Dogs, Sin, Shame, and Me
I’m sure most readers have seen the hilarious videos on YouTube of dogs being shamed by their owners for chewing up a pen, taking apart the new dog cushion they so lovingly provided, snacking on their slippers, and so on. While I would never shame a dog just to make a video, I’m always amused—even if angry—when I have to shame our one-year-old overgrown pup, Velvet.
Will she never learn? So, afresh, I got to see her turn her head, put on the sad face, and suffer my glare.
They know your wrath is coming even as they mischievously enjoy their romp with a new pen or pillow or shoe. You can tell they know what is coming because in the split second before you even open your mouth—you only have to get that stern look on your face and begin scowling—they turn their heads aside in bereft disgrace. “What have you done?” you say loudly, to be sure they recognize their misdeed.
Velvet has mostly grown out of the disastrous pup phase, but still—just this morning, as if she knew I was plotting to write about her—has two of her favorite naughty romps going on: the pen and the pillow. Will she never learn? So, afresh, I got to see her turn her head, put on the sad face, and suffer my glare.
The theological overtones here are rampant. Paul says in Romans 7, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (NIV, italics mine). Like dogs, we love to do the things we know we shouldn’t do, and fail to do the things we ought. My father used to say human beings tend to enjoy their sins.
In this case I’m not talking about adultery or robbery or murder. I’m talking about the little everyday stuff. We revel in it right up to the point where we remember that, rats, there I go again, being jealous or gossipy or catty or critical. We enjoy tearing apart someone who we believe deserves being torn apart (not the new dog bed, but the reputation or recent actions of our victim).
Like the early stories of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we lower our gaze like a dog and turn our heads when confronted with our sly cheat on some paperwork or the overblown description we’ve whispered to a friend. In Genesis 3 we read how after Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, they hid from God, saying, “I heard you in the garden so I hid.”
God (just as we do as dog owners) asks both Adam and Eve, “What have you done?” to make the point they already recognize.
However, I would like to quickly point out that God’s grace for our wrongs, misdeeds, and, yes, even our “big” sins is abundant and never-ending. Therefore even though we disappoint and grieve the God we love, grace is right there ready to be offered. All is forgiven. God’s pardon is quicker than any dog lover’s for his or her dog.
The analogy breaks down. I don’t perceive that God enjoys shaming us even if we as humans are inwardly amused by a dog’s lighter relapses. God operates in another realm and we cannot put human characteristics on the Almighty, even if we understand that we are created in the image of God. God is bigger than our puny minds, even in this humble dog/sin analogy.
When we sin and do wrong—and confess—God moves us quickly from a state of disgrace to grace, from unlovable to loved, from despicable to a slate wiped clean. All the while God never wavers in that divine love for us. Amazing grace. Fantastic forgiveness.
Once our dogs have been properly reminded or disciplined that they messed up, don’t we as dog lovers quickly offer a pat on the head or affectionate petting to reassure them they too are loved, despite what they’ve done? Depending on the immensity of the deed, it may take awhile to get over our anger, and rightly so. A happy household with a dog is one where there is a well-trained and disciplined dog—a dog with boundaries.
What other lessons do our dogs teach us about ourselves?
For a free booklet, “Finding a Way to Forgiveness,” write to MelodieD@MennoMedia.org or Another Way, 1251 Virginia Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22802.