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The Loss of a Pet

Elisabeth Elliot: Is animal suffering different from human suffering? I hope so. Animals must not suffer the agonies of anxiety which accompany human pain. They live, as we have been told to live, one day at a time, trustfully.

Lisa Barry: I'm sure there are many people listening to me today who have lost a pet, and just as many who have been made to feel that their sorrow is petty and unimportant. The Bible is not clear on the future of our furry creatures, but this one thing is sure: If something is important to us, then it's important to God. Today on Gateway To Joy, Elisabeth Elliot talks about her own experience of losing a pet and what she has discovered as a result. If you've lost a pet and thought maybe it wasn't a godly thing to be sad about, then I think you'll be glad you tuned in today. Let's get started with this Tuesday edition of Gateway To Joy.

Elisabeth Elliot: "You are loved with an everlasting love." That's what the Bible says, "and underneath are the everlasting arms." This is your friend Elisabeth Elliot, talking with you again today about "Growing in Christ." It's a very broad subject, isn't it? It's one that I'm sure you parents who are listening want to learn as much as you can about.

I talked yesterday about the importance of hymns and Bible reading in your church and in your home and what might occur if you happened to have a pet. I get some very sad letters from people who have lost a pet.

I read a paragraph from one of George MacDonald's stories about a little boy, twelve years old, who loses his mare. An older man comforts him by reminding him that God is love. It must be that perhaps the mare will go on living until God tells her to stop, and that He may never say.

Then I read the poem sent to me by that person whose name is anonymous (Elizabeth Gardner Reynolds) about a sweet little dog, "I Wonder If Jesus Had a Sweet Little Dog" (name of the poem, "The Little Black Dog.") I thought, "Well, we'll probably get some letters from people saying, 'What makes you think that animals are going to survive death? They just go into the ground because they don't have souls.'"

Well, there's a very interesting passage in Romans 8. It says, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory which will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed, for the creation"--and that of course means the whole universe--"was subjected to frustration not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected, 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. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for the adoption of sons for the redemption of our bodies, for in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all, for who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently." (Rom. 8:18-25)

I'll read the rest of that poem about if the Lord had a dog:

I'm afraid that He hadn't, because I have read
How He prayed in the garden alone,
For all of His disciples had fled,
Even Peter, the one He had called a stone.
And I know so well that His little dog,
With heart so loving and warm,
Would never have left Him to suffer alone,
But creeping right under His arm,
Would have licked the dear fingers in agony clasped,
And counting all favors but loss,
When they took Him away, he would have trotted behind,
And followed Him right to the cross.

Now that's fantasy, yes. Are you sure that it couldn't possibly have happened? I'm going to tell you about my little black dog, MacDuff. My friend Miriam and I had driven up to New Hampshire from Boston for a few days to a quiet place. She had had her old friend die just a few weeks ago. MacDuff, my six-year-old Scottish Terrier, was not with us. As we climbed the mountain, we thought of how much fun it would have been to have had her friend and MacDuff.

MacDuff had died of cancer just a week before. I knew he was sick during the summer when his routines changed. He sat in the middle of the backyard one morning, instead of in his usual place by the fence, looking bewildered instead of in charge. One rainy day he was not on his chair in the screened porch, but I found him lying in a hollow place under a bush. He no longer leaped for his milk bone at the breakfast table, but he kept his ears and tail up, and thus kept my hopes up.

The vet said he had an infection and gave us pills. MacDuff got very cagey at detecting where those pills had been hidden in his food, so I had to try ever sneakier methods of getting them into him. They worked fine. He was well again for a while, faithfully putting in his self-appointed barking time each day, letting the neighbor dogs know who was in charge and keeping off trespassers, some of whom must have been demons, since none of us humans could see them.

But I saw that he was losing weight. I could feel the shoulder blades and spine through his heavy, ragged coat. I bought new kinds of dog food, special hamburger, yogurt. He was apologetic when he couldn't eat it; his eyes limpid with a plea for understanding, his stiff brushed tail quivering to explain.

His suffering was a hard thing to watch. He was alone in it, as all creatures, human or animal, are alone in their pain. How was it for MacDuff? He expected no special treatment. He didn't pity himself. He took it for granted that he would be able to go on about his accustomed Terrier business. When he found that it was somehow not working very well, he made his own adjustments as unobtrusively as he could. The supreme object of his life was to see that I was happy. I think he lay under the bush in the rain not in order to wallow in solitary self-pity, but in order that I might not see him in trouble. He liked to please me. He delighted to do my will.

