Of old dying pets and prayers
Is it okay to pray for Frank who’s in real pain because his pet is old and tired and dying? No one I know would think otherwise. Of course it is! Christ said a shepherd rejoiced over his found sheep and a woman was ecstatic over the recovery of a coin. If we can rejoice in recovery of such prized things why can’t be grieve in loss of them?
I’m aware that the psalmist in 104 is parading God’s power and honour and making the claim that all that is, exists because of him and his sustaining power. I don’t wish to narrow it down to a "sweet" little word on how "sweet" God is and how he looks after animals the way we humans look after our pets. But love of animals doesn’t have to be brought down to a sickening sweetness and to put all animals into the "pet" class is to do them an injustice (if "injustice" can be done to an animal). Love of animals can be a fine human quality! We can roll our eyes at the lengths to which people will go in relating to animals but then I’ve seen a "gushing" sticky sweetness extended to little children and other humans that made we wonder. It isn’t a warm healthy and affectionate response to fellow-creatures or family or friends that I’m critiquing here. Each one will determine what "over the top" is in a relationship.
This much is clear: God rejoices in all his works (Genesis 1:31 and see Psalm 104:31) and that includes the animal kingdom. The psalmist describes God’s glorious power in terms of his provision for cattle and wild donkeys—grass and gushing springs are made for their benefit. In Job 39—40 God isn't talking about the "pet class" when he claims that he has given freedom to the wild animals and feeds them. And in chapters 40—41, whatever, precisely, "behemoth" is, and God brags on his creation, it isn’t the kind of animal you’d expect to be housebroken or domesticated. Jesus thought that God fed even the sparrows and (so to speak) attended their funeral when they died (Matthew 10:29, Luke 12:6 and see Psalm 145:9). All that to say that those humans think too highly of themselves who dismiss as nothing the animal kingdom. Note especially Job 40:15a, where God, subtly putting Job in his place, says, "Look at the behemoth, which I made along with you..." Which I made along with you! If God prizes all of his creation then humans ought to watch their mouths.
Yes, well okay, so not everything in the creation is doing us a favour at this point; but then neither is every human. And that’s part of the problem, isn’t it? If humans weren’t selfish and grasping, greedy and self-serving what kind of world would this be for every living thing? We, as a human family as a whole, have contributed and continue to contribute to the ruin and pain and loss of the world and then shrug at the chaos.
Frank’s cherished old cat is dying and it’s hurting his heart. It’s part of the price a boy pays in this world for all the pleasure he has had with the cat. I’d be disturbed if he could dismiss the poor animal as easily as he would a broken plastic fork or a tissue he’s sneezed in.
I don't know about all the details (I don't think the Bible gives them) but ageing and dying is part and parcel of the redemptive judgement of God (it certainly embraced animals in Noah's day—and the animals were innocent). I’m unclear, beyond some plain truths, about how animals relate to the Fall though it seems clear from the Genesis texts (1:30 and 9:3) that we didn’t eat them until after it. There’s also the suggestion that they didn’t feed on or hurt each other prior to the great Alienation (Genesis 1:30 and see Isaiah 11:1-9). However vague the details are I’m certain that the drift of the Story is that animals as part of the suffering creation (Romans 8:19-22) have been caught up in the consequences of the human Rebellion. The question is not: "Do they have a soul?" But: "Can they suffer?" They can of course and I think each case of suffering is part of a grand and single network of suffering brought in the redemptive judgement of God on the entire creation. The details as to how God will finally work it all out are unknown to me.
If the above is the case or anything close to it, I think Frank's cat serves a place in the midst of it even though it’s unaware that that is so. His sensitivity toward his cat shouldn't be sneered at or dismissed as silliness. If he thinks the cat is part of the scheme of things and its death serves God's purposes then it will give a complexion to the events that could make them easier for Frank to handle. Even the death of this tired old cat speaks to a world that doesn’t much want to hear.