Can you remember your childhood pet like it was yesterday? Has any friend brought so much joy to your life?
Hi, I’m Rex Rogers and this is episode #36 of Discerning What Is Best, a podcast applying unchanging biblical principles in a rapidly changing world, and a Christian worldview to current issues and everyday life.
When my wife was three and one-half years old and her sister just over seven, older sister witnessed to younger sister about accepting Jesus into her heart. “Let the little children come to me,” Jesus said, and little sister responded to the divine call. Though she was tender in years my wife the little sister has never doubted her salvation from that day till this.
Older sister later continued her evangelistic efforts. Wanting to assure the entire family would be in heaven together some day, she enthusiastically witnessed to Shep, their beloved family dog. I’ve been told Shep lived a long and happy life but sadly no record remains attesting to his spiritual inclinations.
This is one of my favorite stories, partly I guess because it involves both the innocence of children comprehending profound truth and an animal. It’s an odd combination, I know, but one that’s poignant and amusing. Of course, the amusing part is picturing a child trying to lead a dog to the Lord.
I’ve loved animals as long as I can remember. Maybe it was growing up in a small town with my grandfather’s farm five minutes away in the nearby hills. Plenty of animals there. Or maybe it was our series of family pets. At one time or another we had a fish aquarium, cats, turtles, rabbits, and best of all, a sequence of dogs, Spunky, Peppie, and another Peppie.
The last Peppie lived 13 years and was my dog, grade school to college. She was a mixed breed Beagle and Fox Terrier, so she was white with brown spots, floppy-eared like a Beagle but square-faced and wire-haired like a Fox Terrier. Peppie (Mom chose the name. Don’t Moms always name the pets?) was a good dog who disappeared immediately whenever someone, me, fired a gun. So, a hunter she was not. But she was a great companion who went everywhere else with me. She died when I was in college, and I still have her red collar. To this day, something periodically triggers, and I can miss that dog.
A lot of people can relate stories like this. Animals, pets in particular, play a huge role in many of our families’ experiences. Animals, I think, are a gift from God.
In the Garden of Eden, God brought all the animals of creation to Adam, and Adam named them all (Genesis 2:19-20). Putting aside for the moment what this account implies about Adam’s IQ, let’s think about the animals.
The Bible records God’s creation of animals, including birds and sea-faring creatures. The Bible indicates both before and after the flood that God placed animals within human care. The Bible provides detailed accounts of how God’s chosen people, the Israelites, shepherded, hunted, and sacrificed animals and then used animal products to develop food, clothing, and other useful material goods.
Further and importantly, the Bible gives us a glimpse of God’s attitude toward animals, saying, “For every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine” (Psalm 50:10-11).
The Psalmist observes, “Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young—a place near your altar, O Lord Almighty, my King and my God” (Psalm 84:3).
The book of Matthew records Jesus’ words: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father” (10:29). And finally, during the end of the age, Isaiah tells us, “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy” (65:25).
Animals are important to God. He created animals for his glory and for human enjoyment and sustenance. Animals are part of God’s ownership and our stewardship. Animals may be domesticated, cultivated, even hunted, yet must always be respected as God’s creatures.
With due respect to my sister-in-law’s youthful theology, though, I do not believe the Bible indicates that animals possess a God-consciousness, are capable of distinguishing right and wrong, thus capable of sinning, or are in need of forgiveness and salvation.
Animals are animate, to state the obvious, but they are not human beings. Nor are human beings, animals. This is a distinction that’s sometimes blurred today, often with the good motive of caring for animals.
I’ve always been a little suspicious of people who don’t like animals—unless they have an allergy they can’t help. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a free country and God has blessed us with Christian liberty, so if you don’t like animals, it’s not a moral issue. Go and be well. But still, I hope you recognize how essential animals are to human life.
Nature without animals would be as uninteresting as pizza without tomato sauce. Think about it. No lightning bugs on summer evenings. No birds at the seashore. No old dog to come home to—who doesn’t care what kind of day you’ve had. Without animals we could not live, and we certainly would not live as well.
Animals are part of our human responsibility for stewarding the environment. So, cruelty of any kind is by definition needless and inappropriate. Wanton destruction, like the Old West practice of shooting bison from the train for fun, is immoral.
Slaughtering animals to near extinction, like the African elephant or rhinoceros, for purposes of commercial greed is a form of robbing our children.
Animals are capable of remarkable commitment even heroics based on instinct, but they do not worship in a church of their choice, do not develop civilization, and do not worry about retirement.
Without animals, animal husbanding and farming, animal hunting, and animal research, human history would conceivably not have developed. Because of animal products we are better clothed, eat better meals, have developed disease-thwarting medicines, and in some cases have our lives extended. Animal products provided one incentive, and animals made possible, geographic exploration in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They make possible biomedical exploration today.
A few times along the way I’ve seen pet cemeteries, often with considerable acreage and ornate monuments dedicated to the memory of Dog and Kitty. I’ve also read of individuals who’ve left considerable sums of money in their estates for the maintenance of their pets.
I’m not necessarily opposed to Dog and Kitty receiving an expensive send-off. I certainly understand the sentiment a person can develop after years of relationship with a favorite pet.
When our kids were young, we had a big, especially tall, yellow Labrador Retriever. Pepsi lived to 13 years of age. He was a good, deep-voiced dog, who used to walk on the golf course across the road, “retrieve” rolling balls in his mouth, and run off with them. This practice, as you can imagine, endeared him to golfers. But a time came when he developed arthritis in his hips and could hardly get up and down. It was a sad trip to the veterinarian when the day finally came. So, I understand the feelings associated with loss of a favorite pet.
A joke that survives from the Old West is that a cowboy loved two things, his girl and his horse—he just wasn’t sure which he loved more. Animals get to us.
What concerns me about the pet funeral and burial phenomenon is what it may say about our culture’s understanding of the afterlife and the value of an animal relative to a human being.
There’s nothing in Scripture that suggests heaven will be an animal-free zone. We don’t know whether God will include animals in his eternal city; actually, I hope he does. We do know, as far as God has revealed, that Dog and Kitty don’t “go to heaven.” When an animal dies its existence ceases. Not so for a human being.
When a human being dies, his or her soul lives on eternally. And according to the Bible this afterlife will take place either in heaven or hell, depending upon whether the departed has accepted Jesus Christ as Savior. Dog and Kitty may get their own graveyard in an affluent culture. But people live beyond the grave.
The animal kingdom is part of God’s creation. As long as human beings steward animals wisely, as long as we respect them as a gift from God, and as long as we apply the knowledge gained from animals for God’s glory, we are acting properly. Animals, like all of creation, are to be enjoyed forever.
We need not treat animals humanly but always must treat them humanely. We are not animals, but we should all be animal caretakers.
Praise God for animals. I still miss my childhood dog.
Well, we’ll see you again soon. This podcast is about Discerning What Is Best. If you find this thought-provoking and helpful, follow us on your favorite podcast platform. Download an episode for your friends. For more Christian commentary, check my website, r-e-x-m as in Martin, that’s rexmrogers.com.
And remember, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm.
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