412) What is the Purpose of a Dog?

          It has long been said that a dog is man’s best friend.  It is also said that if you live and work in Washington D.C., and you want to have a friend, buy a dog.  What that means is that if you want a loyal and true friend in that city which is so filled with human greed, ambition, disloyalty, and lies, you will have to find such friendship in a dog.  I don’t know what it is like to live in Washington DC, but isn’t that the truth about dogs?  Dogs are great!  As columnist Dave Barry wrote, our dogs love us and look up to us; you can say any foolish thing to your dog, and still, your dog will look up into your eyes with an admiring look that seems to say, “Wow, you are right, I never would have thought of that!”  If you google ‘dog quotes’ you will find all sorts of grateful tributes to these wonderful animals.  Here are a few I found.  Andy Rooney says, ‘The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.’  Ben Williams says, ‘There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.’  Another writes this tribute:  ‘We give dogs time we can spare, space we can spare, and love we can spare; and in return, dogs give us their all— it is the best deal man has ever made.’  Finally, this one from Will Rogers– ‘If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die, I want to go where they went.’  I still want to go to heaven, but I understand what he is saying.

     Most of you have no doubt gotten to know a dog or two in your lifetime, and so you can probably relate to this well-deserved praise of these ‘best friends.’  The whole country would agree.  There are 75 million pet dogs in the United States.

     However, different cultures have had different views on dogs.  I don’t know a single person of my acquaintance who would consider eating a dog, but in China that is very acceptable.  In Bible times, while dogs were never on the menu, neither were they considered man’s best friend.  There are many references in the Bible to dogs, but not ever in the sense of any kind of warm relationship between people and dogs.  Dogs are around, but usually spoken of negatively.  There are only two passages that even hint at them being around the house.  In one passage they are eating the crumbs that fall from the table, and in another passage they are licking the wounds of a man,– but even in those places it doesn’t say they are wanted or appreciated.  In all other places, dogs are just referred to as we might refer to a raccoon or a coyote– an animal we are familiar with, but not as a friend or companion or pet.  When used figuratively in the Bible, the word dog is always used in a negative sense– enemies and wicked people are called dogs.

     With these differences in mind, we might wonder What is the purpose of a dog?  The purpose of cows and chickens and pigs is to give us something to eat.  If they did not serve that purpose, there would not be nearly as many of them bred and raised.  In this country, we certainly do not see that as the purpose of dogs– but what purpose do they serve?  They used to help on the farm, but most dogs now are not farm dogs.  They might help out as a watch dog and some use them for hunting; but I would guess most of the well fed and pampered dogs in America do none of that.  I know that our dog Morgan did absolutely nothing around the house, and she was often times a bit of a bother.  She contributed nothing to the finances, she did not do her fair share of household chores, and she did not even take care of herself– we had to feed her, bathe her, and let her outside.  All she did was sleep and eat and beg for treats.  Nancy and I survived just fine without her in the years before we had her, and now, since she died.  She was not at all essential to our physical life or well being.

     However, Morgan was a loving companion, and it was a joy to come home and be greeted by her at the door; to have her sit on our lap while watching TV; to see how excited she would get when we say ‘let’s go for a walk’; and, to see how much she appreciated the cheerios or carrots she would get for snacks.  Morgan had lots of love to give, appreciated everything, and was always a good friend– and that is purpose enough for a dog.  And now we miss her presence.  She added so much to our lives.

     I said all that about dogs to get you in mind for a bigger question, a question about people.  In the same way as we might ask about the purpose of a dog, on another level we could just as well ask, what is the purpose of a person?  What is your purpose?  You were created by God, but what for?  Just like I didn’t need a dog, God doesn’t need you or me to do anything for him.  God is self-sufficient and does not need anything. We serve no practical purpose for God, and God could get along quite nicely without any of us.

     And, just like a dog can be a bother, the human race has been a huge burden and bother for God.  The whole Bible can be read as the story of God’s frustration with the people he created.  Again and again God attempts to call his people back to the goodness he created them for, and again and again those attempts are resisted.

     The first chapter of Genesis tells the story of God creating the world, and in so doing, God created a home for us.  In a sense, that is what we do for our pets.  If we were not willing to create a home and a place for our pets, most would not be born.  If millions of people were not making the decision to have pet dogs, many dogs would not be bred for sale– or in other words, they would not exist.  In Genesis God is creating a home for the people that he will create next.  He would not call us his pets, but his children.  In many ways, the purpose is much the same.  God is not creating us out of need, no more than most pets are purchased for basic needs.  But God created us because of a desire to give us the gift of life, and then, to be in a good relationship with us.  It is to God’s great disappointment, anger, and grief that we so often ignore the relationship and are not loyal,– just as it would disappoint us if our dog would do nothing but growl at us, ignore us, or run away from us.  God sent His son Jesus Christ to earth to restore the relationship, and Jesus was put on a cross.  And while we do not put Jesus on a cross in person, we too cause Jesus to suffer when we disobey him, fail to put our faith and trust in Him, or forget to pay him the attention he deserves and demands.  In all of this, we could learn a great deal from our dogs.

     Many years ago a man named William Doane wrote a poem about his dog Cluny.

I am quite sure Cluny thinks that I am God,
Since it is God on whom each one depends
For life and all things that his bounty sends,
And it is I who does all that for Cluny.
My dear old dog is the most steady of all friends
Not always quick to mind me, but quicker far than I
Am to mind the God that I know.
His eye, deep and brown, watches for my nod
And he is patient when I must punish with the rod
More patient than I am, when God,
his wise correction sends.
He looks with love at me, as deep as if he spake
And never from my hand even a crumb does he take
Without wagging his thanks, with his most vocal tail.
And if some crashing sound awakes his fear
He is content and quiet if I am near,
Trusting in my protection.
So, faithful, mindful, thankful, trustful, he
Tells me what I unto my God should be.

     If we could only be as loyal and faithful thankful to God as our dogs are to us, says Doane.  We are beings far above our dogs in intellect and ability and spirit, and yet we do connect with our dogs.  We are able build a relationship that can still bring tears to our eyes for years after the old dog is gone.  God is a being far above us, but God says we can know and love him, and create and maintain a relationship that will last unto all eternity; if we but give Him the opportunity.

     We are probably a bit of a mystery to our dogs; speaking a language they don’t understand, coming and going but they know not where or for how long, and sometimes returning with the smell of another dog on our clothes.  I am sure they wonder about all of that, just like we wonder and question many things about God.  But even without complete understanding, dogs are faithful, they trust us, they love us, and they show that love with enthusiasm.

     Let us love God as our dogs love us; or, best of all, in the words of John in the Bible, “We love, because God first loved us” (I John 4:19).

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Genesis 1:1…26…27  —  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…  Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…  So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

The culture in Bible times did not have much love or respect for dogs, but God is not opposed to us learning a thing or two from lesser creatures.  After all, the Proverbs tells us that we can learn a thing or two from the ants.  It says, “Go to the ant, you lazy fool,– consider its ways and be wise– for even the ants work to store up provisions for the winter” (paraphrased from Proverbs 6:6-11).  If we can learn from watching the ants, we can certainly learn from watching our dogs.

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Mechtild of Magdeburg was a Catholic nun who lived 800 years ago.  Only a few scraps of her writings survive, including this brief prayer that she prayed during a time of profound loss and affliction.  She prayed, “Lord, you have taken from me all that I had received from you; but now, of your grace, I pray that you leave me the gift which every dog has by nature; that of being true to their Master in their distress.  Let me, O Lord, be true to you, even though I am now deprived of all consolation.”