“Why is it okay to put down an animal if they are suffering but not a person?” This question came from my six-year-old son one day as we drove past a familiar scene – a sick cow down the street from our house.
For two months, we looked out the car window at the sick cow as we drove past. The owners had placed several hay bales around the old cow trying to shield it from the cold wind and rain. Sometimes the cow even had a warm blanket and a hay bale by her head as a pillow.
The funniest sight ever was that of the cow being lifted off the ground out of the mud and dirt by a harness and crane so the owner could clean under the cow and reposition it. Clearly, this cow was a beloved family pet.
After two months of this, I casually mentioned the owners should go ahead and put the cow down because it was suffering. My comment sparked the curiosity of my six-year-old.
About a year prior to the sick cow, we came across a similar incident with our neighbor who had a sick horse. Two horses and a mule lived in the field behind our house and they daily made their visit to our back fence. One day, we noticed one of the horses was no longer making the rounds.
When we asked the owner what happened, she explained they put the horse down because he was suffering with cancer. By the look on my son’s face, I knew I was going to have to answer some questions.
Men and horses
As we walked back to the house, my son immediately asked what “put down” meant. He could not understand why anyone would want to hurl insults at a poor sick horse.
I explained that put down meant they had to kill the horse because it was suffering from cancer. I watched as my son’s eyes grew large. He looked at me and in all seriousness said, “Mom, Grandpa has cancer too!” I quickly assured him we would not be putting down Grandpa anytime soon.
My comment about the cow needing to be put down and not putting down Grandpa caused my son to wonder why I was okay with the killing of a sick cow but not a sick human. Don’t get me wrong, I think pet owners should be very diligent in the care of their animals.
Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel. – Proverbs 12:10 (ESV)
But a suffering animal is very different than a suffering human. For a moment, I had to think about my answer to my son’s question. Trying to drive and think theologically was proving to be a challenge. I wish I could say the answer just flowed out of my mouth.
What actually came out was this,
Well, that poor sick cow, as sick as she is, will never develop any Christlike qualities as a result of her suffering. She will never become more patient, forbearing, empathetic, etc…as a result of her suffering. She will never be thankful to her owners for all the special care and attention they have shown her.
In the end, she will never grow or learn from her suffering. The more I thought on this, I began to understand why some say suffering or pain is a gift from God. Personally, I have no desire to suffer in any way. I avoid it as much as possible. But the little amount of suffering God has allowed in my life has proved to be the times I grew closer and deeper as a believer.
The hardest suffering I have yet to experience came as a result of the death of my son, C.J., through a still birth. So many things went wrong and so many things should have been caught by the doctors.
I’ll never forget how much I felt held by God and how He caused me to grow closer and more dependent on Him, especially when we learned the whole death could have been prevented. Information like that does not go down easy.
But like the poor old sick cow, I knew God was taking care of my every need – lifting me out of the mire and mud of depression and self-pity and cleaning me off for His use. Unlike the cow, I will forever be changed as a result of suffering and will one day be able to thank my Savior for His care.
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” – Job 1:20-21 (ESV)
What will you do with the suffering He has picked for you? Of course it is easier to answer that question before the suffering hits. My prayer is that you will allow God to grow and change you in the midst of your suffering.
And trust that He does know what He is doing and why He is allowing you to go through it. You may never get answers for your suffering, or the answers you get may not help much. Don’t be discouraged, we don’t go through suffering only to gain answers, but to gain more of Christ.