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What Owning a Dog Taught Me About God’s Love

Written By Caleb Jenkins

One summer Friday afternoon my wife decided she really wanted a dog, so we spent four hours scrolling through dog listings on PetFinder till we found Milo, a Corgi-Australian Shepherd mix. He was a rescue who previously lived on a farm with over a dozen other dogs that were breaking out and killing the neighbors goats and chickens (Yikes! I know). We applied to adopt him and the next Monday morning we drove him home. Little did I know how much that good boy would change my life.

I would have never described myself as a dog person before Milo. Growing up in East Africa, my family always had dogs, but they were outside-only dogs whose job was to guard our house. My parents got an inside dog after I had moved out, but I did not care for it too much. It always jumped on me, tried to lick me, and always needed to be entertained, no matter how much I tried to ignore it.

Despite my indifference to dogs, I was still open to getting one because my wife wanted one so much. However, as soon as Milo became ours, my whole personality changed. Although originally it was my wife’s idea to get him, she would now say that I am the one who loves that dog a little too much. Not only do I love this one dog a lot, but also I’ve learned to love other dogs as well, even my parents’ dog!

Beyond becoming an embarrassingly stereotypical “dog-dad”, what has surprised me most about this experience is how certain truths about God have become more real in a different way.

Dogs and the Image of God

Pet ownership is really strange if you think about it. What other animal, besides humans, domesticates other animals? The only thing close is how some ants have developed a symbiotic relationship with other insects, but the scale and intentionality is much less than the human domestication of other animals. Not only have humans reared livestock as a source of food, clothing, and labor-saving, but humans also have pets just for companionship and the intrinsic pleasure of taking care of another creature.

In this way, pet ownership is one of the clearest examples of how humans are in the image of God. Being God’s image-bearers means that humans are to represent God to creation. After declaring his intention to make humanity according to his image and likeness, God says, among other things, “They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, the whole earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth” (Genesis 1:26).

Domestication of animals is one of the ways humans demonstrate our roles as divine image-bearers by bringing God’s rule over these creatures. That’s why animal cruelty deeply disturbs us. It’s not because animals have an intrinsic worth comparable to humans, but because our rule over the animal kingdom is meant to be a picture of God’s gracious and loving rule over us. Abuse of pets offends us, but witnessing a loving bond between human and pet can be a signpost of God’s love for us.

What Owning a Dog Teaches Me About God’s Love

Recently, I was reflecting on the weirdness of dog ownership in general and my unique strong attachment to Milo in particular. How can I love something that is so utterly dependent on me? Milo, like other dogs and pets, can’t survive without their owners. He needs me to feed him twice a day, take him on walks to go “potty” and get exercise, pet and snuggle him for emotional comfort, and work a “9-5” to put a roof over his head while he is sprawled out on the couch napping all day. While he does love me in return by being loyal and seeking to protect me from thunderstorms and imaginary intruders, the relationship is by no means symmetrical. Even when he doesn’t act like a good boy by herding other dogs at the park, demanding walks when it’s not time yet, and devouring any garbage he can get his jaws on while we do walk, I still love him and am committed to what’s good for him. How can I love something so much that needs me so much?

Sound familiar? This is precisely how it is between God and us, only on a much greater scale and to a much deeper extent. God loves us not because of anything in us or anything we could give him, but just because he loves us. He created us just so we could experience this good world he made, he died to save us even while we were still his sinful enemies, and no matter how many times we fail, he is eager to forgive and renew us. This is a love that is almost impossible to get our heads around, which is exactly why God made a number of relationships in our world that should, at their best, offer us a glimpse of what God’s love must be like.

Having the opportunity to care and provide for a pet is one such relationship. The love a parent has for their child is another great example of this, and one I imagine can embody this love to an even greater degree. Loving someone who is not your equal and who can’t immediately repay you for that love (like a pet or young child) is the closest experience to what it’s like for God to love us how he does. If I, as a sinful and broken human, can love Milo this much, who did not do anything to earn it, then how much more must God love me?

Today, whether you have a dog, cat, betta fish, parakeet, horse or hamster, or only admire pets from afar, I encourage you to reflect on the love and care you have for that animal, and how that might be a small reflection of God’s even bigger love for us.

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