I am often struck by the mystery of the relationship that dogs and cats have with their owners. While I realize that we humans do a lot of projecting of what we want their behavior to mean, it still remains a deeply mysterious reality to me how our pets come to “know” us and set up a kind of communication with us.
Dogs, especially, are very demonstrative, interactive, and able to make knowing responses. Cats are more subtle, but my own cat, Daniel, knows my patterns and also knows how to communicate when he wants water, food, or just a back rub. He’s also a big talker, meowing all day long to greet people and get attention from them.
As I say, this interaction with our animals is a mysterious thing. I do not raise this to suggest they are on a par with us intellectually or morally. Scripture is clear enough that animals are given to us by God and that we are sovereign stewards over them. And while it is never right to abuse animals, it is right that we make use of them in appropriate ways and even make use of some of them as a food source (cf Gen 9:1-3).
But animals, especially our pets, are also to be appreciated as gifts from God. Scripture is also clear that animals will be part of the renewed creation that God will bring about when Christ shall come again in glory:
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:6-9).
In Revelation, John speaks of speaks of seeing a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1), and he describes Christ from his judgment seat finally saying, Behold, I make all things new (Rev 21:5). I have little doubt that animals will share in that recreated and renewed kingdom where death shall be no more (Rev 21:4).
Part of the Kingdom! Without elevating pets (no matter how precious) to the full dignity of human beings, it is not wrong to think that they will be part of the Kingdom of God in all its restored harmony and beauty.
Perhaps in the mystery of our interaction with pets, God is giving us a glimpse of the harmony we will one day enjoy with all of creation. Scripture says,
For indeed, creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:19-21).
Yes, creation itself is eagerly waiting the day when God says (in the words of an old spiritual), Oh preacher fold your bible, for the last soul’s converted! And then creation itself will be set free from its bondage to death and decay and be remade into its original harmony and the life-possessing glory that was once paradise.
Perhaps the mystery of our pets is that they are ambassadors for the rest of creation, a kind of early delegation sent by God to prepare the way and the connections of the new and restored creation. Perhaps they are urging us on in our task to make the number of the elect complete so that all creation can sooner receive its renewal and be restored to the glory and harmony it once had. Who knows? But I see a kind of urgency in the pets I have had. They are filled with joy, enthusiasm, and the expectation of something great.
Joyful expectation! Yes, I have powerful memories of the dogs of my youth running circles around me, running to greet me when I arrived home, and jumping for joy when I announced a car ride or a walk. Even my cats of recent years, though more subdued, saunter over to meet me at the door with a meow and an arched back, rubbing up against my leg. And when I see this joy and expectation in my pets the words of Romans 8 (above) will sometimes come to mind: creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.
All deep mysteries to be sure, but surely pregnant with meaning for us, humanity and all creation, for the birth of a new creation.
Photo Credit Above: This is a picture I took of my brother’s Alaskan Malamute, Kaila, lying down with the family parakeet in early fulfillment of Isaiah 11 (quoted above)!