Last week we had another Marley and Me moment, saying goodbye quite unexpectedly to our sweet old collie, Scout. I say “another” moment, because it’s the third time in eight years we’ve gone through this particular grind of grief; less, surely, than a two-legged loss, but a knock-the-wind-out-of-you pain all the same.
Our dogs, one after another, have been kindness, joy, playfulness, loyalty, patience, thankfulness, generosity, and trouble. They have had moments of heroic bravery and superhuman insight and moments where they ate all of the trash and ruined the carpet. They have learned tricks—some that earned praise better suited for Einstein, some (like opening doors and scaling fences) that earned angry scoldings. I have had dogs run away, even for days, and then reappear, laughing, on the porch. I have cried into their furry flanks and let them lick away my tears. I have balanced my babies on their backs and seen the wonder of a creature humbly accepting this small intruder as the new boss.
To lose a dog is inevitably to realize the end of a chapter. Their abbreviated lifespans have a knack for neatly encompassing other eras. Scout, for example, was the dog of our sabbatical, the dog of the homeschooling years. Huckleberry was our “cheaper than counseling” dog when ministry was hard and struggles seemed unending. Gracie was our newlywed dog, the dog of babies and cross-country moves. Saying goodbye, then, is a vivid page-turner in a too-short book.
There is an untapped well of theology behind the shaggy dog. What kind of God invented such a friend? To say that the same designer produced our noble collie Scout and our ridiculous cocker Smudge is like saying that clown cars and Lamborghinis come from the same company. And yet dogs range from trembling Chihuahua to mighty St. Bernard, each stamped with some value of their Creator—His sweetness, fierceness, sense of humor.
But it’s not just dogs. Every animal is uniquely ingenious in design and surprising in attribute, from protective and self-sacrificing penguins to OCD ants and artistic fish. Why? Why such attention to detail in 8.7 million species? The diversity of creation hints at the endless creativity of the Creator, the lovable nature of specific creatures hints at the Creator’s affectionate love. Proverbs 12:10 says that the godly care for their animals, and indeed, God’s first assignment for humankind was the care of creatures.
The very biblical idea that there will be animals beside us into eternity hints at a future of laughter, freedom, discovery, and delight.
Concerning eternity, John Piper once wrote:
And as I knelt beside the brook
To drink eternal life, I took
A glance across the golden grass,
And saw my dog, old Blackie, fast
As she could come. She leaped the stream—
Almost—and what a happy gleam
Was in her eye. I knelt to drink
And knew that I was on the brink
Of endless joy. And everywhere
I turned I saw a wonder there.
This is the human condition. We love, we leap and play, and then we, too, suddenly come to our appointed day—the day that is both the end and the beginning. We bounce along, oblivious to our frailty, then run smack into our embodied limitations. What then? Today you are alive, with time to sip a drink and read a blog. So hug your kids, your spouse, your stinky dog, and be thankful for today.