Animals Teach Us How to Read the Bible

I remember cradling him in my arms, his blood splashing my coat as I ran home, stumbling through the darkness and the trees and the tears to my boyhood home. His little body shaking. His right front paw a red mass of splintered bone.

Hobo had run in front of the possum the instant my friend pulled the shotgun’s trigger.
It was an accident.
But it happened.
And the result was irreversible.

For the rest of his life, Hobo sported three legs. What he lacked in legs, he made up for in heart. The day we brought him home from the vet, his shortened leg still wrapped in gauze, he hobbled up the back of my pickup. Looked up at me. And as if to say, “Listen, I forgive you. We’re good. No big deal,” he jumped into the back of the truck.

I realized then how much animals can teach us about being human.

Zoology is Theology

@@The Bible often sends us to the zoo to be schooled about humanity, and about God.@@

  • Want to know how easily we can be duped? Study the stupidity of sheep.
  • Want to see how an enemy skulks about you? Observe a slithering snake.
  • Want to know how God watches over us? See a mother hen spread her wings over her chicks.
  • Want to see how fierce the devil’s hatred is? Visit the lair of a dragon (well, okay, that one might be tricky).

In the beginning, God named Adam and Adam named the animals. But in the end, the animals named us—as well as God. The church is God’s flock. Jesus is both a lion and a lamb. The zoo turns out to be as packed with theology as a seminary, if not more.

Animals even teach us how to read the Bible.

Growling Over the Bible

In the opening psalm, the poet tells us the blessed man doesn’t walk with the wicked, stand with sinners, or sit with the wicked. What does he do instead? He delights in the Torah of Yahweh, and in those teachings he meditates day and night.

[Watch this short YouTube video where I explain that "Torah" means much more than "law."]

The Hebrew verb for meditate is hagah. But don’t conjure up the image of a Buddhist monk sitting in the lotus position chanting Om. Picture a lion growling over his prey (Isa 31:4). Picture a dove cooing or moaning in distress (Isa 38:14). The prophet Isaiah uses hagah to describe the sounds of both these animals. This is the voice of meditation.

How blessed is the man who growls like a lion over the word, who moans like a dove over the Scriptures, who learns from the beasts of the field how to be a student of the Bible.

Chew, Growl, and Disappear

Meditation, in other words, is not all about closing your eyes, saying nothing, and disappearing inside yourself.

Mediation is about focusing your eyes on the Bible, saying the words, and disappearing inside Christ.

When you meditate, you are a lion crouching over its prey. You are the eater and the word is your food. Take a bite, chew it, taste it, crunch the verbs, salivate over the nouns. There’s no rush. This is not McDonalds. Savor the feast.

Growl over the words you swallow. Let them echo from the chambers of your body. Let each one have its say. No word is unimportant. Each has a voice. Let them roll off your tongue. What you are eating is what you are saying. God’s word becomes your word.

When a lion devours his prey, that meat becomes part of him. He transforms a gazelle’s body into his own body. Here is where our meditation is different.

When we devour the word, that word makes us part of Christ. What we eat doesn’t become part of us; we become part of it. @@Christ transforms our body into his body as we consume his word.@@ The word of the word made flesh makes our flesh his own. We are what we eat, what we meditate on. We die and our life is hidden with Christ in God. It is not longer we who live but Jesus who lives in us. We disappear into God.

Animals can teach us much about being human. And about being God’s children. And about how we, as little lions of the big Lion of the tribe of Judah, devour the prey of his word.

May that Lion bless your meditative growling over the scriptures in which the Spirit feeds Christ’s life to us.