Why does God treat animals differently?

I have a really interesting question brought about from a conversation with my vegan friend. It relates to the distinction between animals and humans and how humans are subject to the moral law whereas animals are not responsible…basically it seems to me that animals are supposed to be atheists. When God is the single greatest part of life and existence, why would He deprive animals of Himself? Why would God want animals to be atheists? It’s a scary thought because I’m thinking about nihilism and how if God didn’t exist or that if we were non-human animals we would have to live without God and that scares me.

On a second note, my friend does not understand why a loving God would allow meat (especially for animals who live through torture their entire lives then just end after life is over since they don’t have heaven/hell). Of all questions about the faith, none have stumped me quite like this one has.

Dear friend,

First of all, animals are not supposed to be atheists because they do not have the ability to choose not to believe in God. They simply can’t be atheists—or believers, for that matter. Animals fulfill a place in the natural scheme of all of creation. God created them to be in a higher place than plants, but lower than humans. By their being what He created them to be, they give glory to God in their ‘animalness.’

By the way, God is not a part of life; He is the Author of life! He is certainly not merely a bigger version of us. He is beyond our ability to fully fathom. All of creation reflects His goodness. The very fact that anything exists is a goodness that even the most intelligent of us cannot wrap the human mind around. (The question that atheists side step is: Why not nothing!)

But more to the point: to ask why a ‘loving God’ pre-supposes that we know how a loving God should be. In asking such a question, we are imposing our limited notion of loving on God. It is not for us to pass judgment on God, but for God to pass judgment on us! On Calvary God showed us, in a way we can understand, that He loves us. He also allows animals to kill and eat other animals. So pain is not the worst thing that can happen here or earth. Not loving Him, whose ways we don’t fully understand, is.

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

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