PETS ARE PEOPLE TOO?
Written by Doug Ponder on October 13, 2013
This article is a recap of the sermon Pets Are People Too? in the Embracing Diversity series. (You can also listen to the post-sermon Q&A here.)
Promoting Our Pets
Americans own almost as many dogs per household as we have children, and we actually own more cats per household than we have children.
For the first time in our nation’s history, the number of children being born (1.93 children per couple) is lower than the population replacement rate.
More than 3 million pets are adopted annually in America—more than twenty times the number of children adopted each year.
There has been a meteoric rise in niche pet services like pet daycares, pet TV channels, pet costumes, pet clothing lines, pet fashion shows, pet dating services, and so forth.
The amount of money we spend each year on our pets (61 billion dollars) is enough to feed, clothe, and educate more than 150 million children in poverty-stricken nations in Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America.
And recently our country has passed laws allowing for late-term abortions—well after children could survive outside the womb. Meanwhile organizations like PETA and other animal rights activists continue to pass legislation that makes it harder to euthanize animals.
The latest development is that scientists are now claiming that dogs are people, too.
How Pets Become “People”
All the trends above are related. There is a reason why we are valuing children (and all human beings) less and less, while valuing other things (like animals) more and more. What has happened is a shift, like a seismic plate moving in the deep. The initial rumbles passed without must notice, but eventually the shifting plates will produce a life-altering earthquake.
The shift we’re talking about is a change in how we have to think about the value or worth of someone or something. In the current way of thinking, most people tend to estimate value or worth of based on a person or thing can “do for them.” In other words, instead of valuing something for what it is, we value it only for what it does—especially what it does for me. But when we begin to think of people in the same terms, we run into all sorts of problems. What if someone doesn’t benefit you? What if their existence is a nuisance to you? What if that person is loved by you? What if you are the unloved person?
This sort of thinking is best seen in a recent poll in which Americans were asked whether or not they would swerve to hit a human being or their dog (if they had no choice but to him one of them). Almost half of those polled said they would save their dog and kill the human being. That course of action is a bit like saying you would throw away a dollar bill to save a penny.
This same way of thinking causing us to use others and not to care for them. It even causes us to measure our own value or self-worth in terms of what we achieve or accomplish. This is a recipe for destruction.
Where Value Comes From
Human beings have a set and unchangeable value—not because of what we think or feel about them, but simply because of who they are as human beings. In other words, you don’t have to do anything to make yourself valuable. You are valuable because you are a human, and humans are valuable to God. He loves us and cares for us because of who he made us to be, not because of what we do for him.
God has made us in his image, beings full of dignity and value and worth, set apart from the rest of his creation and given a special job that only humans can do. He 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.” (Gen. 1:26)
To be made in God’s image means that God created us to be like him in some respects so that we could fulfill the role that he has given us, the mandate to rule over what God has made on his behalf.
Redeeming Rotten Apples
The trouble is that even though we’re made in God’s image, we don’t reflect the image of God very well. Just like a rotten apple is still technically an apple (and not an orange), it’s not a very good apple.
Thankfully, God’s not in the apple-tossing business. That is to say, instead of throwing his sinful image bearers out with yesterday’s garbage, God works through Jesus to redeem and renew humanity. Here is how a man named Athanasius, a theologian and pastor in the early church, put it: “When a painting becomes covered with marks or stains, the artist does not throw away the canvas. Instead, the subject of the portrait has to come and sit for it again, and then the likeness is re-drawn. Even so was it with the All-holy Son of God. As the perfect Image of the Father, he came and dwelt in our midst, in order that He might renew mankind made after Himself, and seek out His lost sheep, as He says in the Gospel: ‘I came to seek and to save that which was lost’ (Luke 19:10). This is the salvation that Jesus brings.”
In other words, what God created humans to do, Jesus has done. He is the perfect image bearer, the image of the invisible God. And by being united to him, through faith in his death and resurrection, we are reconciled to God and made new in him. Jesus lived the life we were created to live, he died for sins he didn’t commit, and he conquered death by rising from the grave. Not only that, but he gives us his Spirit, who changes our desires and our behaviors, making us little by little, slowly but surely, ever more like Jesus (Rom. 8:29). In him, we are able to fulfill the calling that God has given all those who are made in his image.
Thus, the salvation that Jesus brings includes the forgiveness and renewal of God’s image bearers. He recreates us through the work of Jesus to transform us into the responsible rulers of his creation that we have been created to be.
Image Bearers in God’s World
Understanding what God is doing for his image bearers through Jesus changes the way we treat the rest of creation as well as how we treat other human beings.
First, being made in God’s image means embracing responsible rule in which we uphold the real differences between human beings and other creatures, and treat them in appropriately varying ways. But we also remember that our rule is designed to glorify God and benefit the world. That means we are accountable to God for how we live, and we ought not be wasteful with the resources he has given us.
Second, the value of human beings made in God’s image means that the church needs to show how the gospel—the good news that Jesus died to redeem humanity—extends to issues like racism and abortion. Racism is opposed by the gospel because Jesus died for all of God’s image bearers, regardless of their skin color or ethnicity. Abortion is opposed because God’s image bearers are valuable as human beings, regardless of whether or not the parents want the child. God wants the child. He loves the child, created in his image, and sent Jesus to redeem that child. Abortion is never an option for parents what God says about his plan for humanity.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.