Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and it said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?’ –Numbers 22.28
I used to have a car named Johnson. I miss him. Great, dependable guy.
We used to have a tree in our front yard named Mabel. Mabel the Maple. She would turn a brilliant red each fall, and wait till the snow came to lose her leaves, so we never had to rake. Great tree.
Then there’s my GPS. Her name is named “GyPSy”, and she has a lovely voice. Of course, I don’t always listen to her closely enough, so she’s constantly asking me to make the nearest U-Turn. She gets cranky like that.
You know who else has a nice voice? Charlie. My wife Jan and I agree that Charlie’s got kind of a low bass, playful voice. Of course we’ve never heard it. He’s a dog.
I could go on with examples, but you probably get the point. I’m an anthropomorphizer.
A what? Let me put it this way: Have you ever had an imaginary conversation with a pet? A boat? The computer you’re sitting at right now? Then you know what I’m talking about. To anthropomorphize something is to project human qualities onto it.
I think it’s quite natural for us to do this. We’re relational people, and we think relationally. So, even if your beloved car doesn’t have a voice, you sort of develop a relationship with it over time. You learn to communicate with it.
Anthropomorphizing makes even more sense with animals. Many of us have a dog or a cat living in our lives, and we actually can communicate with them, to a point. Your cat lets you know when it’s hungry. Your dog lets you know when you need to go out. And with pets there is a genuine sharing of affection and closeness. So why not give Mr. Snigglesnorts a nice british accent as you pretend he’s demanding you change his catbox?
In the Book of Numbers, God gives Balaam’s donkey the ability to actually speak! Balaam is on a journey along what appears to be an empty road, when his donkey quickly jerks Balaam into the ditch. Unseen by Balaam, there was an angel standing, blocking the way. The donkey swerved to avoid a collision, but Balaam strikes his donkey three times. Apparently the angel didn’t like the way Balaam was treating his animal, so he allowed the donkey to berate his rider. Pretty wild, huh?
If your pet could speak, what would it say to you? Would its voice match the imaginary one you’ve given it? See, that’s the one thing about anthropomorphizing–you get to make up both sides of the conversation. That’s fun when you’re playing around, but it can’t replace really listening.
I think it really is important to try to communicate with our pets, and even the objects and gadgets around us. But our imaginary words should never take the place of the real messages coming to us. When God gave us dominion over this world, that meant we have a responsibility to care for it. That probably has less to do with treating our pets and objects as if they were human, and more with treating them with respect and attentiveness.
So, when GyPSy tells me to turn right, I’d probably better turn right. And when Johnson tells me he’s low on oil, I need to get it changed.
And when Charlie needs to go for a walk? He doesn’t have to say a word. He just barks, and grabs Alicia by the neck.
(That’s the name of our leash)
Have a great week,