A frantically barking small dog awakened 25 people in China's southwestern Jiangsu province, saving them from an impending flood caused by a rupture in a huge underground water pipe. The Beijing Morning reported that one of the potential victims woke up in the predawn hours when the dog, which had somehow gotten into his home, began tugging his quilt off the bed toward the door. The man opened the door as floodwater gushed into the house. He was able to pick up his pregnant wife and carry her to safety while the little dog ran to awaken other neighbors just before their home was leveled by the force of the water. Once the flood subsided, the dog could not be found.
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This remarkable story of canine altruism is illuminating for several reasons. The actions of this dog challenge many preconceived notions about self-sacrifice and moral courage that we usually consider to be attributes exclusively associated with human beings. "Animals are simply little more than 'biological machines' that react strictly from instincts that have developed over thousands of years of evolutionary pressures: 'survival of the fittest'." Only human beings occasionally rise above their baser instincts for self-preservation and risk, or sacrifice, their life for others...So says the conventional wisdom.
How can we begin to explain this amazing act of canine self-sacrifice? His actions were contrary to all evolutionary models of animal behavior. According to the evolutionary imperatives of survival an organism is simply a carrier of the 'selfish-gene.' All organisms are programmed by their genes to survive long enough to propagate as many of their genes as possible. Its all about competing for territory, mates and top dog status in the social pecking order. An animal will risk its life to protect its offspring and perhaps even to defend fellow pack or herd members, but to risks its life to save a member of a completely different species goes beyond the bounds of natural, evolutionary behavior.
But occasionally we are witnesses to such extraordinary acts of animal altruism and courage. These acts should give us pause, and open us to the possibilities and mysteries of the universe.
It is easy to despair, or become cynical, about the dog-eat-dog struggle for survival that we experience in our world. Many respond to this bleak state of affairs by becoming more selfish ('looking out for number one') and aggressively preying on the weak. Or they become apathetic and resign themselves to a fatalistic acceptance that nothing will ever really change for the better. Others may delude themselves into thinking that they can escape this world of suffering and death by transcending it through spiritual enlightenment and experiences of 'divine' union.
But there is another way, and the little dog that gave his life to save those villagers can help us see that way.
Luke 17:33 "Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it."
John 5:13 "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."
The primary evidence of the presence of the transforming presence of God's Spirit is the willingness to risk one's security and interest--even one's life--to save the life of another. If our theological/spiritual posturing doesn't acknowledge the supremacy of this one truth: God is self-giving love; then all talk about God is just that--talk. The definition of that love is not left to our speculation and philosophizing; or to subjective, mystical meditation. It is has been openly revealed to all in the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth.
"If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and empathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death even death on a cross. "
In the life, and especially the death of Jesus Christ, we see the definitive self-revelation of what God is like. God is the Abba, Father who cares nothing for His dignity (Luke 15:20) and transcendent "holiness;" who with an unquenchable passion gives all He has to give life to His beloved Other--the entire creation. God is passionately-- fanatically-- focused on the needs and welfare of the other. His burning love for us is reckless and selfless. He does not give a damn about Himself--even to the point of experiencing eternal damnation on the cross.
Love is not self-preoccupied and inward looking. Love is focused on the object of its love--the other. Love can only exist in an 'I-you' relationship. Love by its very definition requires an object other than itself to love.
John 3:8 "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
This dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus is usually understood to be about a subjective spiritual experience ('born again') that happens to only a select few human beings who have attained 'spiritual' enlightenment. Although there is an element of truth in that understanding, it is an entirely too restrictive, and human-centric, understanding of the transforming presence of God's Spirit in the universe. The Spirit of YHWH ("I shall be what I shall") is wild and free. YHWH will do the unexpected, the totally new, He shall reveal Himself to be other than what we expect a god to be (omnipotent, immutable, immortal). He reveals Himself as the suffering servant who empties Himself and experiences death for the sake of the other; and by doing so remains true to Himself: love.
God reveals Himself, and makes His presence know, in unexpected and totally new ways. He is not found among the powerful, the successful, the pious, and the spiritual elite. Rather, we will find God wherever a selfless, compassionate act is done for another. Whether it is done by the medical professionals of Doctors without Borders: who go to the aid of some of the most wretched and forsaken people on earth despite the resistance of sovereign governments (law). By a Mother Theresa who gave acceptance and comfort to the untouchables of Calcutta, or any of the countless acts of compassion and selflessness that have been done but were never placed in the spotlight.