The famous theologian Karl Barth once wrote:
“God may speak to us through Russian Communism, a flute concerto, a blossoming shrub, or a dead dog.” (CD, Volume 1, Book 1, Section 55)
I always thought Barth was joking (he kind of was), but today I understood the reality.
But first, let’s think about the question at hand. Does Barth really think God would use a dead dog? Well, probably not. However, he wants to make two simple points. One, God is ultimately free to do whatever God wishes to do; that’s why God IS God. In the end, a constraint on God’s freedom, for Barth, is a half-step towards denying God. Two, while God is free to speak through a dead dog, he makes this point rather ironically. While God is free to do as God pleases, God HAS SPOKEN. God spoke and the world came into being. God’s Word formed the world, and that Word that was spoken was none other than the second person of the Trinity, Jesus the Christ. So, while God COULD speak through a dead dog, God didn’t, and we have only one Word to heed in life and and in death, and that is the voice of our Lord Jesus alone.
Great…fine…I got it. But what do you do when God DOES speak through a dead dog? Don’t call the psych hospital just yet for me, but bear with me. Today as I was listening to someone speak, I was amazed. While I had assumed that there wasn’t much going on upstairs for this person in regards to deeper theological reflection (don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to be an expert or anything), this person who I was convinced was ossified in their beliefs about who Jesus was spoke a few words of stunning insight. Deftly making a few comparisons to the human body, Paul’s references to the body in Romans 12, and our role in God’s salvific work in the world, this person began to sound and eventually pray like an evangelist. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but the Holy Spirit never runs out of exciting and breathtaking ways to confound the wisdom of the wise. (1 Corinthians 1:27) In my supposed wisdom, I had failed to see in this other person the capacity for God to speak truly and authoritatively as they reflected on Christ. So, I tip my hat to the “dead dog” I was usually busy ignoring in the past because even in them, through the power of the Spirit, God can and does speak today.