Friday, December 26, 2008


The problem with what I'm about to write is that it gives me the creeps. But I suppose things are the way they are, and my dislike and discomfort are part of what I have to come to grips with.

Last week, I re-read "Don't Shoot The Dog," by Karen Pryor. Something I want to do someday is own a home with a yard, and then adopt and train a dog. I won't try to keep a dog in an apartment, even though I know a lot of people who do, because I don't think it's fair to the dog. But someday, when my roots are truly down and I'm a homeowner, I plan to take on that challenge. In thinking toward that, I've thought a good deal about dog training, and I've read up on the subject. And that reading and thinking took me in this direction.

This is what gives me the creeps: there are unmissable parallels between the Bible and dog-training.

Your dog has no idea what the word "sit" means. It doesn't understand that what you want it to do on that spot of carpet is in the same category with what you do in a chair, in a car, cross-legged on the grass, perched on a fence, straddling a tree-branch, or whatever. It does come to learn, by trial and error, that when that sound comes from your mouth, you want it to flex its hips and put its rump down. Stimulus, response. It can furthermore tell from your tone whether you're feeling patient, cheerful, tired, angry; but it completely misses the overwhelming majority of the content of what you said.

Now go read Isaiah 55:8-9. Go ahead; I'll wait.

In communication, we talk a lot about the content dimension and the relational dimension of a message. Dogs get about the tiniest crumb of content from anything you say, but they get a whole lot of relational message every time you pay any attention at all to them. They don't know what you mean, but they know very well who you are. They recognize you as different from anyone else on earth. They know you by smell. They know you by posture, and can respond to your different postures. They can read mood swings that your human associates might miss altogether. More and more people diagnosed with seizure-causing medical conditions are given aide dogs, because the dogs can spot incredibly subtle signs that a seizure is on the way.

Now go read Jeremiah 31:33-34.

Not for nothing are dogs recognized for their loyalty. Your dog is your dog, and you are his (her) person. The dog might not know what you mean, for your thoughts are not a dog's thoughts, and your thoughts are higher than the dog's thoughts. But the dog knows you.

And that's got me thinking today that God doesn't teach us; God trains us.

You could reasonably object that Christ called His disciples His friends, and that the author of Hebrews said we were Christ's siblings. (For that matter, so did Paul.) That doesn't faze me; plenty of people think of their dogs as family members. These days, more and more couples choose to adopt dogs instead of having children, and tell everyone that the dogs are their children, as far as family bonds and an outlet for love are concerned.

I warned you it was creepy.

Probably the essence of the creepiness is that it's demeaning. But anyone who's bothered to study the Bible knows that it teaches the wisdom of humility and the dangers of pride, so if I'm a little squeamish about being, by analogy, God's dog, then that might be a healthy squeamishness. I know that for plenty of folks who aren't believers, this explanation might be more than enough to drive them away. It certainly sums up my understanding of why some of my more passionately atheistic friends embrace that deliberate rejection of Christ: they rebel, they gag, at the thought of being anyone's dog. But something I've argued on endless occasions in my adult life is that the world as it is doesn't care about our discomfort. If we're jealous of birds, and make up our minds that gravity is so disappointing that we have the right to defy it, and we step off skyscrapers proclaiming at the top of our lungs that we reject gravity, gravity will put on a demonstration of its authority. Our dislike for it has zero effect on its mastery of us. Same is true of God and His dominion.

We don't, and can't, grasp His thoughts. When He speaks to us, we gather only the thinnest outer edge of His meaning. The most we can hope for is to know Him, to build in ourselves a loyalty to Him, to accept His gracious offer to be part of His family: not as equals, for He has no equal, but as beloved features of His household, brought under His shelter by our willingness to trust. In fact, the fit between that and a person-dog relationship is pretty complete.

Now, all of this does leave unresolved the question of whether we will always be His pets. Paul, in Corinthians, gives reason to think someday we will go from knowing in part to knowing perfectly. And, of course, He created us in His image: it wasn't until the fall that we were separated from Him. When that separation is ended, then perhaps we'll know Him from a perspective that is nearer child-father than pet-person. But none of that changes our present state, does it?

And if it gives me the creeps, then that just proves I still cling to some devotion to myself, some level of being impressed with myself, that needs to give way.

1 comment:

Joseph said...

whelp, i agree, but like i was saying on facebook. Are we really His dogs? I mean we all act differently, I think we should act obediently and maybe we should think about it a little bit better when re-acting to all the things that are acting upon us. But I keep thinking about the, now I can't remember the name of the book, but it's something along the lines of Dogs vs. Cats. In it, it states the different relationships between the master and the animal. The cat thinking they are god due to the master coming home and feeding them and pretty much doing anything for them, not taking into mind that in one swoop the cat could be gone (which could be funny, wish i had a pic). and the dog thinks of the master as a god, doing things for him, giving him shelter, food and playing with him.
analogy, but eh, that's what you get for letting me a non doctor comment on your stuff.