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Why Do Animals Suffer?

In the Bible, when human sin brings punishment on people, animals are often forced to suffer the same fate. Think about the Garden of Eden…even though it was Adam and Eve who brought sin into the world, the punishment of death infected every living thing from then on.

But God is not focused on punishing people; he desires to bless us! The Bible is full of accounts where God forgives a wayward people over and over again. And you will also find stories of God moving heaven and earth to get a city to repent rather than being destroyed.

Jonah was a prophet who was sent by God to proclaim repentance to the wicked city of Ninevah. Fueled by his intense personal dislike of the Ninevites, Jonah refused to do the Lord’s bidding, tried to flee on a ship, and wound up being swallowed by a large fish.

Jonah repented and called out to God, who then commanded the fish to vomit him onto dry land. Finally, Jonah agreed to go to Ninevah and give its people God’s message: Return to the Lord or He would destroy the city with all its inhabitants. The people did as God asked: they put on sackcloth, fasted, and repented of their evil ways. True to His word, God forgot his anger and spared the city.

Where Jonah had failed, the people of Ninevah succeeded: they obeyed God immediately. Nevertheless, this made Jonah sulk. Over the next two days, God used an object lesson with a shady plant to teach Jonah about His great concern for the city. The final verse of the Book of Jonah shows us precisely where God's heart is focused.

“And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:11)

God had no wish to destroy the people; He sought their repentance and a repaired relationship with them. If He destroyed Ninevah, not only would the people die, so would the innocent animals.

Our disobedience doesn't just have personal ramifications; it also impacts those around us. One person's substance abuse harms not only the person, but all her family members. Another person's addiction to pornography "doesn't hurt anyone," until his relationship with his wife falls apart. Disobedience is radioactive.

Where is God calling you to repent, and return to Him? Are you listening to the Jonahs in your life? Do you love any person or animals which might be harmed by your continued disobedience to God? God is a loving Father to whom you can bring that secret. Trust Him with it, because He is so much mightier than whatever is tripping you up. Like the people of Ninevah, who were ignorant of how their sin was warping them, you might not have a clue how your sin might be poisoning your life. As He told Jonah, God has a special place in His heart for those people who finally turn back to Him. He will never turn you away!


Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. (Exodus 11:5)

So they took soot from a furnace and stood before Pharaoh. Moses tossed it into the air, and festering boils broke out on people and animals. (Exodus 9:10)

"When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys." (Joshua 6:20-21)

"But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:1-4)

“And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:11)

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