Just a few weeks ago, after reflecting on the antics of one crazy cat Gizmo:
along with her adopted sister Carrie:
I asked myself a question that had never crossed my mind in over three decades of having pets. What does the Bible say about having pets? Does God allow us to have pets or does the Bible contain passages that are against it? How are we supposed to treat our pets? How are we supposed to treat animals in general?
Genesis 1 contains some of the earliest descriptions of the relationship between humans and animals. It says:
“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.””
It continues in Genesis 2:
“Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the manʼs ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”
These two chapters of the Bible, which probably deal with the relationship between humans and animals more than any other, have two specific things for us to consider.
- We have a specific relationship with animals – we are to rule over them. What does that mean? It means we are agents of order who care for animals and the rest of creation. (See here for a more specific discussion of the phrase used) The harshness of the word used comes from the harshness of living in nature. How kind and beautiful would you consider nature to be without electricity, motor vehicles, running water, and insulated houses. We pour boiling tar over nature every day just to make our drive from home to work smoother.
- Animals are not a substitute for family relationships. That is the implication of Genesis 2. It is not good for man to be alone, but there is no animal companion that can create true community the way another human being can. I suspect that the power struggle is such that an animal would only be able to love the human as a Lord and Master, not as a coequal. We need coequals to challenge our innate bent to make ourselves into little gods for all of creation.
This is by no means an exhaustive look at the biblical perspective on pets, but I think there is enough here to show that it is not only ok to have pets, God created us to care for the animal life around us. It also makes it clear that we are to be in charge of them, and not the other way around. I am quite certain I have been guilty on both counts from time to time (see pictures above).
How do the animals in your life affect your relationship with God?