You’ve lined up dutifully with your boarding pass in hand, filter with compliance past the check-in desk, and walk down the jetway, carry-on baggage in tow, to your plane, bound for, well, wherever. There is the usual slowdown in the forward part of the aisle as passengers ahead of you struggle to get their oversized stuff in the overhead space and take their seats. When you get to your aisle seat, 22-D, you stow your bag as quickly as possible in the bin overhead and flounce down—and notice, for the first time, a pig curled up at the feet of the passenger in 22-F.
A pig—hairy hide, huge wet muzzle, big floppy ears, wiggling tail.
And, unless you qualify as a frequent flier, this may be the first time you’ve been introduced to a “comfort animal”—or “emotional-support animal”—on an airline. This particular representation of fauna, in this time and place, would be distinguished as different from a “service animal,” a duly registered, carefully trained member of the canine genus, serving a blind person. Service animals have been an occasional part of our culture for decades. Comfort animals, not so much.
The presence of comfort animals on airlines, a relatively recent phenomenon, has in fact been controversial. In general, they have not received the benefit of training for interaction in the community. They are there simply because advocates, supported by a growing number of mental-health experts, have found benefit in their more active deployment by their owners.
Of course, pigs are not the only—or the predominant—examples that are seen in this trend of comfort animals. There have been instances of monkeys and roosters as well. As might be expected, however, the great majority of them are chosen from the canine part of the animal world—dogs. Fulfilling their role in new ways as “man’s best friend,” they are accompanying their humans into ever more settings.
And this idea of the reassuring effect of inter-species companionship is even seen in other situations. For several years, zookeepers have utilized one animal to reassure calmness in another. A recent NPR feature described one zoo’s bringing a golden retriever in to calm a newly arrived cheetah. Cats and dogs? In fact, the close connection between cheetahs and dogs has been observed in many places in recent years.
And the principle of inter-species bonding goes back even further. In the world of horse racing, there is an old tradition in which trainers would often place companion animals in the stalls of high-strung thoroughbred horses. Most frequently, goats were among these, and horses often seemed to become quite attached to their inter-species stable mates. Sometimes someone from a rival barn would sneak in and steal away the goat to upset a horse the night before a race. Language experts posit that it was this practice that originated the expression “gets my goat” to describe when someone becomes upset.
The need for companionship—for relationship—in fact, seems to be inherent in so many of the upper order of the animal kingdom. In Homo sapiens, that species that seems to occupy so much of our attention, it appears in various forms. Only one manifestation of it is observable in the practice of inter-species “companion animals” in airline cabins. There is also the common attraction to pets. But the need for relationship is also universal in human nature—noticeable in the God-given appetite for intra-species fellowship.
Close reading of Scripture suggests that God Himself exists in a state of relationship. The Trinity is a relationship that, from a limited human standpoint, can only begin to be understood. At the end of Creation week, after six days of breath-taking, infinite originality, God comes to what may be the capstone of His creative expression. And He says, “‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness’” (Gen. 1:26, NIV).
There are at least two things that may be said of this as it regards relationship. First, God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—is (are?) in relationship. And second, He (or They) created humankind to be like Him (or Them), which would include, presumably, the inherent quality that would include relationship to be complete.
It’s interesting to note that, and after the completion of each of the previous six days, He declared that “‘it was good’” (vss. 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 26, NKJV). But after He created the first human being—with His own hands—God said, “‘It is not good for the man to be alone’” (2:18, NIV). If He had created only one human being, that individual would have lacked one principle way to be “‘in our likeness’” (1:26, NIV).
“We can hardly imagine what it must have been like to be the first and only person on earth. It’s one thing for us to be lonely; it was another for Adam, who had never known another human being. He missed much that makes us who we are—he had no childhood, no parents, no family or friends. He had to learn to be human on his own. Fortunately, God didn’t let him struggle too long before presenting him with an ideal companion.”1
It appears that, given God’s own eternal existence in relationship and His decision to create humankind to be like Him, this new likeness would include some kind of connection with another. If “God is love” (1 John 4:8, NIV), how can this be if there is not another to be loved? Love implies the existence of another. Though there is no mention of it in Scripture, Adam, created to be like his Creator, would sooner or later have felt the sense of need for another. It would be only natural.
Ellen G. White points out that “It is natural to seek companionship,”2 and, further that “The Lord formed man for companionship.”3
It appears that we’re hardwired for relationship. It’s an expression of something that takes us back to our relationship with God Himself, with His wish, expressed to the other Members of the Trinity to be like Them and in relationship with Them.
It’s a bit tempting, from the obviously fallible, human standpoint, that think of the Trinity back there timelessly before Creation—though in complete companionship with One Another—feeling a sense of loneliness. Throughout Scripture are strewn countless references to God’s frequent effort to be in companionship with His created beings.
“‘Where are you?’” He called to Adam in the Garden (Gen. 3:9, NKJV). It sounds almost wistful. “‘Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them’” (Ex. 25:8, NKJV). It sounds almost as if the building of the sanctuary were primarily for relationship. “‘You will be my people,’” He promised the people Israel (Eze. 36:28, NIV). And, in His ultimate promise, He proclaimed, “‘I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am’” (John 14:3, NIV).
In the meantime, this need for companionship is to be expressed in relationship with another. It is “‘not good . . . to be alone.’” And this is one of the principal reasons for the bond—the beneficial bond—that is urged upon us as we worship together in congregation.
“Let us not give up meeting together,” the apostle Paul urges, “as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:25, NIV).