Doing what comes naturally

Photo by Alfonso RomeroHere’s a thought that will either sound incredibly profound or completely random.  It may depend on how many times you’ve been to Starbucks today.  And yes, I’m sitting in Starbucks as I type this.

This past week, after a few days without a landline or Internet connection, our phone service was finally restored.  We had tried and tried to get through to Verizon on our cell phones, but to no avail.  My wife finally visited the Verizon store; they gave her a special number to call that allowed her to talk to an actual person; that person found the problem and happily declared it fixed.

We soon discovered, however, that it wasn’t (surprise!), and they sent someone out to have a look.  As we waited for the technician, I looked out our patio door and mused aloud, half-jokingly, “I wonder if a squirrel’s been chewing on the line?”  Our neighborhood has been a bit overrun by the critters.  Don’t get me wrong–I think they’re cute.  I see one and immediately want to give it a nickname.  When I was in college, I had one run up the leg of my jeans, thinking he might get a handout.

But they are rodents, after all, and can become pests.  We had suffered a brief power outage before the service went down, and I wondered if the squirrels had anything to do with it.  Sure enough: the tech discovered that one had climbed the pole and chewed into a power line, taking out the phones on our side of the street.  And as you might imagine, poor Mr. Chippy met a rather gruesome end.

Seems to me there’s a sermon in there somewhere.

Mr. Chippy was not engaged in an act of suburban terrorism.  He was doing what comes naturally: obeying his urge to gnaw.  Rodents have fast-growing front teeth that need to be constantly worn down, much as we need to clip our fingernails.

The difference is that we’re smart enough to not use high voltage lines as nail files.

Or are we?

I feel a little sad for my furry neighbor.  Chances are, if he had lived somewhere further away from the presence of human civilization, he could have happily and safely gnawed on anything in sight.  (Well, okay, he could also have starved or been carried off by a hawk.)

Sometimes, we romanticize nature (if you want to be cured of that, read Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek).  Similarly, we’re apt to give a pass to any behavior, even human behavior, that seems “natural” in some way, as if the only thing that mattered was a fully conscious, willful violation of the law.  But the moral of the tragic tale of Mr. Chippy is this: when you live in a world that isn’t the way God created it to be, doing what comes naturally can be hazardous to your health.  Permanently.

Maybe, with a little imagination, we’ll find a lesson in there about sin.  And about the reason we need the saving grace of God.