What should Christian parents think about pets? How can they be used to fulfill God’s plan for our families? Join AMBrewster as he starts a larger discussion about Christians, animals, and parenting.
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Since my wife and I have been married, our family has owned five cats, two dogs, a ferret, a tarantula, a ball python, rabbits, rats, a snapping turtle, grass snakes, fish, chickens, and honeybees. And though some of you may think that honeybees aren’t really pets, I would beg to differ.
Anyway, there are a bunch of reasons we’ve owned so many animals and more reasons why we had to give some away.
And it’s some of those reasons we want to discuss today.
And even if you haven’t never had a pet, or you hate the thought of having animals indoors, I want you to stick around because the Bible has a lot to say about animals, and if we’re going to make a decision for our families, we’d better make certain our decision is biblical.
In fact, this discussion is part of a much larger study in something that I call Sanctified Sustainability.
This is a concept on which I’ve been working for quite some time. There’s still much more development I need to do before I go and write a book or something, but from time to time I like to share my thoughts with you as they intersect with the day-to-day of our family lives.
Our first introduction to this concept was in episode 47. It was called “Create a Sustainable Home that Glorifies God.”
I then did TLP Snippet #6, “Sanctified Sustainability, Your Family, and Earth Day” a few days later.
And I plan to talk more about Sanctified Sustainability around Earth Day this year as well.
My point is, I believe that owning a pet is more than a form of entertainment. It’s not something just for animal lovers or tree huggers.
There is great value to having pets . . . even if those pets are simply fish, and it can be a significant part of the will of God for us.
But before we jump into that discussion, will you please take a quick moment to rate and review Truth.Love.Parent. When you rate and review us on iTunes and Facebook, it blesses TeamTLP, but it also encourages other parents to join us in becoming intentional, premeditated, disciple-making parents.
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Alright, let’s talk about the role animals can have in your family.
I do need to frame this discussion with an important observation. I’ll deal with this idea more later, but please understand that I am not an animal-rights activist.
I’m a God-activist.
To have a correct view of animals we must start with a proper view of God. Then we need to have a proper view of self. Then — and only then — can we start to put anything in its proper place.
So, let’s begin by having a correct view of God in regard to animals.
1. God created animals for a purpose.
And if what I’m about to say doesn’t prove that I’m not a member of PETA, nothing will. One of the primary reasons God created animals was to provide food and clothing.
Genesis 9:3, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.”
Acts 10:11-15, “And saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.””
And these are just a few passages that discuss the fact that God condones eating animals. Now, I don’t want to spend any more time on this point because we are talking about family pets, but it’s still an important observation that animals have purposes.
God also created animals to be used by humans in their work and as a sub-form of companionship.
Now, since God created animals . . .
2. Animals belong to God.
It’s just as important for your kids to know that they’re taking care of God’s pet as it is that they’re stewarding God’s toys. Everything belongs to God and we get in trouble when we’re delusional enough to think that anything is ultimately ours.
Humans are to steward animals and rule over them. This is sometimes known as the Creation Mandate, and it’s introduced in Genesis. But in Psalm 8:6-9 the psalmist says, “You have given [man] dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
Please note that our dominion over this earth is not to encourage us to consume it all for our own pleasures, but should lead us to proclaim, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
The same is true for our family pets.
3. God enjoys animals.
In Genesis 1 God not only creates them, but proclaims them good. He loves His creation. And Psalm 104:31 reads: “May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works.” This sentiment obviously includes His creation.
I believe one great reason to have pets is the sheer enjoyment they provide. Any pet owner can tell you story after story about the adorable antics of their creatures.
4. God cares about and provides for animals.
Psalm 145:9, “The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.”
Matthew 6:26, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”
Matthew 10:29-31, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father."
Psalm 104:14, 21, "The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God.”
Psalm 147:9, “He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens that cry.”
We’ll talk about this in more detail later, but when we care for animals, we’re not only fulfilling our Creation Mandate, we’re also acting out the image of God in us.
5. God communicates with animals.
In Genesis 6:19 and 7:9 we read that God commands Noah to take the animals into the Ark, but he never tells him how to collect the animals. God was the one who commanded two of the unclean animals and seven of the clean animals to meet at the Ark. It was also God who commanded the carnivores not to eat the herbivores on the trip.
In I Kings 17:4-6 God says, “You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.”
I believe it’s Christ honoring to talk to our animals, and science has shown that for most creatures, it’s beneficial for them and for our relationship with them.
Genesis 9:9-10 is really powerful too because it shows God making a promise to the animals. he says to Noah, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.”
Now, because of all of this and more, it’s clear that . . .
6. God created animals to reveal His sovereignty and grandeur.
In Job 38-40 God is schooling Job and his friends about the unreachable supremacy of the Lord, and He uses animals all throughout His discourse to show puny man that we aren’t anything like God.
We can use our pets to teach our children wonderful things. And one of them is that all creation reveals the majesty of God.
