What's Tony Thinking

Dogs and Grace


We just finished the first session of our webinar on Paul Zahl’s book Grace in Practice. Here’s the link to the video of that session.

Afterwords, I sat on our deck enjoying a glass of red wine. Our apartment/ condo is on the third floor of our three story building. We look out on the Puget Sound and a small viewpoint park that is across the street.

All day every day, people go by walking their dogs. Big dogs, little dogs, mutts, show dogs and everything in between. So watching this and coming off our session on grace, it occurs to me that apart from church/ religion, dogs may be our most common experience of grace (and it ain’t all that common in church/ religion, alas).

Zahl defines “grace” as “God’s one-way love,” coming at you, me and all of us, whether we deserve it or not, especially when we don’t deserve it, particularly when we are at our most unloveable.

Dogs may be about as close as we come in daily, ordinary life to grace. A dog’s love is really one-way. They are, at least most of them, all in on us, no matter how we’ve screwed up at work, what kind of fight we’ve had with our spouse, or if we’ve just barked at the kids. They don’t criticize your outfit, your weight, your hair. They don’t even notice. They just love you.

There they are, patiently and sometimes impatiently waiting, to love us up. To lick our faces, to dance around our legs, to smile (tail-wag) just because we’re there.

Okay, there probably are a few grumpy dogs, more ready to snap than snuggle, but they are the definite exceptions. Most are just wagging away, appearing to be as happy to see us as a kid is to see ice cream.

So I think that’s why so many of us have dogs. There’s not enough grace in the world.

In Zahl’s terms the world operates on law (not grace) — on shoulds, on shaming, on demand, on accusation. Do more. Be more. Now.

“You screwed up. You are a screw up.” “OMYGOD, how many times do I have to tell you this? What’s wrong with you?” (Note: most of these voices are you talking to yourself!)

Dogs? None of that. The worst they do is mind their own business. The best is they romp through an open field or run on a beach, so happy to be alive, and so happy to be alive with you. They keep coming back to check on you. “You okay? You having fun too?”

Cats? Different story all together. Much more legalistic. They manage to let you know when you have disappointed them. They withhold affection and attention. With cats you gotta give to get. Apologies if I have offended cat owners, although I speak as one. We’ve had dogs too.

How does that line go? Dogs think you’re God, but cats know they are.

I’m not going to build a complete theology on this. Just saying: I have discovered why dogs are so popular. We are dying for grace, for one-way, unconditional love.

Lord, have mercy. Send me a dog.


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