It all happens about 10 feet from our front door. Strapped to a dogwood tree is a motion activated camera – popularly called a trail camera. The camera captures pictures and videos of the animals that make our yard either their home or their highway. About 15 feet away from the camera, and 10 feet from our door, is a small pile of corn that we refresh every evening. It’s intended to both feed and entice the animals to spend a little more time posing for the camera.
We get visited by all the expected suburban critters: squirrels, rabbits, birds large and small and of every feather color, the occasional neighborhood cat. But we also get nocturnal visitors that are a little less expected, though not shocking: racoons, possums, skunks. When we pull the SD card in the morning, plug it into the computer and the thumbnails populate, there’s one animal in particular that we are looking for. The corn now a consistent offering, most nights we have them. Deer. Last night there were six of them.
We live in the suburbs. It’s not exactly the fringe of the wilderness. Seeing the kinds and numbers of animals we do reminds me of two things from the Bible: 1. Humans and animals originally occupied the same space. 2. A delayed consequence of sin is that animals are afraid of us.
Humans and Animals Together
It’s the middle of the night, and the deer are munching contentedly on the corn in the front yard and thirst has awakened me. Walking slowly I make my way to the window and smile as the group of four eats.
I stand there for a few minutes enjoying the show. They are happy; I am happy.
When God created everything, it was good. But it was nameless. The great variety and abundance God had made remained a beautiful but unidentified teeming mass. Identification, the personal trait of having a name, was a task given to Adam. God brought all the animals to Adam “to see what he would name them.”
Giving something a name is a personal, almost sacred task, especially in ancient cultures. Today, we give names to our children for a variety of reasons. Everything from liking the sound of the name to honoring important people in our lives (each of my sons is named for one of their grandfathers). Adam had no history to honor, but he did have connection.
God brought the animals to Adam. In Eden there was no fear, there was no distance or separation. Making it admittedly modern, Adam may have run his fingers through the thick mane before saying, “lion,” or perhaps hugged the long probascis before proclaiming “elephant.”
Every so often, like when I stand at my window and watch the deer calmly eating just feet away, I think of God’s good creation. I wish that it could be like that again. It will be. In the meantime, I’ll keep feeding the animals and caring for the little bits of creation I can.
And when I move too fast and they startle and run away, I remember the other thing.
Animals and Sin
The white of the flagging tails is visible until the deer cross the street, which at their pace, doesn’t take long.
“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” (Genesis 9:2).
There’s always something fascinating about getting close to a wild animal. It’s become instinctive that we don’t do that anymore. The product of humanity’s declaration of independence from God is separation—from God, each other, and from the natural world. So, when we do happen to be close to the “wild” we are awestruck. It comes out in our naturally slow movements, our quieted tone. There is something reverent in our approach to the animals we once knew intimately.
When God covered Adam and Eve with the animal skins, it was a significant moment. The animals that Adam knew, that he had named, were sacrificed for his choice. Adam could immediately see the consequences of his choice. He could see and feel the weight of his actions draped over his shoulders. One of the creatures that he had been close to, that he had connected with, now lay dead and its skin covered Adam and Eve.
But the separation didn’t stop there. Rather, it wasn’t a one-time event. After the flood, God told Noah and his kin, that the animals they had saved would now be afraid of them. The animals that had streamed to Noah for safety and rescue would now bolt at the sight and smell of him. God’s washing of the earth did not take away all effects of humanity’s sin. There was still separation.
One day, there won’t be a window between me and the deer. One day perhaps I’ll feed them by hand and give them my own names. Until then, I’ll enjoy luring them in front of my camera and watching them the next morning. I’ll try to do the job that Adam made difficult. Join me?