Last week a friend who knows my dogs sent me a link to Wendy Francisco's wildly popular new song, "God and Dog" (more than half a million views at time of writing). G-o-d and d-o-G--two words, one kind of love. "They would stay with me all day; / I'm the one who walks away. / But both of them just wait for me / and dance at my return with glee. / Both love me no matter what ..."
Well, okay. I know that "nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God" (Romans 8:39) and that "joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth" (Luke 15:7). And I've noticed that both Greyfriar's Bobby (pictured at left) and the Old Testament God (not pictured; dislikes graven images) are renowned for their faithfulness. If self-doubting, guilt-ridden YouTube viewers are moved by Francisco's song to consider and perhaps even feel some of God's everlasting love for them (Jeremiah 31:3), she has accomplished a lot.
I'll admit, though, that the song makes me uncomfortable -- not just because of its sticky sentimentality, but also because of its God-as-a-pet-dog theology. The canine metaphor for the relationship between humans and God is nothing new, of course. "Even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs," said the Greek woman to Jesus (Luke 7:28). Even pagans can be blessed, if indirectly.
In the early 1800s, theologian and philosopher Friedrich Schleiermacher came up with an idea that the Greek woman might have appreciated: the basis of religion is not reason, creed, or dogma, but rather a feeling of absolute dependence. Schleiermacher's colleague in philosophy, G.W.F. Hegel, famously retorted: "[Then] a dog would be the best Christian, for it possesses this [feeling of absolute dependence] in the highest degree and lives mainly in this feeling" (Crouter, 91).
Note that in the Greek woman's plea, as in Hegel's wisecrack about Schleiermacher's theology, God is the human and I'm the dog, not the other way around.
Hegel published his comment in 1822. Some 70 years later, rescued opium addict Francis Thompson wrote what would become his most famous poem, "The Hound of Heaven." In it, God has become the dog.
But Thompson's hound is no friendly, if neglected, pet. It's a hunting dog with a one-track mind, a dog you don't want to get involved with if you're a rabbit:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him ...
The hound of heaven doesn't just wait; it pursues with "deliberate speed, majestic instancy." It doesn't wag its tail; it brays at its prey, "How little worthy of any love thou art!"
Read the poem aloud so you can appreciate its relentless rolling cadences. Spoiler: it has a happy ending. But the hound never turns into a poodle.
"God so loved the world" -- though if you do a word search on Bible Gateway, you'll see that the New Testament writers don't mention God's love nearly so often as they point out the love we ought to have for God and one another.
Like the prodigal's father (Luke 15), God waits and rejoices -- but the time in the far country can be terrifying.
My little dogs warm my lap and my heart, lower my blood pressure, and make me get enough exercise -- but I still think that if anyone in the relationship between God and me is a schnorkie or a shih-poo, it isn't God.
LaVonne Neff is an amateur theologian and cook; lover of language and travel; wife, mother, grandmother, godmother, dogmother; perpetual student, constant reader, and Christian contrarian. She blogs at Lively Dust.