Atonement Lessons From Losing My Dog And Cat

dogLast Sunday, I preached on Gospel Righteousness. My text, Rom 3:21-26, is regarded as “the center and heart of Romans,” “possibly the most important single paragraph ever written,” and “the chief point, and the very central place of the Epistle, and of the whole Bible.” Among the many very important themes of the Bible densely packed in these six verses is the atonement (Rom 3:25), which has been explained (and passionately argued about) in many different ways over the last two centuries of the church. In my attempt to not confuse my congregation of about five dozen people, I decided not to explain the different views of the atonement, but to share two very personal stories about my two pets, a dog and a cat, in my introduction and conclusion of my sermon.

My dog. When I was a young boy we had a family dog for many years. One day while we were walking together by a street my dog was fatally hit by a car. When I ran to him in tears, he was clearly dying but still barely alive after being mortally wounded with massive internal injuries. I reached out to him to gently caress his face as he was in the pangs of death and gasping for his last breaths of life. When my hand touched his face his spontaneous response was to bite my hand because he was in such agony and did not know who had touched him. But the very moment that he was about to bite my hand he realized that it was I and he immediately loosened his bite, breathed his last breadth and died. I can never ever forget this for as long as I live even though this happened 50 years ago. Why?

Love. I think the reason is because my dog demonstrated that he loved me and would never hurt me, not even when he was dying in agony and barely clinging to his last moments of life. I perceive this to be a very real human story that allows us to catch a glimpse into the greatness of God’s love for each of us. Even though it cost losing His one and only Son, God paid the price so that he would not hurt us. God wants more than anything else to save us, to wipe every tear from our eyes, to comfort every broken heart, and to hug and kiss us tenderly like the father who ran and kissed his long lost son when he came home (Lk 15:20b). At the moment of embrace, the father was not at all interested in hearing about any of his son’s sins. He was just so happy to have his son back. God wants to love us and hug us so much, even at the cost of losing his Son on the cross.

My cat. Two months ago, my 13 year old cat, fell from the second floor and broke her hind leg. She could not walk properly but would barely walk by dragging her broken leg. Usually she stays on the second floor. But that morning after breaking her leg, she was by our doorstep, looking rather docile and peaceful. My friend told me that when animals are hurt they would act normal because they fear that something bad would happen to them if they reveal that they are hurt. I also heard a similar explanation that when an animal in the wild is wounded they would never reveal or show that they are wounded for fear that a predator would sense their weakness and attack them. In my helplessness as to what to do with my hurt and wounded cat, I painfully decided to relinquish her to an animal shelter in Chicago Ridge with great sadness and sorrow of heart. My cat had grown up with my four kids for the last 13 years. She was like a part of my family as she was with my four children as they went from teenagers to young adults. With great reluctance I felt that I had no choice but to relinquish her because I could no longer take care of her with a broken leg and with other health issues as well–being deaf, having persistent flea infestation and having very bad allergic skin reactions from the fleas resulting in her scratching and gouging herself until she bleeds with sores and scabs. Still I so desperately wanted to keep her and not lose her. The most painful part for me was the half hour it took to drive from my home to the animal shelter, followed by the one hour wait, knowing that after I relinquished her I will never ever see her again. Then there was still the very painful drive home alone with my cat carrier…without my dear cat. Somehow I wanted to save her but I could not and did not.

Fear of vulnerability. In a way we humans are all like my wounded cat who controlled herself and acted as though she was fine, even though she had been crippled by her broken leg and no longer able to walk, run or jump like the happy healthy cat that she once was. We are so deathly afraid of being vulnerable. We are so afraid of others thinking that we are bad or no good. So we hide our spiritual broken leg and pretend to walk normally and happily so that when others see us they cannot tell who we truly are. But God knows who we are. God understands how we are. In fact, through Christ, God became like us–weak and wounded, frail and fragile, broken and vulnerable–so that we might become like him. I turned my cat in with great sadness of heart that keeps lingering and does not go away. God could have similarly turned away from us with full justification. But He did not. Instead, God turned away from the Son he loves, so that he can shine his face toward us. This is the glory and mystery of Jesus who loves us at the cost of his life. This was how “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood” (Rom 3:25).

Please feel free to critique and comment on my sermon and on my frail human attempt to share and explain the glorious mystery of the atonement.


