My wife and I took our son to feed some ducks today. We packed him up in the stroller and went to a pond with some old bread. We have gone there a couple times now to do this, but even on the first visit (without bread) it was clear that we were not the first people to have come to see these ducks. As we approached, the ducks saw us coming and began to converge upon us.
If this had been just a few ducks, it might not have been noteworthy. But this is a group of some 40 or so ducks and a handful of Canada geese. When we went there today, the entire flock walked up to us as we drew near. Sort of like a scene out of The Walking Dead, where a mass of slow-moving, hungry creatures gradually makes its way toward you. There’s a lot of time to turn and run if need be, but you can’t help but sit and stare at this mass of ducks slowly waddling toward you. We were soon surrounded by ducks and geese, with mouths open, only somewhat patiently waiting to be fed.
As we got the bread out, the ducks and geese began to crowd us, and one of the geese even made a hissing sound as it held its beak open and demanded food. A couple of the ducks hopped up and down not 10 inches from my leg, mouths open. One even scampered under the stroller twice. The presence of humans did not make these birds nervous (though when I made sudden movements toward them to give our son some space, they shied away). I’ve never been surrounded by wild animals like this before, but it occurred to me that this tenuous balance between animals and people was only held in place by the fact that we were feeding them, but which threatened to break down at any moment if the animals got worked up or the food ran out.
I am accustomed to nature fearing humans. Deer in the woods take off almost before we can see them, squirrels run up trees, chipmunks dive into their holes, rabbits run into the bushes. Humans so dominate the world that animals have come to fear us, and rightly so. We don’t have a good track record of showing them much respect.
Sometimes when I’m out for a walk and I see a little chipmunk eyeing me, I think at it, “hey little guy, no need to run – I won’t hurt you.” Of course, it runs when I get too close…and this is expected. It’s actually a weird feeling when that doesn’t happen – when nature doesn’t flee.
We had a squirrel in our back yard who was used to foraging the crumbs and detritus left over after my son’s outdoor snack, so he was not quite as afraid of humans as the other squirrels. There was a period of time when it would approach my son in the grass, and my defensive instinct would kick in. “Why isn’t this squirrel afraid? Is there something wrong with it? Am I gonna have to kick this squirrel?”
Being surrounded by ducks brought back a similar feeling. An unsettling feeling. “Why don’t these birds fear us? Is there something wrong with them? Will I need to defend my son or wife if they suddenly get aggressive?” (Geese can get nasty)
What should the “norm” be here? Is it truly natural for animals to fear humans? Genesis 2:19-20 says, “Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.” It seems to me that if God originally paraded animals before Adam for naming, and these animals coexisted with Adam and Eve in the garden, then that fear was not in place. This, of course, requires a literal interpretation of the text and one which I will continue with for the sake of the thought process.
Earlier, verse 16 says that the humans were free to eat of any tree in the garden but one. It wasn’t until after the Flood in Genesis 9 that God specifically told humans they could now eat all living things, a delay that seems to suggest that before this they may not have eaten meat. So if killing animals was not a common practice, it would seem then that animals would have no reason to fear humans. This may have made loading them up into the ark relatively easy (the peace of God upon them to guide them to the ark in the first place notwithstanding). In Gen. 9:2, after the animals were unloaded from the ark, God said, “The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands.” This seems to be the point where animals now fear humans – and the point where God seems to give permission to eat animal meat.
This is all my novice attempt to speculate that perhaps the natural state of coexistence between humans and animals is actually a state of peace. Sin in the world has corrupted it, which led to an animal being killed for skin to clothe Adam and Eve after their sin. Perhaps God’s eventual “allowance” of meat-eating was an accommodation of some sort. At any rate, it seems like the initial plan was for humans and creatures to leave peacefully together.
This is reinforced later in Isaiah 65, where God tells of the new heaven and new earth. Isa. 65:25 states, “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food.” This peace between predator and prey sounds idyllic, and in such an idyllic setting one would also expect a similar relationship between humans and animals. At the end of verse 25 it says, “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” which suggests peaceful living among all things. So either humans are absent, or there is peace between humans and animals too. This is a beautiful image.
One day, we will be able to surround ourselves with quacking ducks and feed them without being nervous about there being something wrong with them or nervous about them getting out of control. One day, we will be able to say to the chipmunk, “It’s ok, don’t be afraid” and instead of fleeing it will sit in our hand. One day, the unnatural relationship between humans and animals will be reversed – healed – and we will finally experience what God had intended for His creation: peace among all living things.