by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

July, 2016

Earlier this year, a German Shepherd rescue dog named Haus saved his family’s seven-year-old daughter from a deadly Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake. The snake found its way into the family’s back yard and approached the young girl, Molly. Her grandmother was watching Molly playing with Haus. Suddenly Haus began jumping back and forth. Haus placed himself between Molly and the dangerous snake. “He kept taking hits,” said Molly’s mother. The dog instinctively recognized the danger but stood his ground. He was bitten at least three times. Afterward, Haus was in critical condition and in danger of kidney damage due to the level of rattlesnake venom in his blood but he survived.

This story appeals to me for two reasons, first as a dog lover and second as a Christian. It’s been said that there’s a reason why the word “dog” spelled backward is “God.” I don’t know about that but I do know Haus is a hero and he’s not alone. Dogs have been protecting humans for thousands of years. People sometimes say dogs “think they’re people” but the truth is that dogs think humans are big, funny-looking dogs. Dogs have a pack mentality; they form group attachments to their human families and think of us as their “pack.”

Of course, Haus the German Shepherd also reminds me of Jesus the good shepherd. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11 NRSV). He continued by saying “I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:17b-18a NRSV). He placed himself between us and death. He suffered a far worse fate than snakebite. He died a horrible death on a cross, possibly the most horrific kind of death known at the time.

In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that Jesus “. . . stands between us and God, . . . he is the sole Mediator in the world . . .” We have a savior who stands between us and the divine wrath we deserve. The psalmist asked, “Who can stand before you when once your anger is roused?” (Psa. 76:7b NRSV). But God doesn’t condemn us. Instead, God made a way for us to be righteous. John wrote that “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” (1 John 3:16 NRSV).

In the Old Testament, some of the people, led by a man named Korah, rebelled against Moses (Num. 16:1). The earth opened up and swallowed them (vs. 31-32) but the next day there were others who continued to rebel and they were struck by a plague (vs. 46). Moses’ brother, Aaron, took a censer and “stood between the dead and the living;” and prevented further death (vs. 48a NRSV). As a result, many people were saved. (Some of you might recall this story from the June, 2007 Person-2-Person.) Jesus did the same thing for us. He stood between us and death, between humanity and God’s wrath. He stood firm and didn’t waver. He held his ground. The author of Hebrews wrote that Jesus
“. . . is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Heb. 7:25 NRSV). We can always count on him to hold fast against the condemnation we deserve.

Regardless of what we might think of Haus, there’s no doubt Molly and her family think Haus is the best dog in the world. But young Molly didn’t care whether he was a hero or not. Instead, she said of her protector, “He's a cute dog. I like to smoosh his face.” She simply loves Haus and she’d love him even if he hadn’t saved her young life. She loves him because he’s her dog. In the same way, God loves us and gave Jesus for us as a result of that love (Eph. 5:2, 1 John 3:16). There’s nothing we can do to merit God’s love. We can know that we have a wonderful savior. God loves us even though there’s nothing we can do to earn that love. The story of that love—what our savior has done for us and how he’s shaped our own story—is worth telling.

“If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.” (Rom. 8:31b-34 NRSV.)

Copyright © 2016 by David Phelps