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Christian Biblical Studies
THE MEANINGLESSNESS OF DOGS
All Scripture references are to the Anglicised version of the New International Version
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THERE ARE a number of clever things said about dogs, such as how you should let them lie if they’re sleeping, or how quick brown foxes jump over lazy ones. Then there’s the dog’s life, which is the life of Riley if you are a human.
But it’s not all just about sleeping and being jumped over by foxes. There is that quality of being dogged – the very British trait of determined, steadfast, plodding in the face of impossible odds and all that. A good word, unless you are being dogged – hotly pursued by somebody (or, perish the thought, some thing) you don’t wish to be caught by. (Perhaps this says more about the English language than the canine species, but it does help to demonstrate that dogs show up all over the place. Even in your mouth: having a canine tooth is very human.)
Expressions which feature dogs are rarely complimentary. ‘Like a dog’s hind leg’ is not what you wish to produce when you’re sawing a piece of wood or, worse yet, painting lines down the middle of a main road. In America they have an expression, ‘doggone’. You might think this describes an absent canine, but it seems to be an exclamation of surprise or irritation: ‘doggone, that wasn’t supposed to happen’, or ‘just a doggone minute’.
In restaurants we take home our uneaten food in a doggy bag, swim with a doggy-paddle, and write awful poetry in doggerel. And if you wind up in a poor job you may get to be a dogsbody – which is to say, almost a nobody.
As the ultimate pet, the dog lives for his master or mistress, and gives great satisfaction. His loyalty, his protective nature, and his zest to please are delightful. And in a surprising, if mildly derogatory, way the dog is better than a lion – but only if the latter is dead. Or so says Ecclesiastes (9: 4). In a reverse sort of way Ecclesiastes is saying that the life of a dog is not much. For all his noble traits the dog has no future: he has not the stamp of eternity on him. This is true of all animals.
Some insist that this is true of Man, too.
A Bleak Assessment
In chapter 1, verse 2, of Ecclesiastes, the writer exclaims, ‘Meaningless! Meaningless! . . . Utterly meaningless!’ And if you didn’t get it the first time, he adds, ‘Everything is meaningless.’
Now one does not expect to read a sentiment like this in holy Scripture, and you could be forgiven for wondering, ‘what’s going on here?’
Looked at from the point of view of one who is destitute of hope and purpose, life is like this: man is born, lives, dies and, cheerio – the memory of him is forgotten. Or so it seems. In fact, there are quite a few around today who make a living out of telling the rest of us that this is so – or most likely so, like those posters on the side of buses in London or Toronto, which proclaim that God is ‘probably’ dead, so you’d better get on with your life and enjoy it.
The trouble is, for most people it would be very difficult to enjoy life if they were persuaded that God is dead. It would all seem so, well, meaningless. When Christopher Hitchens, the British writer and sometimes philosopher, tells his audiences that life is without meaning, at least he’s being Biblical, as far as Ecclesiastes is concerned.
But one might wonder, if Mr. Hitchens and his associates really do believe life is without meaning, why do they take the trouble to tell the rest of us about it? They evidently believe in the force and truth of their message and deem the spreading of it as an important endeavour. They are on a crusade against credulity. Ironically, this means that their own lives are not without meaning, at least as far as that goes.
But what would it matter, though life be pointless, if one chooses to believe in God? What difference should it make to the atheist? Why badger the believer? Why not let the Christians enjoy their fruitless existence in happy delusion? In the words of the popular song, ‘Don’t worry, be happy.’ Just like that sign on the bus.
But is Ecclesiastes right? Is it all pointless, a dog’s life? The viewpoint of Ecclesiastes speaks for the unbeliever, the jaded, the discouraged, the disheartened, the atheist – and all who regard life only as unremitting drudgery with a terminus on the near horizon.
The Triumph of Purpose
The Apostle Paul writes, ‘If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men’ (1 Corinthians 15: 19). Paul raises the horrible spectre of a Christ-filled life without Christ at the end of it, a futile godly existence without eternal promise, a damp squib, a terrestrial dud.
Answering his own question, the Apostle quickly assures us that Christ is not merely for this life. He affirms the glorious reality, that his hope, and ours, is not the finite piety of the here and now, goodness for an hour, but is transcendent beyond the sting of death, securely positioned not only on the death of Christ, but on His resurrection! ‘But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep’ (1 Corinthians 15: 20).
As for the writer of Ecclesiastes, he might well be Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins, or any number of people who put agnostic posters on double-decker buses, or who feel it is their solemn duty to disabuse the minds of believers, for whom a life without God is unthinkable, unsatisfactory, joyless, meaningless.
Just as the atheist cannot understand why the Christian finds a belief in God to be a source of exquisite joy, so the Christian cannot fathom the passion for unbelief. But the effects of the Curse fall indifferently on all and the results are often surprising. And so not all people can exercise faith (2 Thessalonians 3: 2). In this peculiar way has God fashioned an education for the world, which passively and unwittingly awaits the Kingdom of God. In due time, when the facts are known, the details revealed, all will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. . . let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation’ (Isaiah 25: 9).
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