About four years ago, my wife and I adopted a Redbone Hound from a local shelter. His alleged age was six years old, but he easily could’ve been ten. He appeared to have lived a hard life, with scars on his face and a rib that stuck out as if it had been cracked and healed in the wrong position. He was a bit smelly and he didn’t listen very well, but Red was a sweet dog that loves being around people and wouldn’t hurt a fly (possums, squirrels, birds, and lizards are another story).
Most people who adopt dogs end up treating them like children, and the dogs, in turn, treat their owners like parents. I joke with Amber that Red views us more like roommates. He’s happy to eat our food and hang out, but when he’s had enough of us, he’s back in his room in his dog bed or outside exploring the yard. We could call him, but when he’s busy, he doesn’t have the time for us.
While Red’s hobbies are pretty simple (mostly, trying to kill any rodent or reptile that makes the unfortunate mistake of stepping foot in his backyard) he has another habit that is very annoying for Amber and me. He constantly finds ways to escape our yard. We’ve had to leave work functions, dinner with friends, and other social outings to respond to calls from strangers saying Red has wandered into their yard or across the highway to the Super 8 (why he has such an infatuation with that motel, I’ll never know). Each time, we express our apologies, call Red a dog-Houdini, and try to find the weakness in our security that he exploited this time.
This past weekend was maybe Red at his worst. I got a call from a neighbor saying he escaped, so I got him, put him in his room, and closed the gate that had been left open. The next day, there was another call about Red. This time, I discovered he’d dug underneath the gate that had been left open the last time, so I put a makeshift blockade under the gate and told Amber we needed to get some Quikrete to make the blockade more permanent. The next time Red escaped, my wife said the barricade was in place, but he had slipped through the other gate, which had lost one of its posts. So, I adjusted the piece of lattice and pole we were using as a temporary fence, and after pouring the Quikcrete where Red had tunneled to freedom, I figured the problem was solved. Then, hours later and just as we were getting ready to eat dinner Sunday night, Amber told me that she couldn’t find Red in the yard.
Needless to say, by this time I was at wit’s end. I drove at idle speed through our neighborhood whistling for Red, but I couldn’t see him anywhere. I knew he heard me, but he just chose to go on doing as he pleased instead of coming back to me. After over a half an hour, hungry and irritable, I returned to the house and told Amber, “I’m ready to just let him go. If it’s so bad with us that he has to escape, then he can just go and do what he wants.”
That was when it struck me. If I put myself in Red’s place, how many times did I run away from God? How many times did God call and I chose to ignore Him and do as I pleased instead? How many times did God leave the ninety-nine sheep to come searching for me, knowing that I would keep straying away from Him again and again and again. Maybe more importantly, why would He keep coming after me?
Fortunately, God is far superior to me; to the point that even trying to articulate how much so feels blasphemous at how far short the most extreme comparison would fall. God is merciful and loving to the point that He sent His only Son to die for my sins, and while I can’t explain the mystery of the love He holds for us all, that does answer the question of why He keeps coming for me and for all of us. He also asks that we try to emulate His love, mercy, and forgiveness, and I certainly was not doing that with how I was treating my dog. I was being a hypocrite by judging my dog for doing what dogs do, because I am in so many ways just like him in that I consistently do what people do. Seeing it from this perspective, I’m thankful for the entire ordeal, as it has reminded me to be “slow to anger; for (my) anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” (James 1:19-20)
And, in case you’re wondering whatever happened to Red, my wife, who is much smarter than me, drove around our neighborhood banging his metal food bowl. He came running home within minutes. Another way we’re alike, I guess.