I sewed up my dog today, right there on the workbench in our garage. She got in a fight last night, but we didn’t figure out the whole story till much later.
You see, we live on a little farm in rural Canada, along with two horses, three cattle, some barn cats, two pigs, and a couple of big dogs. Our two mixed-breed German shepherds, Maggie and Margot, keep us track of everything that happens on our farm, and they’re aggressive towards anything that doesn’t belong. Last year they left a carnage of feathers and bird bones all over the yard when they got hold of a pigeon. Lately there have been muskrat carcasses carried home by Margot, happily wagging her tail over how proud she is to present us with such a trophy. They chase off deer from the garden or coyotes away from the cattle. I felt awful for a UPS driver who was tasked with delivering a package to our door - all of a sudden I heard a vehicle horn blaring outside and I rushed out to find both dogs furiously barking at the poor guy stuck in his van. Even big tractors that farm the neighboring fields get chased and nipped by our protective dogs. Simply put, Maggi and Margo are the best security system we’ve ever had.
Not all their barking is for a good reason. Every few weeks the full moon sets them off. Other times the neighbor's dogs howling miles away will have them replying all night. However, our dogs are constantly on patrol, especially at night. It’s such a regular occurrence that I barely wake up from the noise anymore. So, when both dogs started going crazy last night, I didn’t think much of it. Eventually, they quieted down and I was fast asleep again.
Today was another busy Mother’s Day Sunday - breakfast in bed, church, lunch in town, afternoon nap, etc. - so it wasn’t until late this afternoon that we noticed the aftermath of the epic battle from last night.
“Mom, Maggie has a big cut!”
Eight-year-old Brennan is the most attentive to our animals. Maggie had been out in the field all day, nosing something in the dirt. We figured she'd caught a goose (they’d been migrating through our little farm lately), or maybe a gopher (they burrow all over the place). However, upon investigating, we were surprised to find the carcass of an animal we hadn’t seen around here before.
“Omigosh, Maggie killed a beaver!” my wife exclaimed. “And she’s cut really bad!”
That explained all the barking last night. It’d been a dry spring, with low water levels leaving swamps cracked and dry. As a result, this rather large beaver had been on the move, looking for a new home. That is, until Maggie found it.
And I’m sure glad she did. Once established in an area, a population of beavers can cause all sorts of trouble. They chop down trees, dam creeks, flood pastureland, and even attack farm animals. Our dog saved us a world of trouble when she intercepted the beaver last night. However, she didn’t get away unscathed. Maggie had two-inch lacerations over both of her shoulders, right down to the muscle. I took one look and knew they had to be properly closed up.
Thankfully, I keep a small stock of medical supplies for this very situation. Needle driver, scissors, small forceps - all instruments cast off from our local hospital, plus expired sutures that were destined for the garbage. Over the years, my little cache of medical supplies (and suturing know-how) has saved us a pile of trouble. I certainly didn’t want to spend the rest of Mother’s Day waiting at a veterinary hospital, not to mention a sizable bill for a simple laceration repair.
Back in the garage, I got things ready, recruiting my son to assist me.
“Rory, you’ll have to hold Maggie still while I freeze her. She won’t like it much.”
Both he nor the dog both bravely braced themselves for the upcoming injection. I gently pushed away bloody fur to reveal the gaping laceration. Thankfully, there was no sign of infection. The wound itself was a clean slice through Maggie’s thick hide - no underlying tissue damage, debris, or ragged edges to tidy up.
As I injected the local anesthetic to numb her skin, Maggie tried to jerk away, softly whining in protest. It wasn’t easy anesthetizing a wiggly, reluctant pet, especially one with sharp teeth just inches from my hand. It also wasn’t lost on me that those same teeth had just dispatched a beaver the night before. However, calm words and a firm hand kept our nervous patient from darting away or nipping at me. Before long her wound was numb and ready for closure. Five throws of a tough dissolvable suture and the gaping wound was sealed shut. Then it was onto the other side, freezing and four big throws of the same thick suture to pull it all closed. By the time I finished the last tie, Maggie had laid her head down on the bench next to Rory’s lap.
Done! Maggie took it like a champ. Released from our grip, she bounded down off the bench. Soon she was out the door and back on patrol and rolling in the dirt. We still have to watch her closely for infection, but those lacerations should heal a lot better than if they’d stayed open.
