Shiro and Suffering

What can life with pets teach us about suffering? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If you come to our apartment, you will quickly find out who really rules the roost. No. It’s not me. Well, obviously, it must be the wife. No. It’s not Allie. The undisputed ruler of our house is this guy.

This is Shiro. We got him when we had been married for about a year. We were searching for a new apartment to live and someone had abandoned him. They were going to take him to the pound if we didn’t do anything. Now we are different from most couples in that I have always been a fan of cats and Allie has preferred dogs, but this cat is different. She bonded with this cat immediately. We wound up adopting him.

No regrets.

Oh sure. Sometimes he gets on our nerves. Sometimes it’s really annoying to be wanting to sleep in the morning and hear that little kitty whining relentlessly because he wants to be fed. Such is life. We get a cat and we get the responsibilities. It’s worth it. Allie gets a great sense of joy when she’s sitting or lying on the couch and he jumps up right next to her.

Knowing this, picture our concern when we hear him making a noise that sounds like he’s throwing up on Wednesday morning. This has happened. He gets hairballs. Not this time. There’s blood there. We make an appointment for the vet.

So enter step one of the suffering for Shiro. We have to get him and put him in his kitty carrier. He’s not happy about that. One can picture him if he could thinking, “If these people love me, why are they locking me in this tiny confined area?” Sometimes on the road, he would get quiet. I told Allie that I suspected he had just resigned himself to his fate and knew he wasn’t escaping.

Step two of suffering is the vet itself. If any serious work is done on our cat, he has to be sedated because he turns fierce on those he doesn’t trust. We saw him in a vet office running around on the counter and hissing. He had apparently peed on himself in the carrier probably out of fear. When it came time to get him back in, it took two technicians working with gloves and a blanket to get him back in.

Allie was surprised by this, but not I. I was kind of expecting it. Shiro’s a lovable little guy to us, but he just doesn’t trust strangers and hey, which of us would really mark going down to the doctor as a favorite hobby of ours? Even more so when it’s at the hands of people you have given trust to.

Now step three. Three times a day we have to give him medicine. What does that involve? We can’t put it on his food or in his water. Nope. In case of a stomach ulcer, we have to take these pill halves, crush them, and then use a syringe and squirt the water from it in his mouth. First, we have to catch him. Then we have to hold him securely in a towel like a kitty burrito, and finally, we have to somehow get him to open his mouth without biting at us.

Not easy.

How many times we wish we could get him to see. If he would just work with us and not resist, it would all be done quickly and easily. Instead, he sees our hands and that syringe as threats to him instead of tools to help him in his health. I can’t blame him. He’s a cat. He wouldn’t understand if I tried to explain.

And every time I think about the problem of evil. (Yep. I’m a theology nerd.)

The difference between us and a cat is vast. The difference between us and the infinite God is even better. Am I much better? Do I not resist the hands of the potter? Do I think that the event in my life that is meant to chisel me into the likeness of Christ is really something for my harm? Do I really think God allows something into my life because He just wants to see me suffer or delights in my pain or something like that? Do I really think God is a great cosmic sadist?

Maybe if I just went along and submitted and allowed God to use the pain in my life somehow, things would work better. Of course, there are some distinctions. I think we should be hesitant to say God is directly doing something in our lives without strong evidence, but we can be sure that all that happens in our lives happens because God allowed it.

Yet if we believe Scripture, Romans 8 tells us that all things work for good to them that love the Lord. Are all things good? No. The text doesn’t say that. It says that everything will be used for good. That means no matter what happens in our lives, ultimately, we win.

Does that mean we don’t complain about suffering? No. The Psalmist does it. Does that mean we don’t cry in it or feel the pain? No. Again, the Psalmist does the same. Does it mean we don’t question? No. Same answer. It does mean that we do also what the Psalmist still does. We trust God anyway.

What does that look like? It means we keep going and we do the right thing even in the face of suffering. Suffering is never a justification for doing what is wrong. Do the right thing and give honor to God still. It could be God doesn’t explain it to us because He can’t. It’s not because of some limitation on His part, but because of one on ours. For all we know, it could involve events hundreds or thousands of years in the future.

And really, you’re not owed an explanation. It’s quite arrogant to think God should tell us XYZ. If He doesn’t tell us, it’s for our good. Perhaps if we knew we couldn’t be shaped the way we need to be.

And meanwhile, pray for our little Shiro. Things have been going well for him. We think it was most likely a new food we tried to give him. There has been no blood vomited at all, but he’s our little joy here and we are happy to have him around.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

What Shiro Taught Me About Trust

Can our feline friends have something to teach us? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If you’re a reader of my blog, there are facts about me you might have noticed. One you might have known is that my wife and I recently moved to Atlanta where I could assist my father-in-law, Michael Licona, with his ministry. The second is that we are cat owners. Our kitty is a white ball of fur named Shiro, the Japanese word for white.