Now, that’s how animals indirectly bring glory to God, but they also directly worship Him.
7. God created animals to directly bring glory and praise to God.
Psalm 148:7-12, “Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!”
Psalm 150:6, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!”
Barrett Duke wrote about the place of pets in the Christian life and he said, “By their very existence animals: (1) Point to God as creator. Animals are as much the product of God’s creative energy as any other part of creation. (2) Point to God as love. God loves life so much he creates it in seeming endless variety. (3) Point to God as designer. Animals fill a crucial part of the symbiotic relationship between all of creation. (4) Point to God as artist. Animals are a living display of the natural beauty God has built into creation.”
I couldn’t agree more. And if God receives praise from animals, how much more should we be actively worshipping Him?
8. God uses animals to model Christ-honoring character.
Animals are innocent. They’re obedient. They’re industrious. Man — let me tell you — the object lessons you can learn from honeybees are amazing! Wow, we have so much to learn from God’s creation.
Animals were also used to appease the justice of God. Leviticus 16:1-34 is just one passage which tells us about the Old Testament sacrificial system.
Many creatures are diligent. Proverbs 6:6-8 says, “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.”
Proverbs 30:25-28 reads, “The ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer; the rock badgers are a people not mighty, yet they make their homes in the cliffs; the locusts have no king, yet all of them march in rank; the lizard you can take in your hands, yet it is in kings' palaces.”
If we care for our animals well and train them well then there’s no end of beneficial object lessons with which we can train our children.
9. God created animals to be sensitive to the spirit world.
This one is really interesting.
In Luke 8:33 we read that animals can be controlled by evil spirits just like people can. Interestingly enough, it appears that the animals weren’t as manageable for the demons as the people were. Whereas the legion of demons in the Demoniac of Gadara made him do many things, once “The demons came out of the man and entered the pigs . . . the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.” It almost seems pointless for the demons to beg not to be without a host, request to be sent into the pigs, and then moments later decide to kill the hosts they wanted so badly.
It’s not recorded in Scripture, but I wonder if the pigs refused to make it easy on the demons. Who knows.
Anyway, Numbers 22:21-33 tells us the account of Balaam’s donkey being able to see the invisible angel that was going to kill Balaam.
The anecdotal evidence for animals being sensitive to spiritual things humans can’t perceive is abundant.
And, lastly . . .
10. God created animals to enjoy life.
Psalm 104:25-26 reads, “Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.” That word “play” is the same word used in II Samuel 6:2. “And David said to Michal, ‘It was before the Lord, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord—and I will celebrate before the Lord.” In this passage the word translated “play” in Psalms was translated “celebrate.”
And Job 40:20 says, “For the mountains yield food for him where all the wild beasts play.” And it’s the same word as before.
Okay, so there’s a lot more we could discuss, but for starters, we have to understand that animals are not a product of random evolution. They were created by God for grand and dynamic purposes.
Once we have a right view of God, then we need to have a correct view of self.
1. All humans have been tasked with subduing and having dominion over creation.
The Hebrew word translate “subdue” means to conquer and subjugate. It can even be used to describe bringing something into bondage.
The word translated “have dominion” means to rule and also has the idea of subjugation.
Now, unfortunately, it’s been the historical position of the “conservative republican Christian” to have no problem draining our planet of natural resources and driving animals into extinction.
Now, I know what I said was potentially very inflammatory. Please understand that I have always identified as a republican. This is not a political statement. It’s merely an observation that stereotypically speaking, the Republicans have always been less careful with the environment than the Democrats. However — let me be balanced in my criticism — the Democrats have almost always been waaaaaaaayyy to concerned about the environment.
Now — again — this isn’t a political statement so much as it’s an observation that it doesn’t matter what the stereotypes are. We need to fulfill our mandate from God. I believe that Christians should be the best environmentalist and conservationists. We need to wisely and kindly steward the earth God gave us.
But we don’t worship the earth.
Romans 1:25 tells us about people who God gave up. These people, “Exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”
I don’t really have time to discuss this more here — we’ll definitely deal with it more later — but the point is that we have a responsibility before God as to how we treat animals.
So, as we fulfill our Creation Mandate, which — in some part — is fulfilled in our caring for pets . . .
2. We must care for the life of animals.
Proverbs 12:10 says, “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.”
Again, it’s appropriate to kill animals, but I think this command has two appropriate applications to life and death:
However, beyond the discussion of life and death, we need to care for our animals. We should never mistreat them.
This will be an important lesson for your children to learn.
When my children forget to feed the dog or bunny, I ask them how they would like it if their mother and I forgot to feed them. They need to realize the discomfort they cause the animal when they’re not fed.
And then we tie that back to whether or not they’re pleasing the Lord when they neglect their pets.
Isaiah 66:3 speaks to this as well. It says, “He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog's neck; he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig's blood; he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol. These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations.”
Now, that passage talked about a lot of killing of animals, however we need to understand the context. In Isaiah 66, the people are bing condemned for their worship because they thought they could live their lives however they wanted as long as they offered the right sacrifices.
