I’ve always loved animals — in their place. That’s in the wild. I’ve never gotten attached to a pet, and I’ve never understood pet-lovers.* Sometimes I’ve envied them, because they seem to have discovered a kind of intimate companionship I’ve never known. I guess I’ve diverted all of that to my wife. Poor Judy.
Recently, I had a thought that I had to investigate. Is there any information in the Bible that might help me with my pet-freakiness? How did the familiar characters we read about in the Bible relate to their cats and dogs, or even their goldfish? Here’s what I found: There’s nothing in the Bible about pets. That’s amazing: more than a thousand pages in 66 separate Bible books, talking about people in many cultures, over at least fifteen centuries of human history, and no mention of pets?
Wait a minute; there’s that parable told by the prophet Nathan when he accused King David of adultery:
“There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” (2 Samuel 12:1-4)
Okay, allowing the lamb to share meals with his children and to “lie in his bosom” sounds like pet-lover behavior. However, none of my friends have chosen lambs as pets, probably because they grow up to be smelly old sheep that do nothing but chew their cuds and mess up the floor. And, in spite of the poor man’s strange way of showing this, it seems quite likely that he loved this “pet” mostly as a potential future meal.
So, mean old Scrooge Van Alstine is right: pet lovers can’t find any justification in the Bible for their strange attraction to dumb animals. Then, why do I envy them? Why do I have the feeling that pet-lovers know something that I don’t know?
I’ve shared with a few family and friends about the thoughts that comfort me most as I face the fact that the end of my earthly life is probably not far off. My basic confidence is that I will be in the hands of the good God I’ve come to know through my Christian faith. But the images I find most reassuring are not of pearly gates, streets of gold and a comfortable eternal house specially prepared for me. My deepest soul seems to long for a profound connection with Life, with every living creature, with the Spirit of God which he “breathed into” the heaven and earth that he declared to be a “very good” expression of who he is (Genesis 1:31). I can’t picture what the moment of my crossing over will be like, but I expect it to be the ultimate Aha! experience, all of my thoughts, dreams and desires come together as part of the Eternal Reality of Life.
I think pet-lovers have a glimpse of this same hope. Through the eyes of their pets, they seem to experience a mystical understanding beyond their earthly limitations, beyond this life’s frustrating incompleteness. They seem to be experiencing a little preview of heaven through their connection with their pets. I see this, even though I don’t get it.
– Pastor George Van Alstine
* When I was reading everything by C.S. Lewis during my college years, I was mystified by his notion that higher animals have a “self” that may be immortal (expressed in The Problem of Pain). It seemed to be inconsistent with his usual critical thinking. Then I discovered he was a pet-lover who became very attached to his cats. I decided that these ideas about animal-afterlife were coming more from his romantic feeling than his rational thinking. In retrospect, I think his special connection with his pets helped him create the powerful animal figures in his Chronicles of Narnia.