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Life on the farm is never without excitement, but this story of our dog attacking a potential threat reflects a deeper truth about the world we live in. You see, there’s a war raging all around us, but it’s one that we can’t see, hear, or touch. The battle occurs in the spiritual realm, completely undetectable to our physical senses, and the prize couldn’t be any more precious - the souls of mankind. Even though it's a spiritual war, the combat spills over into the physical world in the form of death, destruction, sin, and tragedy. We get a glimpse of this in the story of Job, where we have rare access into God’s throne room.
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them… The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing?... Put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So Satan departed from the presence of the Lord. (Job 1:6, 9,11-12, NASB)
To Job, disaster struck without reason or warning. As much as he tried to understand what caused it all, he was blind to the preceding events that occurred in heaven.
The metaphysical (spiritual) realm regularly affects the physical world. Our ignorance of it doesn’t negate its profound influence on our life. In fact, most of us are so unaware of what’s going on around us spiritually, we get completely caught up in worldly troubles. Consider Elisha’s servant:
Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Ki 6:15-17, ESV)
Elisha's servant thought they were surrounded by an army (which was true), but he was ignorant of the greater army that was also present, and on their side.
Even animals can be privy to the spiritual realm. When Balaam was riding his donkey, the animal saw a fearsome angel who blocking their way. Three times the donkey wisely avoided the angel of God, but all he got in return was a beating. Finally, Balaam finally saw what was happening.
Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed all the way to the ground. The angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out as an adversary, because your way was contrary to me. But the donkey saw me and turned aside from me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, I would surely have killed you just now, and let her live.” (Num 22:31-33, NASB)
An ounce of spiritual insight has the potential to prevent a ton of physical hardship.
The Bible tells us repeatedly that there’s a whole world behind the one we live in.
Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph 6:12, NASB)
It’s easy to get caught up in our physical world, given that it’s all we see every day, but the spiritual world is actually more real than what we can physically detect. Paradoxically, the metaphysical realm is where things truly exist. Even us. It’s no surprise that each of us have a soul, but we are often blind to the condition of it.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jer 17:9, ESV)
Just as our physical actions flow out of our souls (Lk 6:45), so too do spiritual battles spill over into our physical world. Hatred, murder, terrorism, racism, abuse, greed, disease - these are all symptoms of spiritual depravity. Try as we may to fix the world’s problems, the underlying cause is spiritual brokenness. The great evangelist K.P. Yohannan wrote about this very thing:
It is important to reemphasize that Asia’s basic problem is a spiritual one. When the Western media focus almost entirely on its [physical] problems of hunger, for example, showing pictures of starving children on TV, it is difficult for Americans not to get the false impression that hunger is the biggest problem. But what causes the hunger? Asian Christians know these horrible conditions are only symptoms of the real problem - spiritual bondage… The agony we see in the faces of those starving children and beggars is actually caused by centuries of religious slavery… Yet despite [billions of dollars in] social programs, the problems of hunger, population and poverty continue to grow. The real culprit is not a person, lack of natural resources or a system of government. It is spiritual darkness.
How rarely we see the world for what it truly is: a battleground for the hearts of men. There are dangers that have the potential to steal our very souls.
Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Pet 5:8, NASB)
But there aren't just evil forces that fight against us, there are also those who fight for us. That’s right, I'm talking about angels, those fearsome servants of God.
He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways. (Ps 91:11, NIV)
At that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. (Dan 12:1, NASB)
In addition to angels, even Jesus himself intercedes for us.
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail (Lk 22:31-32, NASB)
This is the what we can learn from the story of Maggie and the beaver: even while we’re unaware, a spiritual battle is raging, our angels are fighting on our behalf. In fact, it’s not even a fair fight. You see, just like Elisha's servant discovered, those who are for us are far greater than those who are against us.
If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom 8:31, ESV)
Take a look at the vision John recorded in Revelation:
Another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. (Rev 12:3-4, ESV)
In the first half of the passage, the dragon represents Satan, that chief angel who rebelled against God and now operates in opposition to him. The second half is a little more obscure, but many theologians interpret the “third of the stars of heaven” that the dragon’s tail swept down as the spiritual beings that rebelled with Satan. That is, they're demons. Keep in mind that this is no small number, if the comparison to the stars is any indication of their quantity. Millions? Billions? Trillions? Whatever the number, there are countless evil spirits with the same mandate as the Devil - to “steal, kill, and destroy” (Jn 10:10).
However, the situation isn’t so bleak for those who belong to God. Let’s do some math: if one-third of spiritual beings are evil, that leaves two-thirds in the service of the Lord. Thus, there are twice as many angels for us than demons against us. Phew! That’s a bit more reassuring. In fact, this spiritual war of light versus darkness doesn’t even sound like a fair fight, but that's exactly how it is when anyone goes up against our God.
