The Spiritual Danger of Being a Pet Owner
Updated: Feb 1, 2019
We took our last turn down a quiet and lazy street and pulled into the driveway. There he stood. The long brown dachshund we had tediously searched for stood on the steps of the porch where he once made his home.
I finally had a weenie dog!
Carissa and I had searched for months for the perfect weenie dog (properly called a dachshund) and finally had given up hope after seeing prices that far exceeded our budget. All we wanted was an indoor companion. All we wanted was a loving friend who would curl up at the foot of our bed, make us laugh, and flip a brick with excitement when we returned home. We had given up hope on that aspiration, until we heard of Oscar.
A coworker of Carissa's informed her of a little dog that she wanted to re-home because she wasn't home often and was unable to provide him with the time he needed. When we were informed that the little dog was a dachshund, we hopped on the opportunity.
Oscar was the greatest dog that I have ever owned. He was unbelievably lazy, and at any given time during the day you could find him curled up in a lap. He was beautifully obedient. When you commanded him to "sit," his bottom (that was at-least a foot from his head) would slowly lower. He loved cheese! When you said, "You want some cheese?" Oscar would go bonkers, twirling around in a circle until you gave it to him.
Though Oscar didn't care for strangers very much, he did relentlessly love those that loved him. Being a Youth Pastor, I have teenagers at my house quite frequently. The youth loved Oscar, and Oscar loved them. They adopted him as their own and enjoyed playing with him and dressing him up at events such as our annual Fall Costume Party.
Oscar was beloved.
Oscar was a dog that captivated our hearts. He slept in our bed, laid in our laps, and made us laugh. Life with Oscar was wonderful.
But one day we came home from a lengthy mission trip and something seemed very wrong.
Oscar did not greet us at the door. He was not the spry dog that I picked up from those porch steps the day we got him. He trembled uncontrollably and whimpered. He struggled to climb onto a chair or the couch.
Something was wrong with Oscar.
Carissa and I took Oscar to the vet and received some of the most disturbing and unsettling news that we had received in our young marriage - Oscar had hurt his back and it didn't look good. Our vet did what she could and told us to hope for the best, but Oscar got worse. Eventually, he almost completely lost all function in his back legs, and we knew that it was time.
We had Oscar put down on a Tuesday afternoon.
As I held back the tears to console my broken wife, I remember thinking, "This is not right. Am I really supposed to be this upset about a lost pet?" It was God's response to this question in the midst of my unbelievable heartache that prompted me to reevaluate the pets God blessed me with.
A Pet Crazed America
Americans are pet owners. According to the 2017-2018 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 68% of all American households own a pet. That is an estimate of 84.6 million homes that have some form of pet.
According to Fox News, Americans spent over $69 billion on their pets in 2017, making it the most we have ever spent on our furry friends. There is no doubt that we love our cats and dogs and birds and fish, and consider them to be a part of our families; we will even empty our wallets for their happiness and well-being.
But is that really the relationship that God intended?
I am a dog lover just as much as the next guy (I own three dogs), but did God design the relationship between man and beast to be so tight knit? Did He desire for the love for our friends with paws and wings to grow to such an intensity?
A Gift From God
I would like to start out on this quest by stating that it is okay to possess and own pets. Pets are a true and wonderful gift from God and they should be treated as such. God specifically created all animals for man to subdue and take care of. When we ask the question of whether or not our relationships with our dogs or cats or birds or goldfish have become distorted and unrealistic, this does not mean that we are proposing you rid yourself of your beloved pets. It does mean, however, that we suggest you think long and hard about how you feel about the cute little dog or cat that is curled up in your lap right now. Has your pet become what it was never meant to be?
Unfortunately, I think we give far too much of our hearts and souls over to the little creatures that roam our homes and yards. We give them too much of a stake in our lives, and this mistake has serious spiritual repercussions.
Here are a few of the dangers we subject ourselves to spiritually when we allow our pets to rule our hearts:
1. We Impair our Love for our Fellow Man
In the beginning, God created all the wild animals, the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air; and He also made man in His image. And He said to man,
"Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on earth." Genesis 1:28
From the beginning, all animals were under man's authority and control. Scripture also says that Adam played a crucial role in the existence of animals:
"Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him." Genesis 2:19-20
Three crucial realities come from these verses of Scripture:
God created man to rule and subdue animals. Man was far above animals in relation to God and their role on earth.
Man had a responsibility to the animals that God created - he was to name the animals and manage the animals.
Animals were not a suitable companion for man. God created Eve in order to give Adam the companionship he needed.
