“So the man named all the animals, the birds of the air, and the living creatures of the field..” Genesis 2:20
Through our information-obsessed minds we’ve looked upon this story with dull eyes. We watch Adam mechanically name each species of animal. “This one shall be rabbit,” he says, and marks the appropriate spot on his clipboard—as if, in God’s eternal garden, categorization was so very important.
What is important to God is relationship. Community. Connection between individuals. In the bible, naming was a sacred act. It meant something. When Jacob wrestled God (and won!), God renamed him Israel (meaning “wrestles with God”). The name captured something unique about this unique individual.
So maybe, when Adam was naming the animals, he wasn’t establishing a taxonomical structure. Maybe he was connecting with friends. He wasn’t saying “you shall be called ‘turtle,’” he was saying, “I’ll call you Norbert.” He wasn’t saying “this is a duck,” he was saying, “hey Maude!”
This makes so much more sense of a God who loves each animal. A God who cares about each sparrow (Matthew 10:29), and saved a city from destruction because of some cows (Jonah 4:11). A God who identifies as a lion (Revelation 5:5), a lamb (John 1:29), and even as a mother hen (Matthew 23:37).
Animals are important. Each one.
In our world, though, animals are not so important. Oh, sure, dogs are. And maybe cats. And we all love pictures of cute baby animals. But we also live in a perverted place where we’re each dependent on cars, which slaughter countless animals every day. Just look at the carnage on the sides of our freeways. Drive through Wisconsin in the fall. You’ll find a decimated deer carcass every couple miles or so.
We become desensitized. We shrug our shoulders and move on.
To combat this apathy, something my wife and I do is we name each roadkill we see. We’ll be driving along and one of us will break the silence with a “Karen,” or a “Walter,” or a “Quincy.” Then we’ll take a brief moment, an impromptu ceremony, to appreciate each one. It’s silly, for sure, and it does nothing to help the victims. But it does guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23). It keeps us in an appreciative spirit, keeps us oriented to the actual value of things in a world that so ruthlessly disregards the precious and exults the meaningless. We’re dependent on cars. But we don’t have to let this fact harden our hearts.
Naming the animals is simply one tactic to help, one little way to push back against the deluge of messages that pressure us to think “they’re just animals,” and dupe us into lifestyles that are horrendously violent (even if that violence is conveniently hidden from our dumbed-down eyes). The point is, we can make choices to maintain a sensitive heart. At the very least, we can do as Adam did: we can name the animals.