I’m in the midst of puppy training and the success rate seems elusive. The ball of fluff named Buddy arrived about three weeks from across the fence. Part of a litter of five pups born to our neighbour’s little dog, Buddy is a miniature mix, part Shih Tzu, Yorkie and Maltese, and, I am discovering, purebred donkey. Stubbornness comes often in small packages, and Buddy is proving determinedly resistant to the command “Come.” Either that, or his English-to-dog translation skills are lacking, because it seems when he hears us call “come” he believes we are saying: “Let’s pl8ay tag! Let’s see how fast you can run in circles around us, Buddy. Come zinging in close and just when we think you’re in reach, pull a quick turn to the right and bolt out of reach. And look real proud and happy with yourself in the process. And the more we try to sound stern and foreboding in our commands to stop and come, the more you are supposed to run like a jackrabbit hyped up on energy drinks.”
Now I realize this is a norm in puppy training and eventually he will learn the command or else I will be insuring he stays on leash for the rest of his little life. But the experience of trying to get the pup to obey, almost always because of a matter of safety or because I have some reward to provide, prompted some reflections of how the Lord must shake his head at all we stubborn human mutts who resist, defy, flaunt or ignore his beckons to draw near to his love. How exasperated the Lord must become in trying to train us to recognize that his command is always good, his beckons is always for our blessing, his plans and purposes are always for our joy, and that even the leash of his Law and judgment is for our ultimate safety and happiness.
Now, I realize not many folk are likely to appreciate being called stubborn little mutts, but then, the degree of our actual “mutt-iness” and stubborn impulses are probably proportionate to our dislike of the image. In an earlier time of the church’s life, most Christians were well trained, for instance, to understand theological that we really are “miserable sinners.” That is, compared to the holiness of God himself and to the praiseful obedience we, the creature, ought to yield to the Creator, and in light of the truth that our sinful rebellious nature is imbued within us, we are, in truth, sinners. Further, because we seem to be unable and unwilling to realize how sin sick we are and how desperate a condition our sin and our sinning truly breeds within our soul, we are, tragically, “miserable” sinners indeed. I suspect in the same way, we have culturally grown so resistant to admission of our fiercely foolish striving for and protests of independence, of wanting to chart our own way in life, that we have become utterly unaware what stupid little mutts we are, and please, God, won’t you help us learn obedience, for our soul’s sake.
Which, of course, God has, for where sin abounds, scripture tells us, grace abounds the more. I constantly marvel at the incredible extent of God’s patience, mercy and gentleness in teaching us to trust him, in helping us to learn to take him at his Word and to believe that his commands for living are not only the deepest wisdom, they are the only means of growing vibrant, loving relationships with others as well as with the Lord. Praise must be given to the God who will use every consequence of our folly as well as every means of his grace, to guide us towards surrendering self-reliance and discovering the power of his Spirit; towards releasing all our doubts about the sufficiency of his grace and discovering the trustworthiness of his love.
In our culture, submission, humility and obedience have become dirty words. So sad. Submission to God’s call, humility before his love and obedience to his commands remain the time-proven keys to becoming fully human, truly alive and eternally free.