Is God Cruel to Animals?
When I was a young Christian, I read the Old Testament to get to know God better. And yet, when I read the Lord’s command to Joshua, it stopped me in my tracks:
“The LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, because by this time tomorrow I will hand all of them, slain, over to Israel. You are to hamstring their horses and burn their chariots.”” (Joshua 11:6)
I had a difficult time reconciling this statement with the God I had come to know and love. Why would God have ordered such torture upon his creatures? Didn’t God care about His beautiful horses?
I wrestled with this quality of God, and it lay unresolved for a long time. When unbelievers or agnostics brought up negative characteristics of God, I remembered this verse and had to concede that their perspective was understandable.
Of course, I understood the practical aspect of God’s intent. He didn’t want the Israelites to put their trust in advanced weaponry for their triumph in battle. It was God who gave them the victory. Many times, he would assure their win through supernatural means, like overcoming thick fortifications through nothing but sound (Joshua 6) or winning a battle against an army with just a handful of men (Judges 7). Hamstringing the horses would render them incapable of speed, making them useless for battle. But why inflict pain upon innocent animals?
The answer didn’t come to me until decades later. When she was in her 80s, my mother fell and broke her shoulder in four places. The surgeon was afraid to fix her shoulder, given that her heart wasn’t strong enough for the anesthesia. My mother would have to live with a broken shoulder for the rest of her life. The pain of the injury should have been unbearable. But it wasn’t. My mother never felt any pain, from the moment she broke it onwards. I still marvel at this benevolent act of God. Although it limited her movement, the broken bones never caused my mother any suffering.
God wanted to gauge Joshua’s obedience, and Joshua was faithful to carry out the Lord’s wishes. The horses were hamstrung. The account doesn’t specifically say that the horses suffered—but neither does it say that they didn’t. Could God have prevented the horses from feeling any pain? Yes! If God has shown us anything, it is that He has power over the laws of nature. He can cause the sun to stop moving in the sky (Joshua 10:12-14), a sea to part its waters (Exodus 14:21-22), and animals to talk (Numbers 22:28). God is certainly capable of suspending pain.
We hear accounts of martyrs singing as they are being put to death. Is the Lord capable of removing excruciating pain? Yes! He has done so on me, and I have seen it done on others. The concept I had as a young person of God as being callous toward animals was wrong; I simply did not yet have the frame of reference to know God better. I long for the day to know God fully, and the longer I walk with Him, the deeper that knowledge becomes.
If you have doubts about God, or if there is something you don’t understand, bring it to God in prayer. The Bible promises that if you seek God, He will draw near to you. Ask all things of Him, and He will answer at the right time. God is good, and on that promise, we can rely!
“His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of the warrior; the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” (Psalm 147:10-11)