Written by Todd Mangum
Monday, 20 August 2012 00:00
My dog, “Happy,” was a hound dog from Virginia. Had he not been welcomed into our home ten years ago, he would have likely spent most of his life in a twenty by twenty pen with a half dozen of his brothers and sisters, released occasionally to chase rabbits and squirrels for a hunt. We liked to think of ourselves as “rescuing” him from such a fate, but, as my wife observed wryly — and accurately: that actually would not have been a bad life . . . for a dog.
And Happy was definitely all dog. He was not a great house pet, truthfully. He shed all over the place. We have a fenced in back yard from which he loved to chase the crows and squirrels, but it wasn’t nearly the wide stretch of land he clearly was designed to romp and run in. He was part Harrier Hound, so when he was poised to launch and lunge off our porch at the nuisance animals he sought to guard us from, he’d go into that “pointer position” that was entertaining to watch.
He sought to protect us — which was more of a hassle really than a help. Heaven forbid someone should knock on our door or ring our doorbell. He treated the Domino’s pizza man like a suspected serial killer. We live next door to the most saintly Mennonite dentist who’s now in his 80s; and that poor, patient, kindly man couldn’t walk out of his back door to his car without Happy rushing the fence and barking like he was some terrorist threat. “Stupid dog” was probably our most common comment to and about Happy for 10 years.
But we got used to him and actually came to love him — stupid as that is, too. He was the one living being in our house who was always overwhelmingly glad to see me when I got home and could hardly contain himself to greet me. We got used to the thump, thump, thump sound of his tail on the floor whenever we entered a room not knowing he was even there. And the way he loved his “walkies” — like having our own personal trainer; he’d bark us off the couch if we dared sit too long in front of the television.
About two weeks ago, we noticed he seemed to be having trouble walking, favoring one of his back legs. Within a day or two, it was both back legs that seemed to wobble when he tried to walk; and then a front leg, too. We spent about a thousand dollars — yeah, that still hurts! — on tests and medicines before we realized that the infections he had were mortal; he was not going to be able to fight them off. After three days of intense fever, we had the vet “help him” go to sleep for good.
And then we grieved for him. Just a little hole in the heart — but a hole. Yeah, I’m a bit embarrassed that I could be moved to grief, however mild, over a stupid dog. But there it is.
Now, in the last year, four of my colleagues at Biblical have lost their mothers. Our stupid dog dying is nothing compared to that. In fact, remembering the grief some of my colleagues are going through, I hesitated to even write about something so trivial in comparison as the death of my dog.
But, Death is an enemy — and part of what the death of my dog has raised to my own consciousness is how vicious is this enemy. It takes no account of the young or the old, the innocent or the guilty. Even a harmless, clueless, tail-wagging, tongue-hanging-out family pet is put in its crosshairs — just pure meanness.
Biblically, I’ve noticed passages like the end Joel 1 of late; when Joel prophesies regarding how miserable will be the coming famine, he notes the barns being torn down and the grain drying up, and says: “How the animals groan! The herds of cattle wander aimlessly because there is no pasture for them; even the flocks of sheep suffer. . . . Even the beasts of the field pant for Thee, Lord, for the water brooks are dried up, and fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness” (Joel 1:17-20). The suffering extending even to the animals indicates how devastating will be the degree of famine and misery; but there’s also something “particularly touching” about innocent animals being helplessly affected by a judgment foist upon them that they had nothing to do with inciting.
In this vein is the end of Jonah. Jonah wants to see the Divine nukes dropped on the hostile city of Nineveh. God rebukes him for his unforgiving lack of compassion and mercilessness, with these words, which incredibly close the whole book: “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 people who do not know their right hand from their left . . . as well as many animals?”
Catch that? God looks down from heaven and one of the things He notices and thinks about in considering whether or not to pour down His wrath on a place is, “Well . . . the poor innocent animals don’t deserve the suffering that would result from that. . . . I don’t think I’ll do it.” . . .
Through the death of my dog, I’m reminded of such scriptural sentiments revealed about the character of the God I serve. And that Death is a bastard of an enemy, a cruel bully that picks on the innocent, the fragile and the helpless. And one day Jesus is going to kick its butt.
Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical. He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention. Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.