Many of you know, I starting hunting last Fall. My friend Terry, mentored me with the process. During gun season, I shot my first buck within the first hour of sitting in the stand. I am hooked! My friend Dan helped me process the deer, and I am confident going into deer season 2020 that I can do the whole process myself.
Hunting is a lot different from what I expected. That first day sitting in a deer stand and on my first rabbit hunt, I was thinking “Where has this been my whole life?” I love it. But killing an animal requires a person to ask questions. When you get answers, it leads to more questions, which requires deeper thinking on the subject.
One of the things I have been surprised about is how much the average hunter cares for the animals they kill. It was explained to me like this: animal rights activists generally care more about the individual animal, while hunters care more about the health of the entire species and ecosystem. I have found this to be accurate. From Daniel Boone to Teddy Roosevelt, there has been a strong connection between the hunter, the animal, and the land. Hunters don’t hunt because they hate the animal. They hunt because they love the animal.
I remember my grandfather telling me about the absence of whitetail deer in Southern Illinois. My dad told me he rarely saw deer when he was growing up in the ’60s. I was shocked because we regularly saw deer in our front yard and we lived in the middle of town miles from the woods. At the time, I didn’t think about the why and how behind the higher population of deer today compared to 80 years ago. It wasn’t until I started hunting that I was driven to find out that answer.
In 1775, at the commission of investors, Daniel Boone cut the famous wilderness trail through what is now called the Cumberland Gap. The “Road” effectively connected Virginia and other coastal states to the west side of the Appalachia Mountains. Boone found fame in Kentucky as a hunter, trapper, and land scout. In the Bluegrass, there was an abundance of buffalo, deer, elk, bears, turkeys, otters, and many other animals. Kentucky was described as an Eden like place, with the exception of it being already inhabited by Natives understandably upset about people invading their hunting land.
In just a couple of decades, word spread about Kentucky and its resources. Driven by the fur trade, market hunters and trappers came by the thousands. Seemingly, in the blink of an eye, animal populations began to be wiped out. What happened in Kentucky is representative of what happened in every place just ahead of western expansion in the US. Without any regulations in place, animals were slaughtered at a horrific rate.
Consider some of these statistics. Before 1850 there was an estimated 30-50 million buffalo that roamed much of North America. By 1900, the population of wild buffalo in North America was 541. To a lesser degree, the same thing happened with whitetail deer, elk, moose, bears and almost every other big and small game animal. Sadly, unregulated hunting almost wiped out wild game in our country in a little over 150 years.
Theodore Roosevelt is almost universally revered. What’s not to love about Teddy? He was the manliest of any of our presidents. He once took a bullet to the chest only to stand up and make a speech before going to the hospital! He was an outdoorsman and an author. A true renaissance man. His significance to the discussion is found in his love for both hunting and conservation. What Roosevelt saw, was if we didn’t take conservation seriously, then our wild game would be completely eradicated.
The President’s efforts would give birth to a conservation movement that would regulate hunting, procure land, and fight for the recovery of the very animals we almost hunted to extinction. A little further downstream from his efforts was the uniting of hunters and conservation through the Pittman-Robertson Act in 1937(also known as the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act). This act was put into law and required an 11% tax on hunting, shooting, fishing, and trapping equipment to pay for the conservation of lands and animals. When you visit a national park or see a picture of a large Grizzly bear, you should thank Teddy Roosevelt, and the hunters and fisherman you know.
State and Federal wildlife management and conservation offices have done a remarkable job. It’s measurable. Animal populations have grown and have been reintroduced to states they once lived. Southern Illinois got it’s deer and turkey’s back and they are flourishing. Buffalo populations grew and are now around 500,000 animals in North America. If it were not for the efforts of conservationists and hunters over the last 100 years or so, the animals we so love would be extinct in our land.
The Sovereignty of God
All this got me thinking about the sovereignty of God (God decrees and controls all things according to his will.) I affirm all of chapter 3 and chapter 5 in my confessional standard the 1689 London Baptist Confession. If you need definitions just google and check it out. Back to Roosevelt. We should be thankful for Teddy Roosevelt and the work that he did. But more than that, Christians have reason to worship. Because behind all conservation efforts is the hand of God. Though God’s common grace it is God who used Roosevelt and his efforts to preserve what we have today. It is a powerful example of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.
When God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are misunderstood, bad things are believed and done. The Bible teaches a marvelous paradox; God’s is sovereign over all things, even sin, and humans are responsible for their own actions. God decrees all things that have ever been, and humans make real choices. To deny either of those truths requires a person to deny the Bible. But it is easy to get out of balance.
Most of the time Christians are out of balance on the human agency side. Our culture and many Christians idolize free will. God’s sovereignty is rarely mentioned by free-willers and is at best affirmed with a million caveats. And there are some of the other side in which sovereignty is turned into fatalism while real choices are at best affirmed with a million caveats.
What we see through conservation efforts is God’s sovereignty working through means. The means happen to be people who are both believers and non-believers in Christ. What if Roosevelt did not fight to preserve animal life and habitat? What if he was a fatalist and shrugged his shoulders saying “God is going to do what God is going to do?”
I have been thinking about the implications of this with regard to evangelism, discipleship, and parenting. I believe strongly in the sovereignty of God and his providence over all things. Therefore, I want to rigorously fight for that which is good and beautiful. Like Roosevelt did for wild game, I want to fight for things that matter. I want to fight for the glory of God in my family and city for future generations. Away with the mentality that sits back and thinks “Well God is sovereign, why should I try?!” He is sovereign so do something! Or we can do nothing, watch everything fall apart, and say “At least God is in charge.”