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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Dogs and Wolves

I preached on 2 Peter today. It is an amazing letter because it really confronts two primary issues with which we are dealing today: unbelief outside the church and false teaching inside the church. The critiques of Christian faith have really not changed much at all over two thousand years. A great deal of the "new" atheism is extremely old! Much of the "innovative" thought generated by today's "progressive thinkers" in the church is actually a rehash of the old heresies.

My starting place, however, was a core understanding of the human condition. I used dogs as an analogy. I am not a biologist and I am no expert on dogs, but I have read some articles, watched some educational tv and spent many hours with watching Caesar the dog whisperer. (All I lack is spending the night at a Holiday Inn Express!) I know that dogs are descended from wolves. I also know that dogs have a remarkable openness to breeding which quickly produces new types of dogs in a relatively short time. One example is the British bull dog, the stout and stubby creature we know was longer and sleaker not so long ago.

My understanding is that wolves mutated into wild dogs long ago. The animals lived close to human communities and were scavengers. Over time some were more interactive with humans. Humans learned to breed certain traits. So now we have poodles, German shepherds and pugs. Amazing.

Dog are apparently attentive to humans in ways that wolves are not. This quality of being humanized leads to the bonds celebrated in literature and film. There is a reason dogs are called "Man's Best Friend" rather than canaries or hamsters. Dogs learn to control their waste expulsion process. Dogs learn to provide help in tasks such as herding sheep or sniffing out drugs.

Like dogs, humans also must learn through relationships with other humans. A baby requires extensive nurturing and training throughout life in order to acquire language, social skills and hygiene. We are born with potential, but we also have a ticking clock. There is a point where it can be too late to ever learn some things. I think that is true of spirituality as well. As I said in my sermon, we all have the potential to be a "wolf man." In our faith life, we realize our potential to be Caleb. Caleb was a friend of Joshua. The word Caleb means dog. Humans, like dogs, must grow out of our natural impulses and desires. Our full potential is to be children of God. 2 Peter calls it a share in the divine nature.

Dogs share in our nature, and it frees them from some of the limitations of wolves. Dogs behave in ways that are like humans. It is a dim immitation, but you understand what i mean. Wild dogs just do not conform to our standards in the same way. Likewise, you and I are in a long process of learning how to be fully human and open to God's life. It is a struggle. We sometimes pull against the chain and want to run wild. God does not hold us so tightly and gives us freedom to make choices. When we observe the proverbial "train wreck" so many of us make of our lives it is clear that following our nature is not always helpful. I struggle with trying to figure out what a Christlike life should look like. So often I fear I am falling so far short. Yet, I find hope and joy in knowing that dogs are such a wonderful model for understanding human life. I can see the truth about them and ponder the truth about me and you. Our destiny is to transcend who we are today and to become one with God. Day by day, praying, studying scripture, loving and serving others conforms us to God. We pick up divine traits and share a bit more in the divine nature. That is even more amazing than a Great Dane!

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