God and Hachiko
By Dr. Brad Cole
Akita Inu is a rare breed of dog that originates from Japan. DNA analysis has revealed that these highly intelligent dogs are among the most ancient breeds in the world. Although the Akita Inu is known for several unique characteristics, they are renowned for one quality more than any other, extreme loyalty. The most famous example of this involved a Japanese professor at the University of Tokyo who took an Akita Inu, which he named “Hachiko,” as a pet in 1924.
After a short time, Hachiko developed the habit of walking with the professor to the train station in the morning and then meeting the professor at the train station in the evening. This went on for well over a year until the professor’s life suddenly came to an end as a result of a cerebral hemorrhage. For the professor’s family and friends, life slowly moved on. Not for Hachiko, however. To everyone’s surprise, Hachiko returned to the train station every single day for over 9 years until he died at the age of 12.
Each day, the dog carefully observed the passengers as they got on and off the train. He watched, listened, and smelled for anything that suggested the return of his master. Hachiko was such a regular at the train station that soon everyone in that area learned the sad story and was deeply touched by Hachiko’s loyalty to his friend. Hachiko eventually became well known throughout all of Japan as an example of legendary faithfulness and loyalty. When Hachiko died, a statue was constructed and placed where he used to sit and wait at the railroad station. To this day a ceremony occurs every year to honor his great example of devotion.
Recently, our family watched an adaptation of this story in the 2009 movie “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” starring Richard Gere. This movie was well done and, of course, a moving experience. The story of Hachiko exemplifies Divine qualities. Our images of God are frequently dominated by the all-powerful, all-knowing dimensions but this emphasis has a significant downside. Wayne Northey stated the problem very well when he said, “In the history of the Western Church since the era of Constantine, God as stern-moral-sentencing Judge eclipsed God as loving Story-teller…”
In the story of Hachiko’s faithfulness, there is a window into the heart of the One who created Hachiko. God’s faithfulness is the central thesis of the book of Romans, as expressed by contemporary Pauline scholars such as N.T. Wright and Richard B. Hays. The Message paraphrase puts it very colorfully:
“So, what if, in the course of doing that, some of those Jews abandoned their post? God didn’t abandon them. Do you think their faithlessness cancels out his faithfulness? Not on your life! Depend on it: God keeps his word even when the whole world is lying through its teeth. Scripture says the same: Your words stand fast and true; Rejection doesn’t faze you.” (Romans 3:3-4)
Despite the massive unfaithfulness of God’s people, in Jesus we see God’s extreme loyalty and faithfulness to His children. God is like Hachiko in many ways: always eagerly waiting on us, always hoping to spend time together, and never giving up on us even if we never show up or respond to His loving devotion for us. God’s faithfulness and loyalty for each one of us exceeds that of Hachiko to an infinite degree.
The images that we hold in our minds about God really matter. One reason “The Shack” was such a popular book is because of the moving picture of a broken man, Mack, who meets with God in a shack. God the Father in this story turns out to be an African American woman (called “Papa”) who makes cookies in between their conversations. “Papa” later explains to Mack that He revealed Himself in this way to break Mack out of his narrow thinking about God. Mack had only pictured God as big, stern and white, and since his earthly father was a cruel man who beat him, God had to do something to shake up his image of the real God. Jesus, in this story, is a Middle-Eastern carpenter while the Holy Spirit is an Asian woman named Sarayu. For some, this book is heretical, for others this is a remarkably helpful story that brings God close.
Some are offended by any description of God that does not also emphasize His overwhelming power and force. “Are you comparing God to a dog?” The Bible, of course, compares God to many things – some that are at an even lower level than that of a dog! Jesus is depicted not only as a Lamb, but a “slaughtered Lamb” (Revelation 5:6, 9, 12). Jesus even compared God to a mother hen, “How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!” (Matthew 23:37 GNB).
But perhaps some people are not moved to fully trust God by these images. If that is the case, God has more illustrations to catch our attention. How about God as a loving parent whose child has left home? In the story of the prodigal son, the Father never took His eyes off of His rebellious son.
“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20 GNB)
Does that story help? How about another story of God as a loving Father?
“The Lord says, ‘When Israel was a child, I loved him and called him out of Egypt as my son. But the more I called to him, the more he turned away from me. My people sacrificed to Baal; they burned incense to idols. Yet I was the one who taught Israel to walk. I took my people up in my arms, but they did not acknowledge that I took care of them. I drew them to me with affection and love. I picked them up and held them to my cheek; I bent down to them and fed them. They refuse to return to me…’” (Hosea 11:1-5 GNB).
Are we still not impressed?
How about the picture of God revealed in the story of Hosea, who was told to marry a woman who would become a prostitute. God told Hosea to buy her back to illustrate His love for His prostitute wife,
“Go again and show your love for a woman who is committing adultery with a lover. You must love her, just as I still love the people of Israel…” (Hosea 3:1-2 GNB).
Does that help?
If not, how about God as a shepherd who never grows tired of watching over His sheep. More than that, He is, “The good shepherd [who] sacrifices His life for the sheep” (John 10:11 GNB). He is the shepherd who leaves everything to find the single one that was lost (Luke 15).
Are we still not convinced? How about the picture of a God who patiently knocks rather than knocking the door down? And more than that, have you ever noticed what God wants to do with us when we open the door?
“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends” (Revelation 3:20 NLT).
Does sharing “a meal together as friends” with God sound inviting enough?
If that doesn’t cause us to open the door, what about comparing God to a breastfeeding mother?
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (Isa 49:15 TNIV).
Well, we could go on and on and on with one illustration after another in the Bible that are all meant to open a different window into the kind of Person God is and to stimulate us to open up to Him. When you think of God, let all of these illustrations come together in your mind: God as a faithful Akitu Inu; God as an African American woman baking cookies in a shack; God as a violently slaughtered Lamb; God as a mother hen; God as a Father who is eager to embrace His lost son; God as a Husband who will go to any lengths to win back his prostitute wife; God as a Shepherd who will follow a lost sheep even if it means His life; God as a Man who stands at the door knocking, wanting to share a meal with you and to talk as friends; God as a breastfeeding Mother who tenderly adores Her child.
“We are not to think of God only as a judge, and to forget Him as our loving Father. Nothing can do our souls greater harm than this; for our whole spiritual life will be molded by our conceptions of God’s character.” (RH 126:1,2)