Animals: Metaphor on The Hoof

By Kersley Fitzgerald

My uncle was a weekend farmer while he worked for the government during the week. In high school, I spent much of the summers on the farm. He raised draft mules—mammoth jacks mixed with draft mares. They're huge. It was generally my job to show the jennies (female donkeys) at local fairs.

Donkeys and mules have a reputation for being stubborn, but it actually stems from their intelligence. If they're concerned about the situation or even if they don't see the point, they are more reluctant to do what you want them to do.

Every animal had his or her own personality. Jill, the big black draft mare, would trot up whenever I called her name. Buttercup (I didn't name her; my young cousin did), the bay, was so tame that when we went to break her, she acted like it was the most natural thing in the world for these creatures to be on her back. Geronimo, the painted standard jack (standards are bigger than burros, but smaller than mammoths), was sweet, while Moses, the regular ol' brown standard jack, loved to be brushed. Sam, however, the mammoth stud, was so full of himself he refused to breed with jennies and eventually killed himself trying to hop over a 8' fence trying to get to the mares. He got hung up, with his back end hanging in the air in the corral and his front hooves barely touching the ground. Even when my aunt found him, hours later, there was nothing she could do to get him down.

My uncle retired a couple of years ago—from the government and from mules. He got bored, though, and switched to vermiculture. That held his interest for a couple of months. Bored again, he got a couple of dairy cows. Now he not only milks the cows, he has some big ol' database thing he's doing that tracks milk production.

Why all the animals? Not for the money—definitely not for the money. Not solely for the companionship (have you ever tried to cuddle a worm?) Why did God put in so many of us the desire to hang around with animals? Maybe partly because we learn more about ourselves. Maybe we learn more about our relationship with God, too. I hear a lot of "why doesn't God…" or "why did God…" from believers and unbelievers I know. Many of them could be answered by looking at animals.

"Why doesn't God just hand us what we need?" While I was in Portland, a bear trudged into someone's backyard in Vancouver and nuzzled up the seed from their bird feeder. Friends of ours live right on the Front Range, in town, but within easy access to the mountains. They have heavy metal latches on their trash cans. They know if the bears sense an easy meal, they'll remember where they got it, come back, and eventually expect food—whether it be from a trash can, the kitchen pantry, or the pets in the backyard.

In John 6:26, Jesus says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled." There is something about contentment that makes us forget God. Yes, He could cure your mother's cancer or introduce you to your perfect match at the age of 12, but there's more to life than health and happiness.

"Why does God put up with us?" When Dev's mother met Dog #2, her first reaction was to offer to buy us another full-bred Aussie if we'd get rid of the quivering puddle of pee we'd settled for. It didn't help that because of bone problems, Dev's mom can't really squat and had to interact with the dog by leaning over her—which made the dog pee. Four years and a lot of patience later, she allows as to how this dog is alright. The dog only pees once every couple of months, and she really is very loving. She just needed time to feel secure and to understand the ropes. She still isn't Dog #1, but she'll do.

2 Peter 3:9 says, "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." Dog #1 wasn't always perfect. We got her at ten weeks, supposedly house-trained. She wasn't house-trained. Not at all. And it was winter in Colorado, and we lived in a split-level so she had to go down an entire flight of stairs in the snow to reach the yard. Dev worked shift-work while I had a day job, so he was home with her during the day most often. It took us months to get her house broken, and even longer before she was crate-trained. More than once, I offered to find another home for her if Dev couldn't handle it. Fortunately, he's nearly as stubborn as God, and the puppy grew into The Dog By Which All Others Are Measured. How much more patience does God have with us?

"Why does God allow evil?" It is in the nature of most animals to be mean to each other. Male tigers kill cubs so their mother will go into heat again. Wolves fight for supremacy in the pack. Cowbirds make other birds raise their chicks. It is their nature, and although we may not like it, it is futile to interact with animals without acknowledging this.

There's a tragic story about an animal that was raised without consideration for her innate character. Lucy Temerlin was a chimp raised as a human. She could sign, dress herself, and make tea. But as she aged she grew too destructive. She was sent to a chimp rehabilitation center in Gambia where it took years for her to learn to live with other chimps. It's believed she never fully acclimated and may have greeted poachers who came to her island and killed her for her hands. (For more, click here, but make sure you have tissues on hand.)

God doesn't do that. He doesn't pretend we're something we're not. He meets us where we are and helps us fully realize who we are—not something so above and other that we lose ourselves. In a similar way, farmers in India and Africa are encouraged to protect their crops from elephants instead of just shooting the elephants. Bears are moved outside of human contact and only killed if they prove to be unmanageable. And Dog #2 is sunning herself in our backyard instead of back with the rescue organization we got her from.

We fight against this world—this world that our sin has damaged. It's hard to step back and see the bigger picture when you're in the bigger picture. But it's amazing to think that God created this picture for a specific reason. That each individual part has a purpose. Maybe God made platypuses and narwhals and polar bears because they're cool. But maybe he made them to reveal something about ourselves and our relationship with Him.

TagsChristian-Life  | God-Father  | Personal-Life  | Personal-Relationships

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Published 6-13-11