Shiro

Shiropose

We moved on Wednesday and the Tuesday night before, we cleared all the furniture out of our old house. We spent the night next door with my parents. We did, aside from our little Shiro since my parents have two cats already and Shiro up there would have been a recipe for chaos. Shiro stayed at the old house on Tuesday night. We stopped by to feed him on our way home from going out to eat of course.

When we went down the next morning, and we had been eager to check on him, he really wanted nothing to do with us. It took awhile to even get him to eat anything, but he looked at us entirely with distrust. From a cat’s perspective, it’s understandable. He had just had his world turned upside down. Unfortunately, to get him in his kitty carrier, we essentially had to trap him in a room and I had to just grab him and he had to be put inside it, and of course, he never likes that.

We had given him something from the vet meant to calm him down and we were pleased that he did not whine as much as we thought he would on the trip, but at the same time, I wondered if he had a defeatist attitude. Had he resigned himself to a negative fate? After all, we had rescued Shiro at an apartment complex where his old owners had abandoned him. What if he had thought that was happening again?

All the while I kept wanting to explain to him that he would like where he was going. We were doing this to him because we love him and we wanted to have him with us on our journey. We got him here and I had Allie go to a master bathroom connected with the master bedroom and just stay with him. When we got more furniture in the bedroom, we were able to let him out and let him stay in those two rooms.

He ran and hid under the dresser.

The next few days were concerning for us. It was like we couldn’t get Shiro to eat anything. He stayed hidden all day long. We talked to our vet back home and several friends who are cat owners who assured us that this was normal behavior. It was really hard on us that we did all this for Shiro because we wanted to have him with us everywhere and yet he hid and treated us like threats.

Already now, it looks like things are back to normal. As I sit here and write this, it is almost time to feed him and he is doing his best to make sure that I know that. I regularly hear him whining. He has a new cat tree now courtesy of my mother-in-law. He still hasn’t really explored it yet, but give it time. He sometimes still wakes us up at night, but he’s just getting used to the timing.

So what does this have to do with anything?

The difference between a human being and a cat is quite large. What difference is even larger? The difference between God and a human being. We’re talking with God about a being who knows everything, including all of the future, and He knows how everything will work out. We’re also talking about, if we’re Christians, a being who has done more than enough to demonstrate His love for us.

And yet as soon as something happens that we don’t understand, we’re just as prone to think that God has wronged us or is going to abandon us or isn’t looking out for us. It never occurs to us that things that seem painful and disturbing to us could be for our good. We just look at what we’re going through and then think only about that experience and don’t look at how God will use it.

We cannot literally do it, but in some ways we try to hide from God. We don’t go about our lives as we normally would when we think we have His favor. Oh when we think we have His favor we can tell everyone about the goodness of God and we can pray and read our Bibles and worship happily, but when evil strikes or even just something we don’t understand, we quickly change all of that.

A lot of times we might want an answer, but could we really handle one? What all might God have to explain about the future that we couldn’t possibly understand? I would have loved to have been able to talk to Shiro and tell him why everything was happening as it was, but he would not understand. If I cannot explain the ways of man to a cat, how much harder would it be to explain the ways of God to us, mere human beings?

What’s really sad is that with a cat, we could say a cat doesn’t know better, and in essence we’d be right, but we do know better. We as Christians do know all that God has done for us in the past. We know that He sent His son for us, and yet when evil strikes, we forget all about that.

In fact, this is often where our pride steps in. We treat ourselves like the exception. Oh sure, God will do that for everyone else and God loves everyone else, but not me. It’s like we go to John 3:16 and see that God so loved the world, except there’s that little asterisk that has next to it supposedly “Except Steve” or “Except Kim” or “Except Mark.” We read in Romans 5 that God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us, unless you’re John, Margaret, or Tyler.

Pride and shame are two sides of the same coin. In both cases today, we use them to treat ourselves as if we’re exceptional. We’re either exceptionally greater than we think or exceptionally worse than we think and we put whatever that is on God. Unfortunately, we are being just like Shiro. There is a world of good out there waiting for us and we refuse to come out and enjoy it because we do not trust in God.

You see, I can look at Shiro and think “Shiro. We do everything for you. We shower you with love constantly. We protect you from everything and give you so many good things. Why is it that as soon as we do something that seems different, you act like we’re out to get you?” Whenever I think like that though, I can often picture God looking at me and saying “Good questions. I’ve been asking you them for years.”

So right now, there’s a little white ball of fur in the doorway of my office here. I’m about to go feed him soon and he knows again that he can rely on my hand to take care of him. Will I not take this time to learn more that there is a hand greater than mine that is taking care of me even when it might not look like it?

In Christ,
Nick Peters