Do animals have spirits?
Published: 8 August 2020 (GMT+10)
Bruce A. wrote in response to a Creation magazine article, The majestic gorilla:
Dear Lita and Robert,
Thanks for an informative and interesting article on gorillas.
However, I was deeply concerned by this statement in the last section of the article: “they (gorillas) are as spiritually alive as a box of rocks.” Please explain your Biblical basis for this statement. My Bible tells me that animals have spirits (Ecc 3:21). And Rev 5:13 tells us that ALL creatures on the earth and in the seas will praise God. In contrast, I know of no scriptures which say that rocks, in or out of a box, have a spirit.
Remember that when Jehovah God spoke to Noah after the Flood, He also addressed the animals, and promised both us and them that He would not send another world-wide Flood (Gen 9:8 to 17). Also notice that God has beasts with Him in Heaven (Rev 5:8, 15:7, etc) and there will be beasts living with us during the Millennium of Peace (Isa 11:1 to 9). Psalm 145:15-17 tells us that the animals call out to God and ask Him for food. It is but a small extrapolation to believe that when the birds and whales are singing, they are praising God for the world they live in and for giving them life. And like us, they are waiting for the Redemption (Rom 8:19 to 23).
Yes, they cannot become Children of God as we can. But who among us truly knows what a gorilla thinks, let alone if it is capable of worship? We are “infinitely above the gorilla”? Whose sin broke the Creation and caused the Flood, the gorilla’s sin or ours? The Bible does not teach us to denigrate animals so we can glorify ourselves.
Thank you for writing in. We are always grateful when ‘pushback’ from a reader gives us the opportunity to further consider interesting questions.
We definitely agree that humans should not ‘denigrate’ animals. They are part of God’s creation, after all. We can think of awful practices like bear-baiting and bullfighting that involve humans deriving entertainment from an innocent animal’s torture. Our modern sensibilities make us cringe at the thought. But treating animals well is also a biblical principle. Proverbs 12:10 says, “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.”
Yet there is nothing in the Bible that indicates animals can be saved, can sin like a human, or have any concept of spiritual things. Yes, they play and sing and frolic and do all sorts of things that seem to relate to their Creator with joy. But this does not mean there is a spiritual connection to God or some deep intellectual understanding of what is happening in their lives.
Do animals praise God and ask Him to provide for them? No. These are poetic ways of speaking. God is glorified by birdsong and whale song, but the birds and whales are acting out of instinct. There is no finch equivalent of “A mighty fortress is our God”. God is also glorified by providing food and shelter for animals, but there is no equivalent to our asking “give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:9–13) for them.
Animals may have a richer emotional experience than was traditionally ascribed to them. When a gorilla infant dies, its mother displays mourning behavior, guarding the corpse from predators while displaying all the hormonal changes a mourning human would experience. We are inclined to say the gorilla is mourning her dead infant without a bunch of qualifiers. But we cannot really know what the gorilla is thinking. We can assume she is suffering emotionally based on her behavior, we can assume she knows something is dreadfully wrong with the infant. But does she have an understanding of what death is or the concept of an eternal soul? Probably not, to put it mildly.
And to get to the heart of your message, can animals commune with God? No. They are spiritually not alive. That is, they are soul-like and spirit-like (see Nephesh chayyāh), but without the ability to relate directly to God they simply do not understand their position in the universe. This is why we’re permitted to kill and eat them, while murder is a heinous sin as well as a crime. Humans are more valuable than gorillas, because humans and not gorillas are made in the image of God. A human can worship God, place faith in Christ, and be indwelt by the Holy Spirit. An animal cannot.
But just as humans have great privileges compared to the animals, we face much greater judgment apart from Christ. It doesn’t matter how many of its rival gorillas a silverback kills, he is not guilty of murder and will not go to Hell. There is no category for animal ‘sin’. Under Old Testament law, if an animal kills a human it must die (Exodus 21:28), but that is simply killing a dangerous animal, not imposing the death penalty.
You say that the Bible does not teach us to denigrate animals so that we can glorify ourselves. But I don’t believe that stating the truth about an animal—namely, that the gorilla, while it is a magnificent creature, has no spiritual life—is denigrating it at all.
I hope these further thoughts on the matter are helpful.