I am in a battle with squirrels. Specifically, the squirrels in my backyard who, in the last two weeks, have drained my already limited reservoir of patience. They have become exceedingly greedy and appear to flaunt their talents at the brilliantly marketed, yet completely ineffective squirrel-proof feeders. Even Buddy, our part-coon hound part bird dog, has tired of chasing the squirrels. However, Poppy and I remain in the fight. She does not hesitate to go into the backyard and yell at the squirrels, “Get out of here, you squirrels.” I appreciate her commitment to the effort.
My efforts to eradicate or, at least discourage the squirrels, have intensified. As I do not desire a visit from the Alabama Department of Game and Fish, I’ll trust your imagination on the new strategy. The flaw in this plan is my inability to “make contact” with the squirrels at a distance. Mostly because they are now keen to the plan and are acutely listening for my pending presence prepared to scurry away.
The word sin comes from an archery term meaning “to miss the mark.” The squirrels, I suspect, are grateful for my sinfulness.
Episcopal priest and author Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “It is easier (and less painful) for us to rely on God’s forgiveness of our sins that it is to believe that God might support us if we quit them.” When we hear passage of the Bible which describe the law and the commandments as the means by which we stay in right relationship with God and one another, we also hear passages that describe the grace of God’s forgiveness. Judgment and salvation, sin and grace, death and new life are always companions in the Biblical testimony.
Taylor’s point is that indeed God forgives, but we cheat ourselves of real transformation if we fail to repent, to change directions, to quit the sin. I am going to have to find a better way to deal with the squirrels because what I am doing is not working. In the same way, there are many aspects of my life, and perhaps yours, in which a true change in behavior, attitude and approach will produce more effective results and a life more resembling the image of God.
John Bercow, the recently retired Speaker of Parliament, once quipped to a colleague during a debate in the House of Commons, “The Right Honourable Gentleman is suffering from the notable disadvantage of being completely wrong.” Not only is that a masterful turn of phrase, but such wit describes most of us at one time or another. As human beings, we suffer from the notable disadvantage of being wrong. Yet, as God holds us to account, God also does so with compassion and forgiveness. God will reveal to us in our repentance a new way, a new approach, a new understanding and a new beginning. Taylor writes, “Grace is also the mysterious strength God lends to human beings who commit themselves to the work of transformation.”
I pray for that mysterious strength, and I believe in God’s power to transform our lives. That is our Christian hope. That is also bad news for the squirrels.
i Speaking of Sin, Barbara Brown Taylor, p. 5
ii Ibid, p. 85