A Suffering World in Sympathy with Suffering Man
For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. Romans 8:22
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Romans 8:22
For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Romans 8:22
From the ruin of man, our Apostle naturally turns his consideration to the ruin in which the apostasy of man plunged the whole creation- animate and inanimate. If another link were needed to perfect the chain of evidence demonstrating the existence of the Divine curse for man's sin, this passage would seem to supply it. We read of no blight resting on the material world, of no suffering in the brute creation, prior to the period of Adam's transgression. The present is just the reverse of the original constitution of the world. When God made all things he pronounced them very good. We delight to look back and imagine what this world was when, like a newborn planet, it burst from the Fountain of Light, all clad with beauty, radiant with holiness, and eloquent with praise. The winds blew not rudely then- the verdure withered and died not then- the flowers drooped and faded not then. There were no tornadoes, no earthquakes, no volcanoes, no electric clouds. All the materials and elements of nature were harmless, and in harmony, because all were sinless. Innocence and happiness reigned over the irrational creation. The whole world was at rest, because man was at peace with God, at peace with his fellows, at peace with himself. There was nothing to darken, to hurt, or destroy in all God's holy mountain. Man was in "league with the stones of the field, and the beasts of the field were at peace with him." Oh, what a world of love, and what a picture of loveliness was our pure creation then! But what is it now?
"The whole creation groans and travails in pain." Speak we of the material world? What is our earth, but a globe of volcanic fire, smouldering in its center, ever and anon bursting forth and burying smiling villages and magnificent cities beneath its torrents of flame? What is the wind, but a fierce sirocco, bearing pestilence and death upon its sweeping wings? And what is the sea, but a vast cemetery, its mountain waves the crested monuments of the millions it has engulfed in its yawning abyss? Yes, what are earth, and air, and water, but agents of destruction, messengers of death to man, as if in vengeance for his sin? Speak we of the brute creation? How does it groan and travail in pain! To what suffering, what cruelty, what death is it subject! Yes, every creature that we meet, and every object we behold, supplies an evidence of man's fall, and bears the frown of God's curse. One loud, agonizing, and universal wail of mourning, lamentation, and woe bursts from the whole creation, as it groans and travails in pain, from the first moment of the apostasy until now.
Let us pause and contemplate this overpowering evidence of sin. Why is the ground cursed? Why is this once beautiful and fertile earth sown with briers and noxious weeds? so that, were the laborer to withdraw his hand, the richest and loveliest spot would be abandoned to the spontaneous and luxuriant growth of the deadly nightshade, and the poisonous nettle, and unpruned trees, and wild forests- the haunt of every savage beast, and the abode of man yet more savage. Why this ferocity and deadly enmity in the brute creation- tribe warring with tribe, and animal the prey and food of animal? Because of man's transgression. Oh, Sin, what have you done! Thus closely is a suffering world linked with suffering man. Thus the whole creation- material and animal- sympathizes with the weight of woe that crushes our race to the earth. When man fell, God cursed the ground, and cursed the brutes of the field, for man's sake; and now the whole creation groans and travails in pain until the time of the restitution of all things shall arrive.
It will not, we trust, be considered either inappropriate to, or beneath the dignity of our subject, if we, in this connection, point out the proper feeling of sympathy with which the sufferings of the brute creation should be regarded by man, the author of those sufferings. We have already adverted to the fact of the origin of all woe- man's sin. And yet, clear as this is, how fearfully is the suffering of inferior tribes, first occasioned by human transgression, aggravated and increased by human cruelty! It is impossible to open the eye without seeing the fact, or to contemplate it, when seen, without horror. The dominion and authority which God gave man over the beasts of the field contained no clause whatever giving him a right or power to subject them to the exercise of unnecessary suffering and barbarity. We find the terms of the original grant to be, "The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moves upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered." But is not the authority over the irrational creature with which man is here invested, a restricted authority? Unquestionably. Is he warranted by the terms of the grant to exercise the plenitude of power thus given, arbitrarily, ferociously, inhumanely? Is it a liberty to use the brute creation as he pleases? By no means. It is the authority of man made in the similitude of Him who is love, extending over brute dependants, and not the authority of demons over their helpless victims. It is impossible, too, to contemplate the natural condition of the animal world- their susceptibility of pain, and their sense of kindness, gratefully and unmistakably shown, without tracing a strong resemblance to ourselves. "These poor animals," remarks an eloquent and benevolent writer, "just look and tremble, and give forth the very indications of suffering that we do. Theirs is the distinct cry of pain- theirs is the unequivocal physiognomy of pain- they put on the same aspect of terror on the demonstration of a menaced blow- they exhibit the same distortions of agony after the infliction of it.