There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord. (Pr 21:30, NIV)
If [this movement] is of God, you will not be able to overthrow it. (Acts 5:39, ESV)
Satan is not the counterpart of God. God is all powerful - he could destroy Satan with a word just as easily as he created him. Instead, Satan seems to be on similar footing to Michael, a great prince or chief among angels (Dan 12:1). These are who fight in the spiritual realms, but again, it’s a lopsided battle.
There was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough. (Rev 12:7-8, NASB)
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe - and shudder! (Jam 2:19, ESV)
Let’s not be fooled - the Devil and all those with him have already lost. They’re destined for hell, if they’re not already there.
God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment (2 Pet 2:4, ESV)
The forces of light cannot be defeated by the forces of darkness, because it’s impossible for God to be defeated.
Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. (1 Jn 4:4, NASB)
However, the battle still rages not because angels struggle to overpower demons, but because people invite demons into their lives in spite of our angels’ efforts. It's like if I tied up my dogs and invited beavers into my pond, of course the dogs would struggle to keep them away! Jesus said this:
When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation. (Mt 12:43-45, ESV)
A demon passing through “waterless places” is like a beaver looking for a pond during a dry spell. It's desperate for a place to call home. However, God’s warrior angels, who are charged with protecting his children, make sure any evil spirits who approach us receive a hostile reception. And yet, sometimes unclean spirits are able to re-enter a person after it has been thrown out. How? Simple: the door is opened. Just as Jesus stands at the door and knocks (Rev 3:20), so do the forces of evil.
Sin is crouching at the door. And its desire is for you, but you must master it. (Gen 4:7, NASB)
Indeed, when the door to our heart is opened - and the house is empty, swept, and tidied - it’s ready and waiting for a party of demons to take up residence again. If the Holy Spirit isn’t home, there’s no one to lock the door when the Devil comes knocking. My good friend Giovanni - who was delivered from alcoholism, poverty, and addiction - said it like this: "My heart is not Satan's house. It's God's house. No room for Satan." Since being saved, Gio refused to open the door to his past life, because he belonged to someone else.
However, we often don’t realize the danger we’re in. A beaver doesn’t seem like much of a threat - cute, furry body, buck teeth, waddling gait, family-oriented. However, once established, they cause immeasurable damage. In the same way, those little sins - the gossip, the bending of morals, entertaining dark thoughts - can quickly develop into major problems. You can’t trifle with sin and expect to get away unscathed. Let one pest in and there will soon be a family of them. There’s no safe way to keep the rats of hell in our homes and not be overrun. However, just like guard dogs, our angels see the danger we’re in when we don’t, like when we're spiritually asleep (like Balaam).
The key here is prayer. Prayer strengthens our spiritual protectors. When Satan demanded to sift Peter like wheat, Jesus prayed for him and thereby strengthened him. Prayer guards our hearts against sin and minimizes its hold on us. It keeps us in touch with the voice of our Father, who whispers words of caution when we’re going astray. Prayer energizes angels. After Paul talked about how the armor of God can thwart attacks from the Devil, he stressed the importance of prayer.
With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, (Eph 6:18, NASB)
Quite simply, regular, intentional, sincere prayer is the only way we stay alive in a world permeated by the forces of evil. It releases and strengthens angels to do the job God ordained for them - to minister to his children.
As we discussed, life on earth isn’t without its hazards, both visible and invisible. And yet, by the grace of God, believers worldwide are well cared for. We need not fear the powers of the Devil, because we have guard dogs constantly patrolling our lives. The Lord’s angels are more than capable of holding back the darkness, even while we sleep. However, we need to be mindful of the spiritual world behind the physical, to “be sober-minded, be watchful” (1 Pet 5:8, ESV). The only way into our lives is through an open door, so let’s be sure to not give the Devil an inch of space to wiggle in (Eph 4:27).
Also, let’s thank God for those guardians - both farm dogs and mighty angels - who keep watch over us. We’ll never know the extent of the danger they keep at bay.
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Disclaimer: Do not perform any medical procedures at home. Even simple lacerations should be assessed and managed by trained professionals. Home remedies, if managed incorrectly, can result in bleeding, infection, nerve damage, dysfunction of underlying structures (tendons, muscle, organs), or even death. Always consult a qualified physician regarding any open wounds or other injuries.