Is animal suffering different from human suffering? I hope so. Animals must not suffer the agonies of anxiety which accompany human pain. They live, as we have been told to live, one day at a time, trustfully. They look to God, the Psalmist tells us, for provision for their needs. They are watched over and cared for by a kind Father. Not the least sparrow falls without His notice. Surely MacDuff was of more value than many sparrows.

I watched him try to lie down on his side, but something obstructed his breathing. He would begin to pant and would waken to change his position, sometimes with little muffled groans. This fellow creature, I thought, formed by the hand that formed me, suffers for my sin, for I am of the race of men who brought evil into the world. Without evil, there could be no pain, no death. A Scottie would not have had cancer.

His wonderful face, bearded, with tufts of eyebrows springing and black eyes shining, had reminded me of George MacDonald's belief that dogs always behold the face of the Father. MacDuff knew things. What did he know? What were the mysteries he saw, too deep or too high or too pure for me to be entrusted with yet? He was not bewildered, of course, by the questions that needle my mind--the origin of evil, God's permission of an animal's or a child's suffering. He was a dog. To ponder such questions was not required of him.

What was required of him, he did in an authentically, thoroughly, dog-like style. I will not weep more for MacDuff. I am thankful for such a gift of grace. He was, I'm sure, a sign to me. In the sorrow of my husband's illness, when life seemed a desolate wasteland, MacDuff was there. Jesus, the Bible tells us, during His temptation in the wilderness, was with the wild beasts. (Mark 1:13) I used to think of that phrase as descriptive of one of the elements of His dereliction, but it may be that the wild beasts, like the angels, ministered to Him. Is it mere sentimentality to believe that? Is it too much to say that MacDuff ministered to me? He did. He was my little wild beast in that wilderness.

One cannot help wondering of any friend who has died, "Where is he now?" I remember Harry Ironsides' reply to the lady who grieved because the Bible says nothing about animals going to heaven. "Madam," said Dr. Ironside, pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, "If when you get to heaven you want your little white dog, I can assure you that your little white dog will be there." He was able to say that because there will be nothing that we long for and grieve over once we get to heaven.

The Bible does not speak specifically of the destiny of animals, but there is a promise in the letter to the Ephesians which surely must include them. Ephesians 1:10: "Everything that exists in heaven or earth shall find its perfection and fulfillment in Christ."

Paul expresses his hope in the 8th chapter of Romans, verse 21, that in the end, "the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay and have its share in that magnificent liberty, which can only belong to the children of God."

If your family has lost a pet, perhaps recently, this may just be one more step--maybe just a baby step--of growing in Christ, recognizing that we do not by any means know what God is going to do with all of creation. We only have hints of what He is going to do with us. But it's a lesson in trust, isn't it? Can we trust the God who made that little black dog or that 12-year-old boy's mare? Can we trust Him to do things far more wonderful than our wildest imaginings? I love to think of the mysteries, knowing that I don't understand them. But I know the One who knows. May God keep you in His peace as you grow in Christ.

Lisa Barry: The Bible says we're to pray about everything. For those of you who have had pets, their loss can be a very difficult thing. You can pray to God about your feelings without apology or misgiving. Aren't you glad God gave us animals that could be domesticated? What a lifeline they can be to people!

And we know that Gateway To Joy is a lifeline for many of you as well. You may not be able to listen every day, but we're always here for you for the times you can, and beyond that, we are here 24-7 to assist over the Internet with transcripts, products and other assistance. If this is a ministry that you draw strength from, then did you know that you can infuse us with the same kind of strength? Your prayer support is the undergirding that keeps this ministry alive and effective. The letters keep pouring in, one after another of changed lives and changed destinies. Your prayers provide the means for the world to get God's life giving message. Thank you for all that you do. Here's our address: Gateway To Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, Nebraska, 68501. That's Gateway To Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, Nebraska, 68501. Or you can call toll-free at 1-800-759-4JOY. Our number again is 1-800-759-4569. On the internet you'll find us at gatewaytojoy.org.

Gateway To Joy has been a production of Back to the Bible.

Tomorrow Elisabeth talks about a few common myths of the teenager. Find out more the next time we meet for Gateway To Joy.

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