The Power of the Dog
Dog lovers experience the sweet sway these wonderful, loyal, faithful, comforting, adoring pets hold over them. However, there is the occasional bad tempered cur! Imbedded in memories of my youth is a dog which eagerly and regularly lay in wait to aggressively terrorize and bite my friends and me as we bicycled by its yard on the only way to the small country store in our town. We dreaded that little stretch of street until my father confronted the owner. Then the intimidation stopped!
Humiliation, intimidation, manipulation are destructive powers portrayed in Hollywood’s recently Oscar nominated movie “The Power of the Dog.” The title references Psalm 22:20 where King David was feeling vulnerable to the power of his enemy and cried out to God: “Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog!”
In Hollywood’s psychological drama, the protagonist is a classically educated, pathetic, damaged, hardened, Montana cowboy who takes advantage of others’ weaknesses and emotionally abuses them. He bullies, manipulates, diminishes, and destroys them. In the end, he is ironically done in by someone who detected his moral weaknesses and insidiously and brutally destroyed him.
We are all vulnerable. We are insecure, feel inadequate or unacceptable, and have moral flaws. Paradoxically, weaknesses and imperfections leave us open to abuse or to be abusers. When our insecurities, inadequacies, and vulnerabilities are discovered, we may become victims of abuse, but when we deny our own perceived or real failures or cover them up with a cloak of superiority, we easily become critics and judges and diminish others. Although the movie’s cowboy protagonist’s behaviors may seem raw and exaggerated, his faults are common and very recognizable in daily human arrogance. Malicious gossip, unkind attitudes and behaviors, bullying or abuse of any kind, unforgiveness, unhealthy competitiveness, ignoring or disrespecting, over speaking, misusing of authority by overpowering and oppressing and controlling, demeaning words and social media put downs, or demanding our own way are all manipulative behaviors that demoralize others whether done unconsciously or aggressively and purposefully. The prophet Jeremiah made a very perceptive observation: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
However, there is a power greater than that of the “cur” which is kenneled within us. That power is Love! “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) That kind of love is supernatural!
Scripture tells us, and Christ has shown us, that “God is love” and that the Gospel is the story of His love. Although the Good News frankly addresses the negativity of humanity and its fallen, sinful nature, it doesn’t excoriate us but is sympathetic to our redemptive need and offers spiritual newness for broken spirits. It doesn’t condemn but encourages us to look at who we are and to get the help we need. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”(John 3:17)
The Gospel is all about confident expectations. “The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”(Romans 1:16) It offers forgiveness and hope and freedom by releasing one from the guilt and shame and destructiveness of our imperfect natures. “God sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.” (Romans 8:1-3 (NLT2)
“Sin’s control” is spiritual death. Faith in what Christ did for humanity on the cross is life giving by ending “sin’s control over us.” God’s forgiveness is redeeming, healing, transformative, restorative and filled with the confidence of eternal life. Redemptive love has the power to raise one up to a new life of progressive strength, peace and hope where condemnation, shame, demoralizing guilt are taken away. By grace, it changes that inner, corrupted mean power of the “dog” which attacks those peddling close by.
We are reminded of Jesus, of how humbly he lived and of what he said: “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” (Luke 6:31)