I was raised with a view of the afterlife which consisted of equal parts platonic dualism and fanciful folk theology replete with halos, clouds, harps, and interminable hymn singing. So it was a matter of considerable relief when I discovered that an orthodox Christian understanding of the afterlife was a far more holistic and this-worldly view, one that spoke about the redemption of all creation. I explored this concept in my 2013 book What on Earth Do We Know About Heaven? (promoted)
Once you consider that God is saving all creation, it opens up all sorts of fascinating and troubling questions, several of which I tackled in the book. One of those fascinating and troubling questions can be put like this: if God is redeeming carnivorous predators like lions and tigers as part of creation, and being a carniovorous predator appears to be essential to the majesty and fullness of being of these creatures, how can they achieve their telos while remaining a carnivorous predator? After all, isn’t the new creation supposed to be a place where suffering has come to an end? So will Aslan be defanged and declawed? How do we make sense of this?
In the chapter I devoted to this topic, I offer some thoughts for reflection including the possibility of predators restored into fullness in a way that both retains the majesty and fullness of their carnivorous, predatorial being while removing suffering and death.
The other day I received an email on this proposal from one of my former students, Pastor Jon Pettinger. I thought his reflections were fascinating and well worth sharing with y’all. So here they are reprinted with Jon’s kind permission.
I thought I’d drop you a note because a scene you describe in What on Earth Do We Know About Heaven? has been replaying in my mind over the last couple of days. If I recall correctly (it’s been sometime since I read the book!) you note that being a predator is integral to the identity of, well, predators. A tiger seems less of a tiger if it grazes in pasture rather than hunting. You invite your readers to imagine a tiger stalking and capturing a warthog only to release it. By doing so you entertain the possibility that in the new creation tigers will retain all of their tigerliness without being red in tooth and claw. I was entertained enough by the problem and the possibility that you raised that I have remembered it years after reading the book, but it didn’t feel like a satisfactory answer.
Episode 466 of The Meateater Podcast features Zooarchaeologist Corrine Schneider in a discussion about ancient hunting dogs. Dr. Schneider states that the most widely held theory regarding the domestication of dogs is that ancient wolves domesticated themselves. It is more likely that wolves started hanging out around humans because humans left gut piles and scraps around, than that humans (who had not yet domesticated anything) thought “Let’s bring that dangerous predator into our dwelling.”
As the discussion turns to modern hunting dogs the guests note that many desirable behaviours for a working dog would actually be counterproductive for a predator. When a hound is in pursuit of game it should bark so that its master knows where it is. Generally predators do not shout to let prey know when they are on the way! In many uses of hunting dogs the dog actually allows the human hunter to make the kill. Even my Labrador Retriever has to be “steady,” not breaking towards a duck until I’ve shot (and let’s be honest, I’m not sure my shooting is putting more meat on the table than his chasing would!).
Perhaps the most remarkable thing of all is that a working dog, whether it is a retriever fetching birds, or a hound running cats, allows the hunter to take the game that it has just worked so hard for. My retriever plunges into icy slough water, swims further than I could, grabs a duck, swims back, sits at my feet and when I say “dead” drops the duck into my hand. By comparison my contribution is fairly minimal. This behaviour seems especially unusual when I consider that labs have famously high food drive. Dr. Schneider emphasizes that dogs are an active partner in this domestication.
This made a tiger practicing catch and release seem a little more realistic––raising the possibility that we see and celebrate something similar on a regular basis.