THE DEATH OF A PET
We recently had the sad task of burying Sally, our beloved cat, in the back garden. Sally’s affectionate and friendly companionship around the house brought us a lot of cheer. Being a rescued cat, she was a walking illustration of Christian salvation. We adopted Sally into our family when she had been abandoned by a railway line. On a greater level, the God of the Bible, in and through Christ, rescues sinners and brings them into His family. Adoption is one of the Bible’s synonyms for salvation:
Adoption is an act of God’s free grace, whereby we are received into the number and have a right to all the privileges of the sons of God (Shorter Catechism).
Our pets are of a different order from us. They are not made in the image of God as we are. Unlike us, they do not have the capacity for saving faith or for singing their Creator’s praise. Yet they are part of the creation of the One Who said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds ...’ (Genesis 1:24), and we would be in a state of denial if we said we felt no sorrow when divine providence takes them away from us. Are there any spiritual lessons to be learned when we lose a beloved pet? How is a Christian meant to react when such happens?
Surely, the death of a pet is a time to give thanks to God for the years He gave them to us. ‘Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you’ (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Of course, pets are not a necessity. Unlike food, water, clothing and shelter, we do not need them to survive. But flowers on the table, a watercolour on the wall, music and wholesome laughter are also not absolute necessities. Yet, like our pets, they sweeten our passage through this fallen world. Surely then, our pets are tokens of God’s favour to us. The God of the Bible is characterised by goodness and generosity and ‘richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy’ (1 Timothy 6:17). He bestows on us far more than we strictly need just for subsistence living. Our response can only be one of grateful thanksgiving: ‘O give thanks to the LORD for He is good, for His steadfast love endures for ever’ (Psalm 136:1).
The Temporal and the Eternal
The death of a pet reinforces to us the temporary, fragile nature of this world. ‘Change and decay in all around I see.’ In Colossians 3:1,2 Paul exhorts all Christians, ‘If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.’ No Christian is immune from the temptation to get overly involved and attached to the passing ‘things that are on earth’ – earning a living, sport and leisure, etc. The loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, the loss of good health and the loss of a cat or dog are painful episodes, and take some readjusting to. But they can be sanctified to us. They are not the exception clause to Romans 8:28 ‘that in everything God works for good with those who love Him.’ Loss teaches us lessons in human sympathy, conforming us more to the likeness of Christ. Loss also realigns our perspective from a temporal one to an eternal one. This world is not our eternal home. We are thus advised to hold lightly to everything in it, as everything we have – our salvation excepted – might be and will be taken away from us sometime. ‘They will perish, but Thou remainest’ (Hebrews 1:11). ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever’ (Hebrews 13:8). Full joy is not for this age but the age to come. ‘In Thy presence there is fullness of joy’ (Psalm 16:11). Present ‘losses and crosses’ remind us that this is so – as the following hymn states rather well:-
My God, I thank Thee, who hast made
The earth so bright
So full of splendour and of joy
Beauty and light
So many glorious things are here
Noble and right
I thank Thee, more, that all our joy
Is touched by pain
That shadows fall on brightest hours
That thorns remain
So that earth’s bliss may be our guide
And not our chain
For Thou, who knowest Lord, how soon
Our weak heart clings
Hast given us joys, tender and true
Yet all with wings
So that we see, gleaming on high
I thank Thee, Lord that here our souls
Though amply blest
Can never find, although they seek
A perfect rest
Nor ever shall, until they lean
On Jesus’ breast
(Adelaide Anne Procter 1825-64).
Animals in Glory?
When a Christian suffers the grief of the loss of a pet, the question might be asked: ‘Will I ever see my beloved cat again, or are the photos and pleasant memories of her all I’ll ever have now?’ It would be pastorally insensitive to dismiss such questions out of hand, but we cannot give an affirmative answer from the Bible, so it is best to leave the question with God.
In Isaiah 11:6, however, we read that in the age to come, ‘The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.’ This might suggest that animals will indeed be part of the redeemed universe – although the language might also be symbolic, used to give us an insight into the time when the curse – ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ – will be finally eradicated. Similarly, in Romans 8:21 Paul anticipates the time when ‘the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.’ As animals are part of creation, can we thus speculate that they, too, then will share in the resurrection at the last day?
Christ is all
Speculation apart, when a Christian is beset by loss and grief, the promises of Scripture shine all the more brightly. ‘The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; He knows those who take refuge in Him’ (Nahum 1:7). We cannot give the assurance that Christians will be reunited with their pets, but we can say with confidence that, from what we know of the God revealed in the Bible, His grace will be more than sufficient for them, and that He does not and will not deny His children anything needed for their true well being and ultimate happiness. Even if our pets will not be resurrected with us, ‘the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us’ (Romans 8:18).
Christ Himself will be the glory of the age to come. God Himself will ‘be everything to every one’ (1 Corinthians 15:28). This world is characterised by both tears and smiles, but Scripture holds out the glorious hope that one day, God’s children will be eternally safe and eternally satisfied in His near presence, for ‘God Himself will be with them; He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away’ (Revelation 21:3,4).
Last Update: 2013-08-12 16:41