just watched me, waiting to see what was going to happen next. Then, when I just stood there swaying a bit on the post, the big cat turned her head under, ears to the floor, looking at me playfully.
Something about the confluence of circumstances had put her at ease. She wasn’t threatened by me at all; to the contrary, she wanted to play. I so wished I could get closer, but this was as good as it was going to get. Nevertheless, it was a special experience.
Over the years, I’ve discovered that extreme situations can override the estrangement between humans and animals. It usually has to do with survival.
The following story was circulated widely around the internet, but I’m hoping that it will be new for many readers:
Tom Satre told the Sitka Gazette that he was out with a charter group on his 62-foot fishing vessel when four juvenile black-tailed deer swam directly toward his boat.
“Once the deer reached us, the four began to circle the boat, looking directly at us. We could tell right away that the young bucks were distressed.
“I opened up my back gate and we helped the typically skittish and absolutely wild animals onto the boat. In all my years fishing, I’ve never seen anything quite like it! Once on board, they collapsed with exhaustion, shivering.”
“This is the picture I took of the rescued bucks on the back of my boat, the Alaska Quest.
“We headed for Taku Harbour. Once we reached the dock, the first
buck that we had pulled from the water hopped onto the dock, looked back as if to say ‘thank you’ and disappeared into the forest. After a bit of prodding and assistance, two more followed, but the smallest deer needed a little more help.
“My daughter, Anna, and son, Tim, helped the last buck to its feet. We didn’t know how long they had been in the icy waters or if there were others who did not survive. My daughter later told me that the experience was something that she would never forget, and I suspect the deer felt the same way.”
So there you have it. A near-death situation turned natural enemies into friends. The best part is that, after the event had played itself out and the deer were back on solid ground again, they didn’t revert automatically to a guarded posture as they might have. The act of kindness by the people had reached clear through the wall of alienation. Now, instead of being afraid, the animals were grateful.
I can’t help but see in this story a temporal metaphor for God’s plan of salvation. Enemies turned into friends by the marriage of desperation and ready kindness.