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The most traumatic movie-going experience of my childhood was seeing John Wayne’s dog hacked to death with a machete in the movie “Big Jake.” Actually, you don’t really see it, you mostly hear it, which is more effective. I had nightmares for weeks afterwards, and will have another now for having mentioned it. The end of the movie “Old Yeller” comes in a close second. As a boy I was much more disturbed by violence against dogs than violence against humans.
This is why I have never picked up the Jack London classics The Call of the Wild, and White Fang after a first reading. Both novels have scenes of sustained brutality against their main-character dogs. But I have not stopped thinking about them. They are a matched set – a pair of novels that together pose a single question: Is it better to hold on to our origins, or to evolve towards our destiny? Buck, a collie-mix, begins life as a domesticated dog living in California. He is snatched from his home, is passed from one brutal owner to the next until he ends up in the Canadian north-west pursuing the life of a wild dog. White Fang is three quarters wolf, and one quarter sled-dog. He is taken from the wild in the Canadian north-west and is passed from one brutal owner to the next until he winds up living the life of a family dog in California. The endings of both books are stirring, but in different ways. Every boy who has read The Call of the Wild has shared the excitement of Buck as he heard the wolf’s cry beckoning him to return to his natural, undomesticated state. It doesn’t take much growing beyond boyhood to see the allure of the end of White Fang. We leave him drowsing in a sunny back yard, while puppies play nearby
It is the choice between the natural man and the cultivated man (or dog), the primal and the refined. It is the tension of modern humanity – the longing for things basic and organic, and the desire for advancement and progress. Our origin and our destiny lie in opposite directions. We can only pursue one.
Unless we follow Jesus.
It is only in Christ that the journeys of Buck and of White Fang become one - that our origin and are destiny are one. As Romans 5 makes clear, Jesus undoes the damage wrought by Adam, and in Him we return to a prelapsarian state. Jesus takes us back to the Garden. It is also true that in Jesus we find our way forward to heaven, where he has prepared a place for us (John 14.1-3). It is like being in a back yard in California, and deep in a Canadian forest at the same time, because they are the same place. It is going backwards and forwards simultaneously – an impossibility, except for Jesus.
Our origin is God. Our destiny is God. Jesus contains God (Colossians 2.9) and Jesus contains us (Colossians 2.10). Jesus is God. Jesus is us. In Jesus we do not have to choose half an identity. We do not have to shun the past to pursue the future, or forego a future to hold onto our past – because both are the same, both are God. In Jesus we are restored and reconciled to Him (Romans 5.6-19).