But God told them that their sacrifices were as horrific as if they had offered pig’s blood or blessed an idol.
But one of the comparisons that was made was “he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog's neck.” First, it’s important to notice that sacrificing a lamb was the thing that everyone thought was good. Second, back then in the Middle East — and even today — people did not like dogs. They weren’t pets. And still, God chooses to use the image of a man breaking a dogs neck to illustrate how vial the Jews’ sacrifices had become.
There is no reason for unnecessary killing of animals.
And then Exodus 23:5 says, “If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.”
Of course, this passage deals more with the relationship with the people, but it also recognizes that the animal needed to be rescued. Jesus made mention of similar situations in the New Testament as well.
I Timothy 5:18 and I Corinthians 9:9 quote Deuteronomy 25:4 when it says, "For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.”
It was against the Jewish law to make your animals work without allowing them to feed themselves from the grain they were grinding.
Proverbs 27:23 commands us to, “Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds,”
And this last passage is amazing as well because in Exodus 23:12 God says, “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed.”
God wants our animals to be refreshed. He cares for them and He wants us to care for them.
So, by way of review, what do we learn about our responsibility to animals, 1. All humans — that includes your family — have been tasked with subduing and having dominion over creation. 2. We must care for the life of animals.
And 3. We can become more like Christ by caring for pets.
Having a pet is fulfilling the creation mandate by reflecting the nature of God, subduing creation and ruling over it.
As I mentioned earlier, having a pet allows us to manifest that image of God toward His creation. Even if it’s just a bowl of fish, we can teach our children the joy of stewarding a life.
Here’s an interesting anecdote from my family: my daughter Ivy has never been very motherly. She never really knew what to do with babies and baby dolls and pretty must saw them as being pointless.
But it was after having her bunny for a couple weeks and having to put a diaper onto bunny when she wanted to carry it around the house, that I heard her cooing over the rabbit telling him that she was his mommy and that she loved him.
I think that has been very valuable for my daughter.
One reason parents don’t want to get their children a pet is that they’re concerned that they will have to care for the animal when their kids drop the ball.
Listen, your kids are going to drop the ball, but the correct response is not to do the job for them. The correct response is to parent your children.
Do you make your kid’s bed every time they forget? Stop it!
Do you mow the lawn and do their homework too? Cut it out!
Yes, it’s going to be a commitment, but I’m simply asking you to think more deeply and not default to a ridiculous excuse.
Another way we can become more like Christ as we and our children care for pets, John Piper once said, “It seems to me that having a pet may fall into the category of God-saturated fascination and joy.”
And — lastly — animals can be used to teach our children super valuable life lessons and skills.
Our children need to learn to be responsible, decent, and orderly. They need to learn to love and care for lives that are not their own.
They need to learn to balance their priorities. On a normal day, my kids are supposed to care for their animals before they care for themselves.
Depending on the age of the child, they can also provide for the pet’s needs by paying for certain elements of their care. In order to save their quarters, my children never caught so many crickets as when my son had his tarantula and my daughter had her two grass snakes.
But we can also learn form the positive characteristics of our animals.
Our dog teaches our kids so many lessons about loyalty, obedience, and unconditional love.
My kids have learned so much about hard work and communication from studying bees.
And the cat has taught them to . . . well, um. The cat . . . . Well, never mind.
Seriously, though, the cat is a great example diligence in hunting and shows abandon in the art of snuggling.
Okay, thank you for your patience today. We’re almost done.
1. Our families have been tasked with subduing and having dominion over creation. 2. Our families must care for the life of animals. 3. Our families can become more like Christ by caring for pets. And lastly . . .
4. Our families can enjoy the companionship pets offer.
There is ample evidence that pets provide enjoyable companionship. There’s no end to the the amusement, and many creatures’ unconditional love is a joy to behold.
Remember, to have a correct view of animals we must start with a proper view of God and then have a proper view of self.
Creation is greatly significant to God, and He’s tasked us with caring for it, and the benefits of stewarding animal lives is jam-packed with real life, valuable biblical lessons and skills, not to mention a wealth of family joy.
Please share this episode with your friends, and don’t forget to rate and review us on iTunes. I’d love to share your review on the show, so be sure to do that for us.
On our next episode we’re going to talk about "Repetitive Parenting.” We have to do it, but how do we do it well and without provoking our children to wrath or driving ourselves crazy?
Lord willing, we’ll answer those questions next time.
And I want to thank Matt and Sonja, and their eighty pound Golden Doodle named Moses for being awesome people and an amazing dog. Matt and Sonja are two of TLP’s Patrons and they and Moses would like to invite you to click on the “5 Ways to Support TLP” link in the description to learn more about partnering with us as we share God’s plan for our parenting.
Listen, I’m not saying you have to buy your kids a puppy or a tarantula, but you do need to seriously consider the part God may want an animal to play in helping your children become the people He wants them to be.
See you next time.
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