Unfortunately, in modern day America, we terribly distort the priority for the animals in our lives. Due to the fall of man, human relationships were tainted and relationships with animals were confused.
There is no doubt, man was created to be connected with animals and insure their was an adequate and efficient cohabitation (which we have done a terrible job at), but God never intended for animals to play the idolatrous role that they play in our lives today - having their value lifted above that of human beings.
Today, in America, we donate millions of dollars and go to great lengths to insure that animals are adequately taken care of, while we laud the atrocious acts of abortion.
Before you declare yourself innocent of perverting the priority of man over beast, ask yourself what impacts you more: the death of humans or the death of animals. What made you cry the hardest: Saving Private Ryan or Marley & Me?
How many nights has someone in need slept under the stars while your beloved pet slept under your covers?
How many meals has starving helpless children missed while you fed your adorable companion the best cuisine possible?
We are all distorted. We feel the riveting relational damages the fall of man produced in the answers to these questions. Our cats and dogs have elevated above the emphasis God originally designed for them, and it has impaired our love and compassion for our fellow man. We grossly distort the priority of animals and man.
2. We Prioritize Misguided Relationships
In the last section, we pointed out how the animals were not found to be a suitable helper for Adam. Therefore, God created Eve to fulfill the relational desires of Adam's heart. Lets look at those verses again:
"Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him" (emphasis added). Genesis 2:19-20
I cannot stress how big of a deal this point is - no animal should ever fill the relational role that belongs to a human being.
You often hear people say of their pet, "He/She is just a part of our family." I am not suggesting otherwise. Our pets do become part of our family - in the symbolic sense. However, dogs or cats or any other creature should never be placed in the role of a true physical family member. When we view and love our pets with the same intensity that we do (or should) for another human being, we have gone terribly off the course of God's guidance.
3. We Diminish our Love and Thirst for God
It has been apparent from the very beginning that God wishes to be closely intimate with His creation; so much so that He created us in His image (Genesis 1:27). He is not satisfied with merely knowing His creation; He desires to live and dwell within His creation. God loves us more than we could ever fathom, and it has to be heartbreaking to watch His creation reciprocate that relentless love by committing idolatry with a cat.
God has also been very clear from the beginning that He wants every part of us; He desires a full and total commitment.
This is why when Jesus is pressed about the greatest commandment He says,
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment." Matthew 22:37-38
This is also why He said to His followers,
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." Luke 9:23-24
And also why He said of those who will not give their entire lives to Him,
“‘I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth." Revelation 3:15-16 (HCSB)
When God redeems a weary soul from the dooms and damnation of sin, He produces a warrior that fights to the death for the sake of His glory. A transformed child of God presents himself as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1), and constantly thirsts for more of the Spirit of God.
However, when we inflate our love for our pets passed the boundaries, we deflate our love for God. Jesus said that we cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). And though He was speaking of the dangers of loving money in that particular passage, when we give our pets too much of our heart, we trade our heavenly Master for a furry master.
I know it seems strange, but our pets really do become our masters when we devote too much of ourselves to them. The more we idolize our pets, the more we abandon God.
I think this is the lesson God taught us through the death of Oscar. I truly believe God took Oscar away from us because we began to take ourselves away from God. And because God is so gracious and so merciful, He would not allow His servant to stumble. Therefore, He took the dog from me that was slowly but surely taking me from Him.
I understand how strange and unusual this whole notion has likely seemed to you. And I at-least partially agree that this idea is bizarre and a little far-fetched (pun absolutely intended). However, I am simply reporting the findings of my own heart and the truths and realizations that I myself have struggled with.
Literally anything we can see, feel, smell, taste, or think of in this universe can become an idol and compete for our love and desire that rightly belongs to God. And therefore, this is not an all out assault on pets. Like I said from the beginning, I love pets and I think they are a huge benefit to society.
My agenda is less about steering you away from your cat and dog, and more about steering you to the glory and riches of our sacrificial God.
I say beware of your dog or cat because, in our current state as a society, we are horrifyingly close to trading the inexplicably powerful love of God for a slobbering creature that will live 17 years, at best.
Go pet your dog. Go hold your cat. Find enjoyment in playing with them and loving them. But leave it at that. Don't elevate them to something they were never intended to be. Instead, set your sights on heaven and find your joy not in the temporal pleasures of a pet, but in everlasting Joy in the Father.
Author: A.C. Minor
Scripture quotations are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version), copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.
Scripture quotations marked HCSB have been taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, Copyright 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009, by Holman Christian Publishers. Used by permission.