Episode 1,001 in the life of the podcast, and our question today comes from a longtime listener named Jordan: “Dear Pastor John, What is your conviction about owning a pet? Do you have any pets, or do you see them more as a hindrance and distraction when considering how we should spend our time here during our short stay on earth?”
The first thing I would say is: Surely, yes, pets can take up too much of your time and too much of your money, just like food can and health can and family can and church can and work can and every hobby under the sun can and sports can and all manner of entertainment can and cars can and clothes can and home improvement projects can and lawn care can and exercise can and hanging out with friends can, et cetera, et cetera. Yes, yes, yes. Pets and anything else besides the glory of God can be a distraction from what we ought to be doing. Yes, right. Good warning.
“Pets and anything else besides the glory of God can be a distraction from what we ought to be doing.”
So, if your conscience is indicting you for the money you spend or the time you spend combing your dog’s fur or scratching her behind the ears, you should stop, stop. You should get rid of the dog. No pet is worth the damaging of your conscience. Or, if you look at the 60 billion dollars a year that Americans spend on pets and resolve to spend nothing, absolutely nothing, in order to protest that priority, you are fully justified so to protest, keeping in mind that America spends 1.8 billion dollars on toothpaste annually and 22 billion dollars on air conditioning annually and 2.8 billion at Halloween on candy and 48 billion dollars a year on coffee. So, we have to be careful with the way we use our numbers.
The question with regard to time and money is not only whether it is exorbitant — which it can be, but shouldn’t be. But even if it is modest, would that time, if you had no pet, be devoted to more refreshing, more encouraging, more edifying, more loving, more God-glorifying tasks? That is the question. Mathematically, you might compute that those ten minutes or half hour a day could be better used, but my question is: Would they? The same could be said about almost any activity of lesser importance in our lives. Given up, would they automatically be then piled into the other column of more significant activity? I think we will go mad — at least, John Piper will go mad — if we try to live our lives in that kind of mathematical way. We all know that there is excess that dishonors God in lesser matters, and we should spot that and avoid it, get rid of it. Far too many of us fail to spot that and avoid that. But if we think we can do that every minute of our day and use only what is maximally useful in those minutes, we will probably become a victim of a mental disorder. They have got names for those, and I certainly would. I have tried it.
God was pleased to create a wide variety of animals that provide a wide variety of functions.
So, why might one consider a pet worthy of even a small amount of money and amount of time? And my main answer would be based on why God created animals at all. He didn’t have to, and Genesis seems to say he meant for the air and the land and the sea to be full of creatures (see for example Genesis 1:20). God delights, it seems, in let me call it variegated fullness of space: really, really variegated, like millions upon millions of species. And besides the sheer usefulness of animals — like a horse to get around once upon a time or fish for food or cows for milk or worms for the soil or sheep for sacrifices and sweaters — besides the usefulness, the relationship between animals and man in the Bible seems to be one of God-saturated fascination.
Listen to Job 38–39: “Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions? . . . Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you observe the calving of the does? . . . Who has let the wild donkey go free? . . . Is the wild ox willing to serve you? . . . The wings of the ostrich wave proudly, but are they pinions and plumage of love?” They are idiots! That is my paraphrase. “Do you give the horse his might? Do you clothe his neck with a mane? . . . Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars and spreads his wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?” (Job 38:39; 39:1, 5, 9, 13, 19, 26–27).
Or, what about Job 12:7–9? “Ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?”
Or, Proverbs 30:24: “Four things on earth are small, but they are exceedingly wise: the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide 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.”
Or, the most familiar of all, Matthew 6:26. Jesus says, “Look the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” Same with plants. “Consider the lilies” (Matthew 6:28).
Without going to any more psychological detail — which I could — or spiritual detail, it seems to me that having a pet may fall into the category of God-saturated fascination and joy. So, I do have a dog, and her name is Dusty. She is an eight-year-old golden doodle. And I could give reasons for why I think it is healthy for children to have such a dog. But we could do that another time maybe. It is just Noel and me at home now, no excuse. Like here we are.
So, what is Dusty to me? Well, if Jesus says: Consider the birds, et cetera, I say: Consider Dusty. She loves people more than food. She overflows with affection without testing your character first. She is indomitably happy, rain or shine. She holds no grudges whatsoever, no matter how she is treated. Her youth at eight seems to be renewed like the eagles. So, if you, Father, so taught a beast with no soul, no moral or spiritual capacities, to live that kind of life, how much more should her master feel ashamed that even with the Holy Spirit I struggle to do those things?