I must admit I don’t have an answer to this one and theology does make it seem like an impossibility. But as doubtful as it is, I’d love to think that they do because one thing is obviously certain to me. Dogs can teach us more about living the Christian life than most people. Now dogs have different personalities and natures, so this does not pertain to every dog. However, I have been blessed with some truly remarkable pets throughout my life.
What is it about dogs that I admire? What have I learned from my dogs that I would do well to emulate in my own life?
First of all, loyalty: for the loyalty of a good dog is something to be admired and rarely found among our peers. You can mistreat a dog, forget to feed him or walk him, or ignore him and yet he persists in being faithfully attached and would never abandon your home for another person who offered him better food and treatment; as his loyalty is built on love and trust.
Also, patience: for the patience of a dog is amazing. They wait for their owner to pay them some attention, to play with them, etc. and never give up hope that the hour will come – if not today, maybe tomorrow or the next day.
Obedience is another admirable trait. Some dogs surrender their will to you entirely. They only want to be pleasing to you. Though they do not understand our motives or the outcome of our commands they are only happy to promptly comply with our wishes – no back talk, no hesitation.
An attitude of self-sacrifice is present in many dogs; willing to give their very lives to protect their family and to come to their aid. They do not weigh the odds or ponder the possible failure of their action – they just defend what they have come to believe in, which is us. Their love is agape love or self-sacrificing love and is of the highest order.
Cheerfulness and joy is the normal disposition of a dog that has been properly raised and socialized. They always lift your spirits by their show of happiness and joy at just seeing you after a short absence. Leave the house for 5 minutes and upon your return your dog will greet you like he hasn’t seen you in months.
Long-suffering is another trait that truly amazes me. They live in the moment with no thoughts about past sufferings or future uncertainties. I have seen dogs on the verge of death lying on an operating table at the vet. At their first sight of a familiar family face they express pure joy by wagging their tail even if they have lost the ability to sit, stand or roll over. When hurt, sick or dying, they suffer in silence without so much as a whimper. They simply go silent and suffer in silence.
A dog may be mans best friend on a number of levels and we might learn more from our dogs than they do from us. I can teach a dog many silly tricks but a dog can teach me to practice the theological virtues of faith, hope and love in a most profound way. An entire book could be written about many other admirable qualities of these fine animals but these will suffice.
If I could only live a life that expressed my love for God in such a manner I might become a saint. Dogs may not go to heaven but they just might help some of us get there by setting a wonderful example. All we have to do is apply it in our lives and thus mimic their behavior in acts of unconditional love for God. That might make them more than man’s best friend; they may be our soul’s best friend and spiritual director as well.
P.S. Wally, dog on the right, went to his reward about 1 1/2 years ago. Fred, on the left, has taken up Wally’s role as spiritual director and seems capable of filling the paws of his predecessor.