“The Hound of Heaven” is a poem written by Francis Thompson in which the author tells of a God who pursues him (metaphorically like a bloodhound, of course) through difficulties and disbelief, and even occasionally in spite of the author’s desire to know him. That title has often been used to help describe what some Christian denominations refer to as “prevenient grace.” Such grace goes before, preparing the way for us to know God and preventing us from harm in many cases even though we certainly do not deserve such protection. This gracious God woos us into relationship with him. The apostle John echoed this truth when he said, “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19).
I recently came across a story that made me think of the hound of heaven in a different light. I hope it will give you a new lens through which to see prevenient grace.
“An old Christian was trying to explain faith to Father Donovan, who lived sixteen years with the Masai in Tanzania. ‘Faith is not like when someone fires a gun and kills from a distance with a simple twitch of the finger. No, faith is like when a lion leaps against his prey. His nose, eyes and ears sense it. His feet speed him forward. All the strength of his body is tensed to make a terrible leap and deal the deadly blow. When the victim falls, the lion drags it towards him and makes it part of himself. That is how a lion kills. And that is how a man believes. That is like faith.’
Father Donovan thought he understood. He supposed faith is effort, sometimes painful, in search of God. Our souls are tensed, like the lion. But the old African had not finished. ‘We Masai did not go out searching, Father, nor did we want you to come. You told us we had to seek God. But it was God who searched for us and found us. We always believe we are the lion, but in reality, the lion is God.’”