When We Grieve for a Pet
On Monday, my best friend died. He had four legs, a brindle coat, and in his prime could run like the wind.
His name was Ryker, our dog, a whippet we had for 14 years, my constant companion. True to his whippet nature, he always had to beat me up and down the stairs. Wherever I was, he wanted to be. For a decade and more he was at my side as I labored into the night crafting my sermons. He encouraged me to take walks and helped me make friends with neighbors. Whenever I came home, his welcome calmed and cheered me, no matter how arduous the day had been. He was beautiful. I never tired of looking at him.
It hurts so much to lose him.
I would never equate the grief we experience in the loss of human life to what we experience when we lose an animal. Yet the grief we feel for our pets can be severe. God has hardwired us to make that so.
God found joy in creating the animals. Genesis 1:25 makes that clear: “God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind.” Here comes the joy of God – “And God saw that it was good.” God didn’t need to populate his creation with the animals. But he did so for the sheer joy of it, no doubt intending that we would experience that same joy. And so we do.
God cares about the well-being of the animals. In the wonderful, unexpected ending to the Book of Jonah, God says, “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:12). Join that to Genesis 1:26: “Have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” God commissioned us to care about the animals just as he does. And so we do.
God utilizes the animals as a metaphor for the great reconciling work he is doing in the world. Through the prophet Isaiah, God says, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together…” (Isaiah 11:6). God brings peace through Jesus, the “shoot from the stump of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:1). The animals help us picture that peace. And so we do.
I will always be grateful that God gave me a wonderful dog to love. He filled my life with companionship and delight.
Will our pets be with us in heaven? We need to be cautious here, careful not to say more than the Bible says. But given that God takes joy in and cares about the animals, given that God promises in Romans 8:21 nothing less than the redemption of creation itself (something greater than human life alone), perhaps we can indulge our imaginations. And so we do.
I close my eyes and I see Ryker, in a future that God may someday unfold, bounding toward me, ears back in streamlined form to maximize his speed, stopping quickly at my feet, nuzzling my hand, then giving me a look I instantly understand: “What took you so long?”
David Lenz, Lead Pastor