Creation and animal suffering
Petra wonders why God created the world so that animals have to suffer. We eat them, many of them eat each other, some of them are used for medical studies and some of them are butchered so that vain people can wear the exotic. And in the Old Testament we have the God-appointed sacrifice of animals.
As the biblical record presents it, in the beginning when God created humans and animals they ate vegetation and not each other (Genesis 1:29-30). It is only subsequent to our sinful rebellion that animals became a source of food for humans and (apparently) for one another (Genesis 9:3-6). I’m certain in light of that, as a beginning, and the development of the redemptive Story that we should view animal death as well as human death in connection with the arrival of sin and God's redeeming purpose. As Genesis 9:5 seems to imply, a tension is to be seen between the animal world and the humans.
I’m not suggesting that animals thoughtfully developed enmity against humans but I am suggesting that the peaceful relationship between them that’s reflected in Genesis 2:19-20 and 1:29-30 deteriorated. The mechanisms involved in that would be another discussion but I’m sure we should take the whole curse narrative of Genesis 3:14-19 into account and see it as the outworking of God’s will. That will is never to be separated from God’s redemptive purpose, which embraces the entire creation (see Romans 8:18-23). And if we hear the scriptures teach that God knew about our coming rebellion—as I’m sure he did—and that he prepared the creation for that eventuality this might ease our concerns about animals that are structured as carnivores. (They didn't grow flesh-tearing teeth after we sinned though the appetite may have arrived at that point.)
Whatever we are to make of the texts there are those (like Isaiah 11:6-9) that speak of peace in the animal world when the Messiah completes his glorious work of restructuring human society in justice, love and mercy. I think the least we should take from such texts is this: that the peace of the animal world was disrupted in light of sinful rebellion and spiritual anarchy. When all this is done away then the entire creation finds peace. So the texts as they sit present peace in the animal world arriving with the spiritual restructuring of the human world.
I believe there are aspects of the suffering of the animal world that serve the purposes of God by convicting us of our sin. I believe that the whole sacrificial system of the Old Testament, while it certainly runs deeper than this, sets before us the suffering of the innocent that sinful humans can be granted fellowship with the Holy Father. These sacrificial animals certainly shadow forth the coming of the Lamb of God but in themselves and their loss they bear witness to our sin and the depth of God’s love toward us. To puzzle over such questions is right and to refuse to settle for glib "explanations" is also right but what is not right is to forget that God looked at his entire creation and whispered, "Good!" Not a sparrow dies, said Jesus, but that the Holy Father doesn’t take note of it.
We usually speak as if Christ's work of reconciliation embraced only humans and it's perfectly right that we should do so. But Colossians 1:19-20 and other texts should remind us that the effect of Christ's work is cosmic.