I love them, but I don’t always like them. I’m talking about the two lemon beagles that came to live with us a year ago this month. Their names are Copper and Penny, and they are every bit as destructive as you expect two one-year-old puppies to be. If I plant a new bush, they count it an honor to dig it up and bring it to the porch as if expecting a thank you. If I close a gate, they are convinced that I have personally challenged them to figure out a way to open it. To them, obedience is a concept as incomprehensible as algebra; they just don’t get it.
As much as I complain about their behavior, I have to say that I would be devastated if anything ever happened to them. Though they were only supposed to be with us for a few weeks, they have become part of the family. Watching them navigate the backyard from our kitchen window has become one of our favorite past times. However, simultaneously watching them tear down whatever I build has become one of my greatest frustrations.
Let me say again, I really do love and enjoy having them around. However, at times, neither of them seems to be the most grateful or intelligent. For instance, it’s not uncommon for me to watch them argue over a scrap of food while there is a full bowl sitting only a few feet away. I have discovered if there is something filthy, they are going to eat it. If something is buried, they will dig it up. If something is rotten, I can be confident they will both roll in it; and if there is something dangerous, they will get dangerously close.
Maybe it’s just because I am a pastor, or maybe it’s because I see things differently than others, but as I try to take care of those two little troublemakers, I can’t help but think about how much my frustrated care for them must be a small reflection of God’s care for me. Two events come to mind that illustrate what I am trying to say.
First, one day after filling their bowl with fresh water, I watched in disgust as they lapped up the muddy, stagnant water that I had emptied onto the ground, rather than indulging in the cool, clean water I had just provided for them. At first, I rolled my eyes at their stupidity. Then, I became irritated as I—to no avail—tried to show them how much better the clean bowl was than the dirty puddle. Their stubbornness was frustrating, until I saw my own reflection in the puddle.
Looking at myself through the same lens I looked at them was sobering. Suddenly, I was confronted and convicted by the thought: how often have I, in pure puppy fashion, lapped up the filthy, stagnant things that God has rejected and rejected the fresh, clean things that God has so graciously provided? It was a hard truth to swallow, but my unaware puppies demanded I face it. They do what they do because they don’t know any better. I do what I do despite knowing better. I thought they were stupid; but at that moment, with dirty water running out the sides of their mouths, they became my teachers.
The second event was far more serious. I had just lain down for a nap when I heard a knock at my door. It was my neighbor returning a piece of Tupperware. As he turned to walk away, I was surprised when he casually turned back toward me and said, “Oh, I think your puppies have trapped another snake.” He said another because this wasn’t the first time they had cornered a snake in our backyard.
When I opened the back door, I was surprised to see the puppies barking at the largest black snake I have ever seen. The snake, hanging between the fence and a walnut tree, was lashing out at the puppies as they barked from a couple feet below. Every time they lunged at the snake, he lunged at them. I knew one of them was going to get hurt if I didn’t do something. So, I stood about fifteen feet away, trying to coax the puppies to leave it alone, but they were too preoccupied even to hear, much less obey my voice. Though I didn’t want to get any closer than I had to, I was eventually forced to drag the yelping puppies away from the snake one by one. As I was helping the snake onto its eternal reward, the thought again occurred to me, people behavior isn’t so different than puppy behavior.
God calls us away from the things that mean to do us harm, but we just keep toying with the serpent, utterly indifferent to the consequences. Eventually, God in His goodness pulls us away, scratching and yelping as we are carried. He rescues us because He loves us. We resist because we don’t understand what love is. Somehow, we convince ourselves that the snake is harmless, and we know better than the Master.
Now, every time I watch my puppies fight over food or chase the wind, my smile doesn’t last as long as it once did. The realization that puppies and people are not so different, at least in this regard, has sobered my thinking. I find Isaiah’s words, “All we like sheep have gone astray,” confirmed day by day. Like a dog who knows he has been bad, I often want to hide in a corner. But I have a Master who not only forgives, I have a Master that transforms.
In the shadow of my own bad behavior, this consolation shines brighter; God loves me more than I think I love myself. He loves me so much He refuses to allow me to destroy myself. I’ve learned, when He says bad boy, it’s not because He hates me. It’s because He loves me. I am growing more grateful each day that He kindly, patiently, and mercifully pulls me from the things I want to play with. I’m glad to know the Master has power over the serpent, but I am more thankful that He has power over me.
The Christian life can really be summed up as one lifelong trip to obedience school. The process of sanctification is slow and long, but the results are divine. The good news is that God always completes what He begins. Though stubborn and “puppy-headed” I may be, of this I am sure—He that has begun a good work in me will complete it on the day I see His face. One day, I will sit by His side, in perfect contented obedience, no longer distracted by squirrels, enticed by serpents, or shamed by my own bad behavior. One day I will be like Him instead of them.