Then God said, “Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” – Genesis 1:26
Birds, fish, tadpoles, a hamster, a guinea pig, a bearded dragon, cats, dogs and rabbits: Over the years you could have found multiple combinations of common and exotic pets in our home. My mother was a farmer’s daughter who passed on her love for animals to me. Right now we have two rescued dogs and two rabbits – possibly a record-low household pet census.
If you’re been reading this blog for a while now, you’ve heard me talk about my animals, particularly my older dog, Churchill, with whom I do pet therapy and evangelism at a nursing home every week.
He hears what a beautiful animal he is so many times each week that he goes home with a big head. But this past week, one patient corrected herself. “What am I saying? He’s not an animal,” she said. “He’s a person.”
“No. He’s an animal,” I firmly replied.
Anyone who has seen me doting on my dogs may be surprised that I make that distinction, but it’s an important one to make. My dogs are my constant companions, and I love them, but they are not people. God did not create them in His image, nor did He send His only begotten Son to die for them.
In his book Heaven, author Randy Alcorn asserts his belief that God allow us to enjoy eternity with our favorite pets. I’d like to believe this, particularly in the case of my dogs. Maybe it’s true. But the biblical reality is that man has a peculiar position among God’s creations as beings possessing mind, body, soul and spirit. We must value people above animals because God us elevated us above animals.
But that dominion thing is a double-edged sword, because “to whom much is given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). That is why I’ve told my son he couldn’t eat dinner till he fed the animals in his care. That is why I take extra pains to ensure my animals are properly fed, exercised, groomed and loved on. That is why I comfort them when they’re frightened and nurse them to health when they’re sick.
Because we have a stewardship over animals – because our pets are wholly dependent upon us for care – I want to punch that person who abuses or abandons his pet (metaphorically speaking, of course, because I’m little and he’d probably knock me down in retribution). If you’re an irresponsible pet owner, we probably can’t be friends. But I hope I never value my pets more than I value the people God has placed in my life.
Love your pets to the end, and feel free to mourn at their passing. (I’ve lost a dog, and yes, it does feel like losing a family member.) But try not to spend more time and effort saving animals than saving people, thus becoming a dyslexic believer who exalts dog above all.
Jesus answered, “The foremost [command] is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:29-31