What about the animals?

Jonah 4:11 (NLT) But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

As I write this, I’m overlooking a sort of forest woodland. In the last few minutes I have seen an abundance of nature! I’ve seen ducks, squirrels, deer, rabbits and even what I think was a stoat.

Due to the Coronavirus, the woodland has largely been abandoned at the moment. I suspect that the sudden drop in guests will quite badly affect the wildlife here. Over time I am sure they have become somewhat dependent on the food given to them by visitors. This area will be closed to the public for several weeks leaving the animals to fend for themselves for a while.

While the sudden drop in available food will be a bit of a shock to them, I am not overly worried about them. God cares for people, but He cares for His creation also.

There have been a number of posts on social media about panic buying and stockpiling. As a result, many food banks and charities have seen a dip in food donations. This is not limited to charities offering support for people either, and a number of animal rescue shelters are struggling too. The Coronavirus is affecting the whole world in myriad ways.

The verse above is quoted from the book of Jonah in the Old Testament. In fact, it is the closing verse of that book. Most people recall that Jonah was once swallowed by a big fish, but in case you don’t know the rest of the story, here is a brief summary.

God called Jonah to preach to the non-Jewish (Gentile) city of Nineveh. Instead, Jonah heads in the complete opposite direction and boards a ship to Tarshish. A great storm swamps the ship, and in the end Jonah confesses to the crew that he is the cause of their struggle. Ultimately they have to throw him overboard to still the storm.

It is at this point – more or less – that Jonah is swallowed by the fish. The fish later spews up the reluctant prophet on to the shoreline, and Jonah finally goes to Ninevah as he was instructed.

Jonah did not want to go to Ninevah and preach because he was afraid the people would listen to him… He knew that if they heard his message, they would repent and turn back to God – and God would forgive them. Imagine that?

After he gives his message, he goes and sits outside the city to see what would happen. The sun is burning hot, and he grows weary. God causes a vine to grow up beside him and offer him some shelter. Later however, a worm comes along and eats the root of the vine so it withers and Jonah loses his shade.

It’s something of an odd story right? Indeed it is, but it is really about who is in charge. God is running the show throughout, and He gives Jonah the vine and quickly takes it away to demonstrate to Jonah that he has no control in the situation. God wants Jonah to realise that He cares for the people of Ninevah.

The book of Jonah closes with the verse above. God tells Jonah He is right to care for the 120,000 people living there. We don’t know what happened to Jonah after this, but let’s hope he learned a lesson!

Perhaps 15 years ago, I had a dog who was very poorly. They had a particularly bad night, and we had to contact an emergency vet. The next day I happened to be reading this closing chapter of Jonah. I’ll always remember that because I recall very vividly this final verse. As well as the 120,000 people, God specifically mentions the animals also.

The word animals here is sometimes translated as cattle, so perhaps refers to farm animals or bovine species. Whatever it refers to though, it is clear that God cares for the animals also.

Animals are a part of God’s creation. While they are not as important as people, they are important. We have a responsibility to take care of them, and must certainly not mistreat them.

Spare a thought this week for all those affected by the Coronavirus. We must prioritise helping people with various needs at this time. We, the church, may not be able to gather together in large numbers, but we can and must continue to be Jesus’ hands and feet on the Earth. Call an isolated family member. Check on an elderly neighbour. Let’s do what we can to share God’s love in this difficult time.

As well as those things, and if you’re not overstretched, do consider whether there are ways to take care of God’s creation also. You might consider grabbing a can of dog food to pass on to a struggling pet owner. Perhaps you could walk a friend’s dog. Maybe, like me, there is a nearby animal shelter who could do with a helping hand at this difficult time.

Like many, I’m deeply disappointed to read stories of fighting in supermarkets and immoral seller hiking up prices. There are plenty of positives stories also, and we – the church – should be leading the way in that.

How can you be a blessing to those around you at this time? And remember, God cares about the animals also.