All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.
—All Things Bright and Beautiful, a hymn by Cecil Alexander
I suppose that I would have to say that I had not much more than a dim curiosity about animals growing up. That began to change when I met my future wife and the family golden retriever, Muffy. These people were dog people.
Dog people are a peculiar breed of zealot, convinced that dogs should probably rule the world just as they often rule their households. Though, not always, since most dogs at least have a “please-my-owners” gene that makes them willing to be trained in the proper rules of the house. Bad children, like bad animals, are generally bad because they have had permissive parents who have failed to provide proper training.
Teach children how they should live, and they will remember it all their life. —Proverbs 22:6, Good News
Then, of course, there are cats, the Sicilian mafia of the animal kingdom. Cats can’t be trained. Fuhgetaboutit. Dey tink you should be happy dey don’t off you in your sleep.
Anyway, a few years after we were married, my wife charmed me into adopting Andy, a golden retriever puppy whose owner had grown seriously ill and could no longer care for him. Thus, grudgingly at first, began my love for animals.
Which brings to mind the following.
Parenting children and caring for animals has made me a better person than I ever was. I’m not suggesting any sort of moral equivalence between parenting and pet ownership—the former is a far greater good than the latter, and a far greater responsibility—a greater joy, too. But both in different ways have required me to put aside my own needs and desires so that I could serve the needs of another. I have been forced to recognize the distinction between me and not-me, and to learn that life is often better when me takes a back seat to not-me. Serving is more noble and godly than being served.
“For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many.” —Mark 10:45, NLT (Jesus speaking)
The giggles of children and the bounding, yappy playfulness of puppies are pure joy. Joy is not an experience that adults can fully comprehend until they have gotten down on the floor and played games with children. And puppies. Joy is good stuff, and we’re often encouraged in Scripture to seek out and experience the joy of God.
You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever. —Psalm 16:11, NLT (A psalm of King David)
God has expressed Himself in all of His Creation, and in the appreciation of the created, living world, we will come to appreciate the Creator Himself. Naturally, since I believe in a Creator/God, I convince myself further of the truth of my beliefs when I look at the living world around me. Skeptics may say that I interpret my experience of creation so that it reinforces my faith, while ignoring evidence that may tend to weaken my beliefs. Perhaps. To do so would be quite human.
But of course, the opposite proposition may also be true. If there really is a Creator/God who is (as the Scriptures assert) relational and involved in the world, and in the lives of his people, it stands to reason that this God has left his unique mark on life, in the same way that a work of art can be attributed to a specific artist by the style, subject matter, media, etc. (as recently happened with Jan Vermeer’s painting Young Woman Seated at the Virginals).
The heavens tell of the glory of God. The skies display his marvelous craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or a word; their voice is silent in the skies; yet their message has gone out to all the earth, and their words to all the world. —Psalm 19:1-4, NLT (A psalm of King David)
From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God. —Romans 1:20, NLT (The apostle Paul writing)
All of this stuff has bubbled up as a result of two recent events.
1) Our curent golden retriever (Amber) owns a number of plush animal toys, which she holds in her mouth when she is worried, and offers up for a game of tug-of-war when she is feeling playful. There is Mr. Duck, Mr. Shark, Lamby, Mr. Horse and Dinosaur. Mr. Duck’s long neck makes him a special favorite for games, and when his stitching gave way recently and Amber discovered the weakness, she took great pleasure in pulling all of his stuffing out and strewing it around the house.
This morning, I borrowed Mr. Duck and did surgery, first repacking him, then taking a needle and thread and sewing him up. Like Ronald Reagan’s approach to Soviet arms treaties (“trust, but verify”), Amber sat right at my side while I performed the surgery, her nose touching Mr. Duck as I sewed his back closed with about 20 stitches. She didn’t make a sound, didn’t try to interrupt the operation, but her eyes were somewhat anxious as they moved from my fingers working the needle to my own eyes. When I finished, she carefully took Mr. Duck from my hands, put him on the ground, and inspected my work.
Who knows what goes on inside the minds of dogs? But my surgery on Mr. Duck seemed to bring joy to my golden retriever (an emotion they have in abundance), and in that exchange, I had the sense that I was experiencing something of the joy I feel when I find myself under the loving attention of God.
I hurried outside and there, in classic dead-bird pose—on its back, feet up in the air—was some sort of hawk. I knelt down beside him, touched the side of his head, and he moved and blinked his eyes. They were the color of black-eyed Susans—bright yellow with a dark center.
His talons looked sharp, so I put on a leather work glove and carefully picked him up, holding his legs in my gloved right hand. With my free hand, I began stroking his back, his head, and carefully extended his wings to see if anything was broken. No apparent damage, but I felt certain he had a concussion.
He sat quietly in my hand while he regained his senses. Over a period of 20 minutes or so he never struggled to be free. As he became more alert, he would stretch his wings, turn his head, but when I loosened my grip to allow him to fly, he held on and stayed anchored to my hand. After a bit longer, I decided to encourage him to fly. Launching him upwards, he flapped a few times and glided into the safety of a nearby mesquite tree where, for the next hour, he closed his eyes and slept.
I checked on him periodically, and after about an hour he flew off, looking as normal as ever. I identified him in my Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America as a Cooper’s Hawk, probably here looking for a somewhat warmer place to spend the winter.
We often have opportunities to perform acts of compassion and kindness to God’s creatures, both human and animal. Here is Jesus talking about the importance of acting generously and mercifully towards those who are weak and in need (Matthew 25:34-46):
‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ And the King will tell them, ‘I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ —Matthew 25:37-40, NLT.
He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well. —All Things Bright and Beautiful