What does God teach us through animals?

By Kersley Fitzgerald

I am the chagrined owner of The World's Most Neurotic Dog ™. For the first two years of her life with us, whenever we asked her to do something, she'd pee. Up to and including getting off the couch. And, yes, she'd pee before she actually got off the couch. It got to the point where we put in a baby-gate so she couldn't leave the hardwood floor in the kitchen. And we'd ask JT to get her to do stuff, because apparently a 9-yo is less intimidating.

She's also afraid of stairs. After a year and a half, she learned to manage the four steps from the garage to the kitchen with minimal drama, but she still can't bring herself to climb up to the second floor or down to the basement. And, yes, the second floor and the basement are the only floors in the house with showers. So, to bathe her, we have three options: wait until the weather's warm and wash her in the backyard with the hose, pay for grooming, or carry her downstairs, wash her in the shower, carry her upstairs, and then get out the carpet cleaner because the terror of being in the basement has caused her to pee.

Six times.

Oh, you'll love this, when we go on a trip, we can't let her stay home and hire a dog-sitter. We have to take her to the kennel. Because if we come home after she's spent a week by herself, every time we leave for an errand she'll get horrible feelings of abandonment and jump the 6' privacy fence and run away. Yes. The dog who cannot climb stairs can hop over a 6' fence. And if we rig the fence so she can't vault it, she'll cry so much the neighbors will call animal control on us. No, I'm not exaggerating.

Our previous dog, the Dog By Which All Others Are Measured ™, was the exact opposite. She was the personification of joy. You have never seen a dog smile as much as Dog #1 did. She once won over a 70-something confirmed dog-hater by ruthlessly smiling at him and sticking her nose up his pant leg. When people ask me if pets go to heaven, I have to say yes. Because there is no way God would create this dog and then just let her fade away.

Dog #1 was full-blooded Australian Shepherd. Mostly black (often mistaken for a border collie except she was so big) with white belly and socks. Dog #2 is half Aussie, half something bigger; possibly a lab. She's a beautiful orange ("liver" in Aussie terms) with the white Aussie markings (although more lab-like fur) and super-pale blue eyes. They both have the herding impulse, but not as much as our friends' blue heeler. When their boys and our boy get together, the sweet, loving heeler shakes with exasperation. "Why can't you control your young?" she cries before running upstairs to bark at the boys then down to the adults again. "Don't you understand what trouble your sheep are getting into?"

Because, to her, they are sheep. They are unruly. They don't go where she wants them to go. And they don't smell good. They are the quintessential sheep who have gone astray.

It was sheep that got me thinking about the metaphor of the animals. The sheep that the Israelites sacrificed in their own stead. The sheep that David compares himself to in Psalm 23. The sheep that Jesus continually calls us in the Gospels. The dirty, smelly, idiot animals who think of their bellies, start in terror at every twitch, and drown in their blessings. If God hadn't created sheep, how much would we have understood about His grace and protection?

Which got me to thinking, is that why God created sheep? Adam and Eve were vegetarians. Most people were until after the Flood. Why did God create animals? Just to give us something to do? Or for a deeper reason? To understand ourselves and Him better?

Really, why? Why create hordes of non-sentient, poopy, smelly beings when He could have just developed a grain as tasty as meat and a tree with leather for bark? Why beings that can feel pain but have limited understanding? If the whole point of this creation was to glorify Himself and teach us how to glorify Him, where do animals fit in?

"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16).

"God brings them out of Egypt, He is for them like the horns of the wild ox" (Numbers 23:22).

"He will be a wild donkey of a man, His hand will be against everyone, and everyone's hand will be against him" (Genesis 16:12).

"Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:24).

"But she answered and said to Him, 'Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children's crumbs'" (Mark 7:28).

"...Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8b).

It's amazing how much we learn about ourselves and God through the metaphor of animals. The imagery wouldn't have been as strong had God stuck with plants. "Behold, I send you out as irises in the midst of mint; so be shrewd as kudzu and innocent as daisies." Doesn't have quite the same ring.

But more than being living metaphors for personality characteristics, I think the presence of animals gives us opportunity to get a glimpse into the way God sees us. We were given authority over them in a similar way to how God has authority over us. And they are almost as maddening as we are.

TagsChristian-Life  | God-Father  | Personal-Life

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Published 6-7-11