Creator, Your Creature Groans

Gentle Reader,

In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!

It is plain to anyone with eyes to see that at the present time all created life groans in a sort of universal travail. And it is plain, too, that we who have a foretaste of the Spirit are in a state of painful tension, while we wait for that redemption of our bodies which will mean that at last we have realised our full sonship in Him. We were saved by this hope, but in our moments of impatience let us remember that hope always means waiting for something that we haven’t yet got. But if we hope for something we cannot see, then we must settle down to wait for it in patience.

– Romans 8:18-25 (Phillips, emphasis mine)

John Bertram Phillips, a minister in southeast London, noticed that the young people in his congregation had difficulty understanding the Authorized Version (commonly referred to as the King James Version today). Thus, he began translating the book of Colossians into colloquial English – while huddled inside a bomb shelter. The Nazi assault on London, the Blitz, raged on outside, demolishing buildings and bringing many lives to far too soon an end. But this pastor, who had every reason to be just as terrified as everyone else (and probably was), turned to Scripture in the darkest of hours, desiring to bring its light to others.

There are a whole lot of points to be made here. Persistence, joy, looking to God in the midst of sorrow and struggle. All valid. Not where I’m going, though.

…all created life groans in a sort of universal travail.

Benny came into my life over a decade ago. We locked eyes as the animal shelter and it was all over. The first day at home, he wouldn’t leave my side, even laying on the bathroom rug while I took a shower. This was to be his habit throughout our years together. Never was he ever very far from me, unless it was on the rare occasion that he felt the need to go on an adventure, in which case I was chasing him up the street or through a parking lot.

He was not a morning dog, just as I am not a morning person. Oh, sure, he wanted breakfast around five o’clock each day, but after that he was content to crawl back under the blankets. Always under the blankets. No matter how many times anyone fought with him, or placed him at the foot of the bed, or told him “no,” he found his way in there, curling up next to my legs when he was cold and kicking me when he wanted more room.

Warm brown eyes and happy panting greeted me whenever I came home from work. He was content to listen to me rant about the bad days, so long as I scratched his ears. He came and visited the library a few times, but received a lifetime ban after peeing on a shelf.

Benny was so gentle. I can only recall a handful of times when he nipped at anyone, and it was always toddlers who didn’t yet understand that dogs don’t like to have their eyes poked or their whiskers pulled. He never, ever full-on bit them. Just a warning. Really, he liked kids. Once, on a walk, we crossed paths with a special needs boy and his dad. The boy squealed when he saw Benny. And so Benny yanked the leash out of my hand, ran up to the boy and stood there, lovingly accepting a good petting.

And, oh, did he love babies. Any who came to visit found themselves with a nice, cozy fur barrier, protecting them from all the dangers of the world. Because a Pomeranian-Chihuahua is very fierce and intimidating, you know.

Last Sunday, Benny went to sleep and didn’t wake up. He was warm and safe, on a heatpad and blanket. It was exactly the way I wanted his time to come to a close – yet I can’t help but wish he was still here with me. This is the first piece I’ve written without his warm body pressed against my hip. These are the first words I’ve published without the sound of his snoring filling my ears.

I have no significant life memory that a dog is not present in. From my first dog, the mutt Petey, who could hear cheese being sliced from 50 yards away; to Murphy, the dainty-looking Paipillon who loved the dirt; to Shih Tzu Bugsy, who danced for treats; to Blue the wiener dog who’s napping in the recliner right now. And so I know that dogs are physical evidence of God’s love. They come into this world with the desire to be our friends. That’s it. “Bad” dogs only exist because people treat them badly. These creatures have brightened my days. Their fur has soaked up my tears. They have been faithful companions, true to the very end.

And how I hate it when the end comes.

People like to argue about whether or not animals go to Paradise now and if they will be part of the new creation when Christ returns and all is set to rights. Me, I think that’s a dumb, time-wasting argument. The more I study the Bible, the more I see that salvation is truly cosmic in scope. (No, I’m not preaching universalism. Calm down). Plants and rivers and sunsets and animals were all part of the original design. They were subjected to brokenness and malfunctioning because of us. So, tell me, why wouldn’t God be about the business of renewing and restoring all of what He created?

It’s dumber still when someone says, “Animals don’t have souls!” As if that’s a settling statement. Animals do not bear the imago dei, but the truth is that we haven’t the faintest idea as to whether or not they have something immaterial about them. And frankly, it doesn’t matter. Because, again, why would God, who took the time to make the duck-billed platypus, who looked upon all that He had fashioned and said, “It is good,” not today and tomorrow and into all of eternity still find it good?

I believe I will see Benny again one day. He’s probably laying under the shade of a beautiful tree right now, sniffing some flowers. He liked to do that, and only occasionally tried to eat them. I can see him becoming buddies with the Apostle John, because John was all about the love and that was the essence of Benny. I believe that Jesus, who made that silly little dog, was there to greet him when he passed into real life. I believe He rubbed his soft ears and said, “Well done, good boy. Well done.”

And so I appreciate Phillips’ translation of this passage. My heart squeezes and the tears fall again. I can almost hear the groaning of creation. I know in my bones that this is not how things should be. I feel a deep ache, knowing that my choices, and the choices of so many before me, have brought destruction to this world, and the creatures upon it who did nothing to deserve the pain.

Then I remember:

But I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the end He will stand on the dust.
Even after my skin has been destroyed,
yet I will see God in my flesh.
I will see Him myself;
my eyes will look at Him, and not as a stranger.
My heart longs within me.

– Job 19:25-27 (CSB)

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