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Our Pets

by Tim O'Hearn

They say pets are good for you. People with pets are supposed to live longer, happier lives than those without. Cats, birds, fish, and even (I shudder to say it) dogs are generally beneficial to mental, and even physical, health. There is a program at one health care organization in Albuquerque, based on work at Johns Hopkins, called hospital at home. People with certain conditions who live within a given distance of an emergency room belonging to that hospital can elect to spend their three to five day hospital stay at home, with daily visits by nurses and a doctor. One of the advantages of this program is that people who are very sick don’t have to worry about who is taking care of their pets, because they can oversee their care themselves. Pets are supposed to be good for you.

There are, however, three pets that almost everyone owns that are not so beneficial. These three pets are hazardous to mental and spiritual health. In some cases they can even kill their owners. And yet we won’t let them go. They are, after all, our pets.

One of these is our pet peeve. We all have one. This is that one thing that always sets you off. No matter how innocuous it appears to someone else, this is the issue that you just cannot stand. Sometimes our pet peeves may seem ridiculous to someone else, like the preacher who could not stand to have someone whistle in the church building. Sometimes our pet peeves may even be innocent in themselves, such as the one that gets angry whenever someone is seen talking on a cell phone while driving. Such behavior is dangerous, and often illegal, so it is good to be upset when you see it. When it becomes your pet peeve, though, it gets out of hand. You see such behavior and you start honking at the other car, yelling at the driver, and maybe even driving erratically. What is otherwise an annoyance now becomes an obsession that endangers your life.

Paul advocated keeping pet peeves on a leash. “Be angry, and sin not. Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath.” (Eph 4:26) If you must keep a pet peeve, keep it under control.

The other two pets most people have are actually twins. They are the pet sins. One is the pet sin that they oppose. Any sin is wrong, and any sin will separate a person from God if that person does not avail themselves of God’s forgiveness. Some people, though, let this pet grow out of proportion. It is not a new phenomenon. Remember the abolitionists and the prohibitionists? It seems that we are seeing these overgrown pet sins more often today: anti-abortionists who bomb clinics, anti-homosexuals who assault or even kill people, anti-Muslims who burn the Qur’an. It is good to oppose sin, but when they let one sin grow fatter than others, they are opening the door for others to discredit God.

The twin to the pet anti-sin is the pet sin we justify. We oppose sin in general, and even some sins specifically, but we have to keep our own little sin. We may hide our pet so that nobody but God knows we have it. As often we try to justify our sin. “It is not really a sin.” “Where does the Bible clearly and specifically say, thou shalt not?” “His sin is worse than mine.” Sometimes the twins are identical; the owner goes overboard letting people know he opposes a sin, just so he can hide it in his own life. Perhaps pet sins are the most dangerous. They can kill more easily. “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Rom 6:1-2) “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us” (Heb 12:1)

Pets are good, as long as they are good pets. But who in his right mind keeps an alligator for a pet? These three pets can be even more deadly.