The Death of Dogs
I went to public school. For those of you who did the same, you will know immediately the sort of apologetics you are forced to do, or at least think about doing, at an early age. I distinctly remember a strand of banter echoing through the crowded hallways of my ninth grade school building—the kind of banter you are ashamed of repeating.
“I don’t believe in God. If God is real, then when I get to heaven, I’m gonna . . .” and a few choice words followed. There was a brief pause before the student began to act out how he was going to give God a good beating. “You killed my dog!” he shouted as he pretended to stomp the air (actually, there was a descriptor before the noun “dog,” based on a four-letter word that you hear often in public high school). I was thinking of this conversation the other day. And since I’m nearly thirty now, I guess it left an impression.
Is God in the business of killing dogs? To Christians, the critique is laughable, but this student’s off-the-cuff cut at God’s character reveals something quite telling about the popular opinion of God and a lopsided notion of providence.
On one hand, the student assumed that, if God existed, then God was in control of everything, including the life of his beloved canine. Theologically, we might say, “so far so good.” God is in control of everything. On the other hand, the student was assuming that God let something happen that should not have happened. He spitefully snatched up the life of a puppy just to prick the soul of a juvenile. At least, that’s how the student saw it.
There are, it seems, at least two responses to this sort of situation—one insensitive and the other gracious, in more ways than one. First, we might take the calloused approach: “It’s just a dog—get over it.” But this approach has serious flaws, the least of which is its brutality in the face of another human’s pain. Everything God has created is precious and was part of the cost of redemption. It is not just humanity that is being redeemed by the work of Christ; it is the whole world (Rom 8:22), dogs included.
Dogs also introduce a special case, since many of us feel such a strong affinity for them. A few weeks ago, Carl Trueman wrote playfully that the English are notorious for caring more about dogs than people. I confess that sometimes people seem much harder to care for, and seldom offer so much as a wag of gratitude in return. Add to this the almost sapiential silence of dogs, which contrasts with the inane babel that too often falls from our tongues. Sometimes I think it’s no accident that the word “dog” is an anagram—one of the cryptic and poetic ways in which God tells us something of his own nature. “God” is an eternally self-communing being with a limitless ability to speak to us, in the natural world and in Scripture. A “dog” is a temporal being who communes with others and whose speech is distilled in barks and whimpers.
But leaving aside the dogs for a moment, it seems that my fellow ninth-grader did something else that we often overlook, something very common in the popular (and severely distorted) understanding of God’s providence: he dismissed grace. This brings up the second option for response. We might ask, “what about the grace of having a dog to begin with, or the grace that God has created dogs in the first place, and sundry other creatures, for us to watch over as stewards of his creation? You’ve accounted for pain in providence, but what about grace?”
The hard truth is that both grace and grief are part of God’s providence, but because sin blinds us to gratitude, we tend to miss the former and everywhere run into the latter. The result, as this boy (now a man) had made painfully clear, was a hostility toward the God who gave himself for our redemption, and for the redemption of every dog that has ever walked into our lives or sauntered out of them. Our view of God’s providence, in fact, should be lopsided, but in the opposite way: we should be able to see grace everywhere—overpowering grace, hope-infusing grace, grace that raises from the dead. In contrast to such grace, pain and grief should pale in comparison. But this is often not the case for us because we focus on the problems we have; we focus on the gravity of sin’s effects rather than the wings of grace we’ve been given to rise above them and draw parallel with a skyline of hope.
I wish I could tell you that this is how I responded to an angry ninth grader so many years ago. But it wasn’t. I was too timid to respond at the time. I held my tongue, not in sapiental silence, but in fainthearted cowardice. I should have told him that God grieves too; that God is not in the business of killing dogs but of bringing them to life; that our pain is interposed with passion because redemption is possible; that his dog was a quiet testament to the grace God is always extending. I should have told him providence has more than one dimension. But I didn’t.
It is so obvious to me now that apologetics happens in ninth-grade hallways, and in the checkout line at the grocery store, and on the freeway when another person cuts you off. Apologetics happens everywhere because God’s providence is unfolding everywhere—always gloriously lopsided on the part of grace. Our task is merely to show up and point to it. Perhaps this will give you something to say the next time someone offers the death of a dog as evidence of God’s non-existence.