July 13, 2009
Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it. Genesis 4:7
One of the best things about visiting national parks, aside from the spectacular scenery, is seeing the wildlife—from a safe distance, that is. Sometimes, though, the encounter is a little too up close and personal.
Take my visit to the Everglades last January. Joe and I were on a leisurely bike ride with a few other people on the Long Pine Key Trail. Everglades is a place where going off-trail is encouraged, so our ranger guide had us dismount and traipse through the surrounding pineland and hardwood hammock areas. We saw the footprints of an endangered Florida panther, which was pretty exciting.
As we headed back to our bikes, I must have sensed something, because I glanced down in mid-step to see a small, coiled snake in my path. My shriek of surprise brought the ranger over, and he confirmed what I already knew by sight and sound: it was a baby diamondback rattler (when you grow up in Florida, you learn pretty early in school how to identify poisonous reptiles). But what a cute little thing it was, with only two small rattler nubs, which it shook with all its might, like a kid trying to show off how big and strong he was. Everyone came over to take a look, not really afraid of it, but the ranger said, “Where there’s a baby, there’s usually a mama nearby,” so we decided we all best be moving along.
But I discovered we were wrong in thinking a little snake would do less harm than a bigger one. According to National Geographic’s website, baby rattlers “can actually be more dangerous than adults because they have less control over the amount of venom they inject.”
The word picture of the Genesis verse I cited above, that of sin ready to pounce, came to mind later that day as I wrote about the snake incident in my travel journal. I toy with “little” sins—a lie here, a compromise there, a flash of anger, a cutting comment—and think they don’t really matter. Oh sure, I avoid the “big” ones, like murder or robbery, and tell myself I’m okay. But I’m fooling myself: the poison invades my system anyway, taking away my healthy relationship with God. And where there are “baby” sins, “mama” sins are not far away.
(Had I’d seen the Florida panther, I’d probably have been reminded of 1 Peter 5:8: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” If I had a choice between coming across a panther or a diamondback rattler, I’d rather have the snake. On second thought, I’d just as soon steer clear of both).
But big, skulking felines and snakes of all sizes, the “sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1), aren’t avoidable in life, so I’m thankful I can rely on the only antidote that’s proven to work—God’s love, mercy and forgiveness, vast enough to cover it all: “The God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To Him be the power for ever and ever” (I Peter 5:10, 11). Amen!