The bruise, or the burn, or the fracture, or the deep incision, or the fierce encounter with one of equal or inferior strength, just affects them similarly to ourselves. Their blood circulates as ours- they have pulsations in various parts of the body like ours- they sicken and they grow feeble with age, and finally die just as we do- they possess the same feelings, and what exposes them to like suffering from another quarter, they possess the same instincts with our own species. The lioness robbed of her whelps, causes the wilderness to ring aloud with the proclamation of her wrongs; and the bird whose little household has been taken, fills and saddens all the grove with melodies of the deepest pathos. All this is palpable even to the general and unlearned eye; and when the physiologist lays open the recesses of their system by means of that scalpel under whose operation they just shrink and are convulsed as any living subject of our own species, there stands forth to view the same sentient apparatus, and furnished with the same conductors for the transmission of feeling to every minutest pore upon the surface. Theirs is unmixed and unmitigated pain- the agonies of martyrdom, without the alleviation of the hopes and the sentiments whereof they are incapable. When they lay them down to die, their only fellowship is with suffering; for in the prison-house of their bounded faculties, there can no relief be afforded of communion with other interests or other things. The attention does not lighten their distress, as it does that of man, by carrying off his spirit from that existing pungency and pressure which might else be overwhelming. There is but room in their mysterious economy for one inmate, and that is the absorbing sense of their own single and concentrated anguish. And so in that bed of torment, whereon the wounded animal lingers and expires, there is a depth and intensity of suffering, which the poor dumb animal itself cannot tell, and against which it can offer no remonstrance; an untold and unknown amount of wretchedness, of which no articulate voice gives utterance. But there is an eloquence in its silence, and the very shroud which disguises it, only serves to aggravate its horrors!" (Chalmers).
To say nothing of the spirit and the precepts of Christianity, where is the humanity that from sinister motives can overwork, or from a love of sport can wantonly and cruelly abuse the jaded and suffering, yet noble brute, placed in our power, contributing to our convenience, and over whom God has constituted us not the lord but the guardian- not the tormentor, but the friend? And who can think of the pastime of 'the pit', and the sports of the field, and the needless torture of the slaughter-house, without a cheek burning with indignation? But God, the infinitely great God, has a tender regard for the irrational part of his creation. He commands us to be their advocate against heartless cruelties: "Open your mouth for the dumb." And he will, hating nothing that he has created, make inquisition for blood; he will redress their wrongs, and visit their merciless taskmasters and inhuman oppressors with tokens of his just displeasure. How striking and touching is his tender regard for the inferior race as exhibited in his word!- "You shall not muzzle the ox when he treads out the corn." "You shall not see your brother's donkey or his ox fall down by the way, and hide yourself from them. You shall surely help them, to lift them up again." "You open your hand and supply the needs of every living thing." "He gives to the beast his food, and to the young ravens when they cry." The regard which we pay to the brute creation must always be considered a test of disposition and character. "A righteous man regards the life of his beast." No individual can be trusted for his humane feeling to his own species who is not humane in his feelings towards the inferior tribes. It is recorded, that when an ancient senate of the Areopagites were assembled in the open air, a small bird, to escape a larger one of prey, took refuge in the bosom of one of the senators, who, being of a cruel disposition, hurled it from him so rudely, that he killed it. On which the senate instantly banished him from their presence, declaring that he who was destitute of humanity, even to a helpless and confiding bird, was unworthy the honor of a seat in their body. An indulged propensity, of cruelty to insects, or larger animals, as Hogarth has finely illustrated, has often ended in the perpetration of crimes of the deepest dye. Those who have wantonly sported with life in inferior creatures, have come to sport with life in beings of a higher and nobler order. The author, then, as man is, of all the evil which affects the irrational world, let us learn to sympathize with its sufferings, and its travail; and thus lessen, and soothe, and hush, as far as God gives us influence and power, the curse we entailed, the pang we inflicted, and the sign we awoke.
Sad as is this picture of a suffering creation, dark and gloomy as is its coloring, it is not without its bright and cheering hues. Hope casts upon the somber canvas a strong and steady light. The Bible teaches that there is coming a day- oh, speed its dawning!- of millennial blessedness, when peace and repose shall be restored to this disordered world, and the groaning of the creation shall cease, its sighs be hushed, and its sufferings be terminated forever. When that period arrives we are told that the "In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard and the goat will be at peace. Calves and yearlings will be safe among lions, and a little child will lead them all. The cattle will graze among bears. Cubs and calves will lie down together. And lions will eat grass as the livestock do. Babies will crawl safely among poisonous snakes. Yes, a little child will put its hand in a nest of deadly snakes and pull it out unharmed. Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain. And as the waters fill the sea, so the earth will be filled with people who know the Lord." Isaiah 11:6-9. Then when the Restorer of all things shall come, there will be a "new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness." Such is the beauteous light with which this dark picture is clothed. Let us pray for its coming, and instrumentally hasten its approach; remembering that the world is to be filled with the knowledge of the Lord through the sanctified agency of the church.