Louise and I have three dogs. When people say to me, “You must really love dogs.” I always correct them and say, “I love my wife. My wife loves dogs. So we have dogs.” I am more the type of person who does not mind visiting someone else’s dog, rather than a person who would own a dog of their own.
I raise this as a bit of a disclaimer. The Pope recently got the legacy and the social media all abuzz with his comments on people having pets rather than children. I am not going to directly speak to his words or the words of people who have responded to him. Instead, I offer nine brief points of reflection on marriage, children, and pets.
First, the marriage of one biological male to one biological female was part of the Triune God’s original intention in creation.
This is the message of Genesis 1 and 2. There is a statement from the English Reformation that says, “Marriage was instituted by God in the time of man’s innocency.” This means that the idea of marriage was intrinsic to creation before the fall of Adam and Eve. That is why you see marriage in all cultures. Only Christians are called to evangelize. All human beings are formed in such a way that there is a “naturalness” to heterosexual marriage. The marriage of a biological male to a biological female is deeply human.
Second, the openness of the married couple to having the gift of children was part of the Triune God’s original intention in creation.
The same Bible text that talks of God instituting marriage also commands us to “be fruitful and multiply.” Obviously not everyone can have children. This does not mean your marriage is “less” or second rate if you cannot have the gift of children. But to enter into marriage refusing to have children, and taking steps to ensure that the women does not get pregnant, is not what God intended for you in marriage. By the way, it is of course a different matter if there are serious health reasons against pregnancy. That is a topic for another blog.
Third, the Bible affirms the worth and dignity of those who are single, including those who are single and will never marry.
The Bible says that humanity was designed, as biological male and biological female, to both be able (in principle) to have children, but also to desire to have children. The Bible nowhere teaches that all people should marry. Each person has full dignity and worth by virtue of being made in the image of God. You have no more worth if you are married. You have no less worth if you are single.
Fourth, many people who would love to get married and have children are not able to.
Some people come to recognize that they are called to life-long singleness. Many live a long time desiring to get married, but for a variety of reasons cannot. The local church needs to be more sensitive to this truth. Too often churches are judgmental and exclusive of the single person. We must value marriage and family, but never let marriage and family become an idol.
Fifth, many people who are married would love to have children and are not able to.
As well, many who would love to be able to have more children are not able to. This is a sad truth. The church should not be judgmental on these private matters. We should also not act as if there are not people who are part of the church who struggle with fertility issues. It is far better to learn together to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.”
The local church should not be a place where only families with children feel welcome and supported. We need to be like Jesus, welcoming all who put their trust in Him. And under His loving rule, to love people in their particularity, both in their joys and sorrows, strengths and weaknesses, excellencies and messes, longings and fears.
Sixth, household pets are a great good.
The same foundational text (Genesis 1-2) that talks about procreation also talks about our care of the earth. Part of that caring is to care for animals. In a real sense, God made us to have pets. I began this piece by saying I am not a dog person, or even a pet person. But I would also say that this is a lack in me. It has definitely been the case that my wife’s love for dogs (and other critters) has been a great good for our children and grandchildren.
Seventh, it is not right to marry and then choose to have pets rather than have children.
People choose to have pets (and no children) for all sorts of reasons, one of which may very well be unrecognized selfishness. However, there are many who fear bringing children into our screwed up world. Some are concerned about overpopulation or climate catastrophes. Some are harbouring a fear about their marriage being tenuous and doomed to failure. Some are concerned that they might replicate the abuse they received from their parents.
For these, and other non-selfish reasons, pray that your local church can be a place where these matters can be shared and discussed and prayed over. It is good to come to the place where you can trust Jesus as Saviour and Lord and choose life.
Eighth, selfishness is a deep-seated human problem that wrecks marriages, families, churches, and lives.
As Psalm 36:2 puts it, we human beings flatter ourselves too much to detect or hate our own sin. Throughout this short article, I have hearkened back to Genesis 1-2. But we need to also remember Genesis 3. It was because of pride and its attendant self-centredness that Adam and Eve fell.
Every human being is fallen. The blight of pride and self-centredness taints all that you do and all that you are. The single and/or the married childless are not particularly more selfish than anyone else. I say this, not so you can give yourself a pass on your selfishness, but to convict you to deal with the log in your own eye before going after the speck in someone else’s. (Matthew 7:3-5).
Ninth, pray that your local church will be a safe home for “all sorts and conditions of men and women.”
Jesus came to save sinners (of whom I am definitely included). He desired that we walk with Him together with others who are learning that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30).