presented by j:
Growing up in church, sermons were laced – no, loaded – with anecdotes of how being a parent teaches one about the relationship between God and man. So it’s been no surprise that I have learned a lot about God the Father through the lens of being a father myself.
But I have to admit that a lot of my learning about my relationship with God in the past few years came from an unlikely source: my dog.
My wife picked out Sirius from a litter of six-week old boxador (boxer/lab mix) pups that had been found and were adoption-ready at the Denton Animal Shelter. So we’ve now had him for four years and he’s grown to be 72 pounds of muscle and constantly-shedding hair. We named him after Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series. You’re free to judge us for this if you like.
But to the point, what has my dog taught me about God?
1. I Can’t Rescue Myself
It should come as no shock that Sirius did not look up at us that day in the shelter and say, “Hello, kindly human, would you consider intervening before I must be euthanized?” The fact is, we were at the shelter that day because they were running a special in adoptions since they were full.
You could say that if we had not adopted Sirius then someone else would have, because he was a cute puppy. Perhaps. Probably. But not guaranteed. And even if that’s not true, when we rescued him, that opened up room for another animal to be given more time to be rescued as well.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)
Natural human pride – regardless of belief – tells us we can save ourselves if we try hard enough. For me, this was definitely true. I thought I was fine. I knew all the “right” answers. But I could not – and still cannot – save myself any more than Sirius could.
2. I Don’t Know What’s Bad For Me
When we got Sirius, we were living in a small one-bedroom apartment. Our back porch opened up into a large field that we affectionately called “the poop field,” because this is where all the other dog owners in the complex took their dogs for, well, I think you get the idea.
Before continuing, the more squeamish of our readers may wish to finish your snack first. Done? Good.
Not everyone (ourselves included, I admit) was fastidious about picking up after their dog, resulting in lots of dried-out doggy poop nuggets littering the ground like the world’s smelliest Easter egg hunt. Sirius was fascinated by these and sometimes we were not fast enough to keep him from gobbling up a bite or two.
Obviously, this was not good for him. He even got worms at one point from indulging in this disgusting habit, and we had to put him on medication. Even so, he did not learn his lesson. He still struggled with wanting to eat sundries poop nuggets though he knew it would make him feel bad and that he would get in trouble for it.
“Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?” (Prov. 20.9)
This taught me about my own warped view of sin and my own inability to stay clean from it. Even though I believe certain things are wrong and therefore disgusting to God, I am tempted time and time again by the same things. I want to consume sin, and I don’t get why my Master is telling me not to and pulling at my leash. Which leads me to my next lesson…
3. Boundaries Are Good For Me
When he was little, we would crate Sirius at nighttime. Part of this is because if he had an accident, better for it to be contained. Also, he is an avid chewer, so we couldn’t trust if he would leave certain items like shoes, clothing, books alone. I think he has destroyed no less than half a dozen pairs of my mother-in-law’s flip-flops.
While he did not always like being crated and would whine about it on occasion, these boundaries were good for his training and development. Now we let him sleep on his own bed in our room and he can roam around a bit if he likes. He likes to switch back-and-forth between sleeping on my side of the bed and Christa’s side.
And to this day, like most good dog owners, we have him on a leash when we go on a walk or take him to the vet. We have that restriction in place not because we don’t love him – quite the opposite – we want what’s best for him, which means keeping him from running out in the street because of his piqued interest in a suspicious-looking rabbit (or leaf) on the other side of the road.
So it is with God’s law. At times, it can feel really restrictive and even downright confusing. But as I grow and understand it better, the more I realize it actually gives me freedom and protection, not fetters.
“Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord!” (Ps. 119:1)
The boundaries of the law are equal to the boundaries of blessing. While the law is incapable of saving me, it is nonetheless a tool for teaching me about God and the best way of life He intends for His children.
4. I Don’t Understand What God Is Doing
This might be the greatest thing I have learned. Sirius has literally no inkling of my thoughts or worries or what I do when he doesn’t see me. Even when he does see me, there’s no way for him to understand that I’m writing a blog about him. He doesn’t understand that I have to work to be able to pay for his food and shots. After all, he’s just a dog.
I can’t help but think that the way Sirius understands me is about the same as my limited scope to understand God. Honestly, Sirius is probably closer to understanding me than I am to comprehending God in His infinite nature.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)
It’s easy for me in my very limited view of the universe to get frustrated with what God is doing/not doing in different circumstances. Whether it’s anxiety or finances or a devastating news story, I think I know better than God does and I question what I perceive to be His negligence or passivity. But the fact is, I have no clue what He is up to because just as I don’t answer to Sirius as his master, God does not have to answer to me since He is my master.
This may seem like convenient circular logic to the unbeliever, a way for those of faith to ignore the harsh realities of life’s unanswerable moments. But the fact is, you don’t know what you don’t know. And there’s a lot about God’s actions that I don’t know. But I know that He is good and that is enough.
Where I am better off than Sirius is that I’m able to learn from my relationship with God and emulate Him, whereas Sirius will never be able to emulate me. But I will say that – in a literal sense at least – he’s probably better at following me than I am at following my Master, even though this leads to no life change for his canine self. He simply enjoys being in my presence for the sake of being in my presence. How convicting is that?
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21)
The Greek word for “follow” used here is epakoloutheó (ἐπακολουθέω), which carries the sense of following close behind the way a dog accompanies its master.
Just as Sirius likes to walk alongside of me while I go from one room to the next, so am I to follow behind my Master. And in that regard, I still have a long way to go.
For my fellow dog-owners, I hope your relationship with your dog also teaches you a thing or two about God. And for you cat people out there…well…there’s grace for us all, I suppose.