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From dog to God: On newspapers, oceans, and understanding



Joseph Pearce - published on 01/17/24

There's so much to learn through fictional true stories.

True stories are not merely non-fictional stories that show us the facts. They are stories, even fictional stories, that show us the truth. Jesus knows this, which is why he shows us the truth through those fictional true stories, known as parables. 

Since Jesus shows us the truth through the telling of stories, it is good for us to follow his example. Throughout the centuries, Christians have done this through the telling of stories about the saints. It can be difficult in some cases to know which of these stories or legends about the lives of the saints are rooted in fact, or the extent to which they are pious embellishments of the facts, or even pure fictional adornments. Sometimes, however, these stories encapsulate a deep truth, irrespective of whether the story is rooted in fact or fiction.

One of my favorites is the story of St. Augustine walking on the beach at the time he was writing his celebrated work on the Trinity. It is said that he came across a young child who was patiently scooping water from the sea and pouring it into a small hole he had dug in the sand.

The saint asked the child what he was doing. The child replied that he was going to pour the whole sea into the tiny hole. 

“That’s impossible,” said the saint.

“It’s no more impossible than your trying to get the mystery of the Trinity into your head,” replied the child.

Whether or not St. Augustine ever really had this encounter with the child, the story is profoundly true. It shows us the limits of human understanding.

I like to tell this story in a different way.

A dog awaits the return home of its owner. The man returns. The dog is excited, expecting to be either fed or taken for a walk. The man sits down and picks up a newspaper. The dog is disappointed. It knows that it will not be fed or exercised until the man puts down the newspaper. This is the limit of the dog’s understanding. The dog will never be able to read the newspaper. It’s beyond the limits of its understanding.

There is a lesson here for those who insist that God doesn’t exist. They refuse to accept anything that can’t be understood by the human mind. They don’t know that they are infinitely further from being able to read the mind of God, who is the source and fullness of Reason, than the dog is from being able to read the newspaper. They are trying to fit the eternal into the temporal and the infinite into the finiteness of their human rational limitations. They are trying to pour the ocean of the physical and metaphysical cosmos into the small hole in their heads.


This is part of the series called “The Human Being Fully Alive” found here.

EducationHistoryThe Human Being Fully Alive
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