…the poor man had nothing except one small ewe lamb that he had bought. He raised her, and she grew up with him and with his children. From his meager food she would eat, from his cup she would drink, and in his arms she would sleep. She was like a daughter to him.2 Samuel 12:3 (CSB)
To my knowledge, the verse above is the most detailed description of affection between a man and his animal. While animals in antiquity were mostly kept for work or livestock, there is also evidence of animals being kept for companionship. Thus, the description in the verse above may not have been a necessarily unique or extraordinary one.
In recent months, I have thought about where animals fit within the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21, Revelation 21:1), as well as their place in the Christian worldview. I have not heard this issue addressed as often as other more socially relevant topics. Part of the reason I think this doesn’t come up in my circle is because of our approach to theology as a whole: we (evangelical protestants) view salvation as the end goal of Christianity, and anything that falls outside of that purview is typically brushed off as unnecessary musing. I can write more on that in the future, but that’s not really the point of this post.
Both observation and personal experience have led me to ponder on the place of animals, specifically pets within Christian theology. I know that others have also thought about this in the context of whether their pets will exist in the afterlife. However, the Christian worldview is about more than just the afterlife. Even so, our notion of what the afterlife will be like will shape our views on what happens there. Therefore I am interested in learning about this topic from the lens of Scripture. To formulate my theology of animals and pets, I want to think of the following:
- Regarding ontology and purpose: what is our place among the animals in this life? What is our place among creation?
- How does God relate to His non-human creation?
- What was the role of pets within a household in antiquity? What is their role today? How are relationships between humans and their animals portrayed in Scripture?
- What does Scripture say about the death and afterlife of animals? How does all this fit in with the theology of the world to come?
It is important that we approach this, like any other topic with a recognition of where our stance is and where our biases tend to. I say this because too often I have seen that responses to some common questions about an animal’s place in scripture tend to be overtly led by emotions and feelings: those who have and love their pets usually tend towards a more optimistic view, and those who don’t tend towards a more negative view. In both cases, scripture can be cited and arguments can be made. But the reality is that in most cases we tend to make up our mind before we turn to scripture, and then read our own views into the text. This happens far too often in the Church.
Thankfully, from a preliminary search, we can easily find insight from those who have thought about this before, although mostly, if not always, in the context of salvation and the afterlife. From my initial readings (listed at the end of this post), I have compiled a list of verses of interest that I plan to study. These are Genesis 1:30, Genesis 2:18-19, Genesis 3:1, Genesis 9:2-3, Leviticus 17:11, Numbers 22:28, 2 Samuel 12:3, 1 Kings 17:6, Psalm 84:11, Psalm 148, Proverbs 12:10, Isaiah 11:6, Isaiah 65:17, Isaiah 65:25, Matthew 18:3, Mark 9:23, Luke 3:6, John 3:16, Romans 5:5, Romans 8:21, 1 Corinthians 7:14, Hebrews 9:22, and Revelation 21:5. Over the next few weeks I will try to study these verses and what has been historically taught about them to formulate a theology of pets.