  1. Ben,

    I have much to say on this one…maybe I’ll write a book about it :)

    My first thought is about the emphasis of Romans 3, that it is: “possibly the most important single paragraph ever written” and “the chief point, and the very central place of the Epistle, and of the whole Bible.”

    Because we’ve done this elevation of these few verses, I see that we’ve skewed the gospel messages toward atonement debates. Certainly I love a good debate, but I am not in favor of elevating a few verses, now matter how great, to the status of exclusive status of defining the gospel.

    We must check anything we learn from Romans 3 against other places. The gospel of peace is a good one to keep in mind when discussing Romans 3 and atonement theories. In fact, just few verses later, Paul brings up this point, in Romans 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…”

    If our view of justification by faith does not end up with peace, we have strayed from the gospel even if we started with the gospel correctly.

    So much division, discord and heartache could be avoided if more Christians would develop a deeper and more rich understanding of the manifold gospel.

    • I generally and basically agree. The fact does remain that there are Christians and there are Christians over 2,000 years of church history, some of whom we agree with and others whom we disagree. But yes, love, peace, grace, mercy, forgiveness needs to prevail above all of our disagreements, no matter how intense.

  2. forestsfailyou

    I was so greatly moved by this. I can recall that I have up my kitty in January. She had been diagnosed with feline aids and leukemia but by the grace of God lived 7 years. She always loved me so much.

  3. Never needed to think about this problem in UBF, because in the 90s in German UBF, nobody had a pet as that was considered unspiritual. Except our director, who had an aquarium. He was the only one of us who had spare time since he did not have a day job, did not go fishing, did not have 1:1s, did not write sogams etc. But all other members had to faithfully do all of this and much more, and this did not leave us time to even think about a pet animal. You had to focus all your time on mission, not even on your own kids or family, much less waste your time with pets. Particularly a dog requires much time. You did not even think about such an idea. You had a mission. You had to fish 12 disciples on the campus, not care about dogs or any other distractions. That’s why I was so offended when JA some years ago defended UBF, while writing about dogs and posing on his blog cuddling his pet dog. Such a convenient and happy life. I thought “boy, you don’t know what reality in UBF was like at all, why do you defend it?” My wife was even told to stop breast feeding our baby in order to spare time for mission. How could we even *think* about having a dog? And I must add that my UBF chapter was not even the worst in Germany, Bonn was much more extreme.

    Yes, I know, I’m a barking old dog who can only complain about the past and bash UBF. But that was our reality.

    • In my opinion when you simply tell your story as is, as best you can, it connects and translates very well. It touches and stirs the heart and compels the reader to ponder and pray. Again, in my opinion, it is when there is added vitriol, anger, accusation, condemnation, even when it is justified, that it comes across as bashing. (For sure this is a very fine line.) Others may disagree, but the best articles and comments simply tells stories of what happened, as you did in this comment. It touches the heart.

  4. Ben, I really liked this article.

    You wrote that your cat was 13 years old, i.e. you got it shortly after the regnancy of Samuel Lee. Is this only coincidence? Did you have time to think about cats or dogs before?

    • I got my cat in 2001. She was a scrawny sickly hungry abandoned kitten my son found in our alley and we nursed her back to health. SL passed in 2002. Having pets was never an issue in Chicago.

    • Another story regarding UBF and dogs: I remember a girl from Chicago who was sent to my chapter in Germany to marry a “German shepherd” (sorry for the pun, that was not the story yet). As usual in UBF, the whole marriage was not her idea, but a deal between her shepherd and our German director, and she had big reservations. She requested several things of her husband. One was to be allowed to have a dog – in fact she had a dog in Chicago (not sure whether this was because she was a young American girl whose parents did not belong to UBF and the dog belonged to her family or whether, as you claim, dogs were nothing unusual in Chicago UBF). The German shepherd agreed to everything. But after they married she was not allowed to have a dog. The other agreements were broken as well. That’s why the girl became critical of UBF. After only one year the German shepherd who was considered the “Abraham of faith” and most holy shepherd in German UBF filed for divorce and remarried. Both divorce and remarriage was the orientation given by Samuel Lee, who also selected the 2nd wife.

    • Very very sorry and sad to hear this, even if I’ve heard this many times before. I pray that such things do eventually become addressed. But unfortunately some/many think that because this happened “a long time ago,” then we should just “forgive and forget,” and “just move on.” I personally do not agree with such an attitude or mindset, and in fact find it quite reprehensible and utterly irresponsible.