As is my custom, even when I am busy during services taking notes on the computer for our congregation’s deaf and hard of hearing members, I tend to think about the messages that I hear and often find material worthy of commentary and response of some kind. Yesterday at services we had a sermon by our associate pastor that dealt with the subject of Jesus Christ (and brethren) as lambs of God. By and large I found the message quite intriguing and thought provoking. There was one aspect, though, which I thought worthy of some clarification as it relates to some aspects of life that I take rather personally and that bear rather heavily not only on my own personal existence but on that of many other people (and animals as well) that was referred to in the message.
The passage in question today is a familiar one, Isaiah 11:6-9, which reads as follows: ““The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” This passage is very familiar, especially to those of us who keep the Feast of Tabernacles, where these verses are read and commented upon on at least a yearly basis, if not more frequently. And although I prefer to speak on areas and passages that are more obscure, I have even spoken on these verses myself when talking about life in the millennium, and no doubt many others have as well even in those places where I have not been in the Feast of Tabernacles.
The speaker commented, as many do, about the changes that will be required in predator animals for this passage to be fulfilled. And such changes are obvious. If no one, human or animal, is to hurt and destroy on God’s holy mountain during the millennium, then it is obvious that a change in the nature of predatory animals (and people) has to change. Predatory beings, by definition, hurt and destroy. We do so for a variety of reasons. To the extent that our appetites require that other living beings suffer and die, in a world that tends to encourage people to act out the fulfilling of their desires and appetites, destruction and hurt is the natural result, whether that harm is to another human being or to those animals that we eat for food. This is a fact that is trivial enough that few of us bother to stop and think that just like wolves and bears and lions and poisonous snakes, we are beings who hurt and destroy others, and this part of our own nature will have to change in the world to come.
The speaker commented that the nature of prey animals will not have to change in the dramatic way as that of predators. In some respects, this is true. Prey animals are, by nature, subject to the depredations and tyranny of predators. Their vulnerability to harm and destruction by those who are stronger and more vicious than themselves is what makes them prey just as viciousness and the capacity and will to harm and destroy other beings to satisfy one’s appetites is what makes one a predator. Since prey animals do not cause hurt or destruction, that part of their nature will not have to change, that is true. But there are some aspects of the nature of prey animals that will have to change. Being a prey animal does not mean that one is innocent. Indeed, the way that prey animals survive a dangerous and hostile world is to be vigilant and anxious and relentlessly aware of threats in their environment. And for millennial peace and harmony to fill the earth, this aspect of the nature of prey animals will have to change. It is not enough that there will be no harm and destruction in God’s holy mountain, but that there will be no fear or anxiety about the possibility of hurt. And that is something else altogether.
Beings that have been preyed upon, or who believe that others wish to prey upon them, show the damage that results from such a belief. In humanity, the responses of being preyed upon are symptomatic of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, with hypervigilance about threats, anxiety about one’s lack of security in a dangerous world, hyperarousal at potential threats that leads to what seems to others to be a grossly inappropriate response, and so on and so forth. What is considered to be inappropriate responses on the part of human beings is quite natural and appropriate behavior for gazelles at a watering hole, where lions are lurking, or among wildebeests seeking to cross a river filled with hungry crocodiles. Such animals do live in an objectively dangerous environment and their hypervigilance and hyperarousal concerning the threats of predators in their world is an entirely proper response in a world like ours where there are so many threats and dangers. And to be honest, it is not an unreasonable response among human beings who face predators quite easily enough from within our own kind to show the characteristic responses of prey animals once they have had the painful experience of being preyed upon by others, which happens often enough to be a crisis among contemporary humankind.
Given this, it is little surprise that Paul would write the following in Philippians 4:6: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” One of, if not the, most frequent calls by God in the Bible for believers is to be not afraid, to have courage, to not be anxious and timid and fearful. As the Bible compares our adversary Satan the devil to a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, it follows that we are his intended prey. It also follows that those who prey on other human beings are in fact of the seed of Satan by virtue of their imitation of his example. Yet we are not called to have the fear and panic that prey animals show in the presence of predators. The absence of Satan and the change of the nature of predatory animals will mean that there will be no hurt and destruction within the millennial realm. However, for there to be genuine peace and a feeling of security, those who once were the prey of others will have to feel safe. And it is by no means necessary that the reality of safety brings with it the feeling of safety. The feeling of safety and the absence of fear and anxiety will itself require a change of nature, but rather in the nature of a healing from the horrors that one has seen and experienced in one’s life or in one’s memory or imagination. And, it should be noted, that those who suffer in their imagination, in their nightmares, are often those people who have already suffered enough in their reality. And such suffering will have to be healed for them to be at peace in any world to come. Let us pray for that kingdom to come, along with the healing of body and mind and heart and spirit that will come with it.