Pastor and Reformed theologian John Piper is weighing in this week on how much pets can distract from the Christian life, saying that they can indeed be a distraction but can also point you to God.
In response to a question from a listener to the Desiring God podcast Friday, the former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minnesota and prolific author noted that taking care of a dog, like anything else such as hobbies or entertainment, can take up too much time.
"[I]f your conscience is indicting you for the money you spend or the time you spend combing your dog's fur or scratching her behind the ears, you should stop, stop. You should get rid of the dog. No pet is worth the damaging of your conscience," Piper said.
It's not just a matter of how much time you spend on your pet. But there's another important question to consider, he noted.
Would the time that you would have spent on your pet "be devoted to more refreshing, more encouraging, more edifying, more loving, more God-glorifying tasks?"
A madness of sorts ensues when Christians attempt to quantify their life so mathematically where they ask themselves constantly where time can be better used.
"We all know that there is excess that dishonors God in lesser matters, and we should spot that and avoid it, get rid of it. Far too many of us fail to spot that and avoid that. But if we think we can do that every minute of our day and use only what is maximally useful in those minutes, we will probably become a victim of a mental disorder," Piper said.
Meanwhile, dogs appear to provide notable health benefits and dog owners seem to live longer, according to medical professionals at Harvard Medical School.
"People who have dogs live longer than people who have cats, and the assumption has been that dogs naturally cause their owners to be more active," wrote Dr. Thomas Lee, co-editor in chief of the Harvard Heart Letter. "The emotional benefits of having an affectionate creature are also one of the theories for why dog-lovers live longer."
But Piper believes there are theological and spiritual reasons for why pet ownership can be a godly thing. God created animals and delights in all the creatures in the world. And beyond how useful animals are, "the relationship between animals and man in the Bible seems to be one of God-saturated fascination."
Proverbs 30:24 reads: "Four things on earth are small, but they are exceedingly wise: the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide food in the summer; the rock badgers are a people not mighty, yet they make their homes in the cliffs; the locusts have no king, yet all of them march in rank; the lizard you can take in your hands, yet it is in kings' palaces."
And perhaps most famously in the gospels of Jesus instructs his followers to consider the birds of the air who neither sow nor reap yet the Father feeds them.
"[I]t seems to me that having a pet may fall into the category of God-saturated fascination and joy," Piper stated.
Piper then thinks it wise to consider his own dog, Dusty.
"She loves people more than food. She overflows with affection without testing your character first. She is indomitably happy, rain or shine. She holds no grudges whatsoever, no matter how she is treated. Her youth at eight seems to be renewed like the eagles," Piper said.
If God, then, "so taught a beast with no soul, no moral or spiritual capacities, to live that kind of life, how much more should her master feel ashamed that even with the Holy Spirit I struggle to do those things?" he concluded.