I read C.S. Lewis’ book, “The Problem of Pain” again this week, and noticed something I had merely skimmed before; the relationship between humans and animals. Professor Lewis, a far wiser man than I, declined to state specifically, whether or not he believed animals had souls, except to say that insofar as an animal has a soul, it is because of his master. That is, Dr. Lewis said that if a sheepdog can be said to be “good”, it is because the shepherd is good. Frankly, I have known some fine animals, whose masters did not seem to measure up quite so well, and in saying that I think the dogs in my life whom I have been privileged to be charged with as master, were in many ways my moral superiors. The idea, however, that animals adapt their behavior and character to humans, and perhaps even their way of thinking and identity, is to me a very good idea and worth consideration. And for this article, I take the notion a step further.
Lewis discussed the belief in some Christian circles, that the Fall of Man also led to the Fall of the Animals, a sort of explanation for why animals in the wild are cruel and vicious, killers by nature. Lewis observed that the belief was not Scriptural but simply a speculation, and in the light of the knowledge that animals almost certain preceded Man, offered his own notion – that Man was originally sent to restore the animals to their rightful relationship to God, and this is why Adam was given dominion; it was a reason for his creation. And it is not difficult to agree, that a properly responsible master cares for his pets and animals in such a way as to increase their health, comfort, and in many cases lengthen their life as far as possible. Dogs, for example, which used to live only 5 or 6 years out in the wild may expect to live an average of 13 to 15 years (depending on breed) if they are properly trained and kept by a decent owner. There are domestic dogs which have lived in excess of twenty years, something unthinkable for a wild animal. Lewis also noted that humans are able to convince animals to co-exist, from pets of different species in the same house to farms which train animals to cooperate and work together under the farmer’s command.
Animals and human relationships with them, therefore, work effectively as a kind of analogy for our own relationship with God. Not only because we humans cannot comprehend God’s wisdom and planning, so that we see things as wrong or foolish which are actually quite wise and necessary, but also the key point – we are in a condition which, however one considers it, is beyond our power to correct. Just as we accept that we need people with specialized knowledge and experience for some very serious conditions and situations, so all the more we should understand that we are in a spiritual condition which we cannot correct ourselves. Jesus once counseled a man to tear off whatever part of him caused him to sin; what if that part is our mind or heart?
So, just as our animals depend on us, and they are compelled to accept things we do that they could not possibly understand, so too we must accept that we need God, and that His will is good and loving even though we do not know why it must be so.
So, how does this translate to my dog teaching me the Gospel? Well, the thing about Christianity that gets a lot of flak, is the complaint ‘why does it have to be Christ? Can’t I learn what I need from Ghandi, or MLK, or the Buddha, or some other human teacher or great leader? And the answer must be carefully made. You see, what all great moral leaders teach is the same love and compassion; the mind, heart, and soul can reach towards God from anyone, and many do. The distinction of the Christian comes down to the ‘how’ – How can evil be undone? How can an imperfect person hope to become perfect? How can a lost dream be reclaimed? How can we, finite creatures, hope for an eternal joy? In the end, the only answer which stands up to hard and close examination, is that God paid that price for us, doing what we could not, sending His own Son as the perfect man, to live as we should, to teach what must be known, and in dying to accomplish what was beyond any other man. All we have to do is believe, trust, and obey. Dang, but that’s hard.
And that brings me to my dog. My dog is not a renowned philosopher or theologian, and no one would ever mistake her for one. But she loves without restraint or hesitation, she believes in me, trusts me in everything, and pays close attention to my commands. I’m learning a lot from my dog, which in this measure is an emissary of the Lord.
That’s how I see it, anyway.