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The Death of a Family Pet

Category Articles
Date July 10, 2003

What are we to make of this all? We should understand that the wonders of all creation manifest the glory of God

by William Harrell

The Lord tells us not to despise the day of small things, for they are always connected to greater things. Our family is currently going through some pain and perplexity. Our pain is not caused by the great and deep blows of the death of a beloved brother or sister in Christ. Rather, we grieve over the death of one of God’s lower creatures, our pet dog, who has faithfully devoted himself to us for ten years. Those of you who know this have been wonderfully understanding and comforting to us. I trust, therefore, that you will further understand my endeavor to bring some spiritual profit to you as I share how healing has been coming to us for this little wound. If my expressions seem a bit scattered, you will appreciate, I trust, that it is because I write to you still in the recovery room of the soul; and, therefore, perhaps not being quite as balanced as at other times.

Why should we grieve the loss of a family pet? Did we make an idol of our dog, imputing to him all sorts of attributes that he was incapable of denying because he was a dumb beast? Wherein do we find comfort for our pain? Do we by strong, wishful thinking try to convince ourselves that he is with the Lord in heaven? Do we snap ourselves out of our delusion, and remind ourselves that he was but a beast with no soul? Let me try to share with you something of our finding comfort and healing for our pain.

Psalm 29 is a remarkable psalm. It ascribes glory to God in testimony to seven (the perfect number) natural or creational manifestations of God’s sovereignty. Very little is said in that psalm about the glories of redemption. I suggest that part of the reason for this is our need to know that our God is the God of creation, that He made all things and upholds all things by the Word of His power. If the truth be told, most of us do not have a vital grasp of this, and hence we grow anxious over practical and mundane things, while we glibly assume that all is well with our souls.

The glory of God is manifested in all of creation (Ps. 19; Rom. 1:20). But what place does this lower creation have in the economy of God? The Word tells us that God made it all and declared it all very good. The first career of Adam, the first man, was to have dominion over the creation a dominion he exercised by naming all the animals, designating them according to the distinctive character of each. The first animal we meet in Scripture was a serpent who spoke. Does that hint, as C. S. Lewis has suggested in his writings, that in the new heaven and earth the animals will not only be present, but will be present with powers they originally had that were removed. from them when God cursed the creation, subjecting it to vanity on account of man’s sin (Rom. 8:20,21)?

It was the Lord who regarded the animals as having enough significance in His creation, that He instructed Noah to preserve every species of them in the ark. Wise Solomon did not despise the lower creation, but saw in it divinely arranged instruction, even in an ant (Prov. 6:6). He spoke of trees, beasts, fowl, creeping things, and fish (1 Ki. 4:33), not because he was a sentimental pantheist, but because he was a wise believer in the Lord, who related in a right and balanced way with the creation of his God.

God does not refuse to use animals as imagery for His people, saying that His people will mount up with wings as eagles (Is. 40:31), and likening them to lambs over which He is the Shepherd (Ps. 23). Jesus spoke of the lilies, dressed in splendour bestowed on them by God, and He spoke of God knowing whenever a sparrow fells to the ground (compare Mt. 10:29 with Lk. 12:6).

The lower creatures have served the Lord and His people. Balaam’s ass saved that wicked prophet’s life, not because an angel spoke through her, but because the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey to speak words of warning to Balaam (Num. 22:28). Then, we find Jesus riding a willing donkey on His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mt. 21 2ff).

In prophetic literature we are told of the lamb and wolf peacefully coexisting (Is. 65:25), while in apocalyptic literature we find images of lion, calf, and eagle, along with man, surrounding the heavenly throne of God (Rev. 4:7). We are told of trees in the new heaven and new earth (Rev. 22:2) with twelve kinds of fruit and leaves healing the nations (how much more will the fruit accomplish?!).

What are we to make of this all? We should understand that the wonders of all creation manifest the glory of God (Ps. 19). These things are the outer traces of His ways (Job. 26:14). We should not worship them, but neither should we hold them in contempt. If we hold these lesser things of our God in low regard, what confidence can we have that we hold the higher things, such as our brethren in Christ, whom we are to honor above ourselves, rightly in high regard?

You may note that many of my points in this letter are questions, hints and suggestions. Where is the true answer to these questions? The sole answer is found in the wisdom, love, and power of our God. When Job was in great pain, he was full of questions and sometimes seemed to be as a man grasping at straws. When he saw God, all of his questions were answered, all of his tears dried, and his latter state was better than his former.

One day we shall see the face of our Redeemer (Rev. 22:4), and now, by faith, we reckon that in the light and love of His countenance, we shall have answers to all of our questions and a drying of all our tears. Meantime, as we try to see darkly through the glass of Scripture, I am convinced that the glory to come will not be one devoid of lower creatures, but more full of them than is this old world that is passing away. And as I humble myself to ponder the excellent virtues of the lower creatures, as Scripture tells me to do (Phil. 4:8), I am led to think that they shall not cease richly to adorn the new earth, which shall be freed from its bondage to corruption to rejoice in the glorious liberty of the children of God (Rom. 8:21). I am led to think that I should hold all things in this world, especially my fellow man, God’s crown of creation, in higher, not lower regard. And as I follow this lead, I find peace, comfort, and hope in the wisdom, loving mercy, and power of the Lord.

WILLIAM HARRELL

Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia

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