Do you like ferrets? Have you ever had one? You know what I’m talking about–remember those pet store glass cages with the long, kitten-sized furry mammals sleeping curled up on top of each other, that basically look like God decided to go ahead and stretch them out after He had actually made them?
“How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number—living things both large and small.” (Psalm 104:24-25 NIV)
We were a dog family. I wasn’t–my mother once actually gave my dad an ultimatum that it would be a dog or her, so I grew up with cats–but my husband loves German Shepherds, and when he suggested we get one early on in our marriage I was all for it. It was actually a great choice–the children and I have the best memories of our loyal and very well-trained Bo (not “Bow,” which would have been highly inappropriate for a dignified Shepherd, but an abbreviation for “Bocephus,” which my husband jokingly insisted would be our first-born son’s name otherwise). And my dad finally got his dog (as a “grand” dog, but still) after all!
So, after our son and first daughter left for college, when our last remaining girl suggested we get a ferret, I really wasn’t sure. (To this day, she reminds me I kept asking, “Do they bite?!”) Yet her little adopted Boy turned out to be absolutely adorable! She couldn’t settle on a name, and eventually, partially because we just gave up, “Da Boy,” or just the little “Boy,” stuck. But why am I going on about him? What do ferrets have to do with God?
Well, Jesus used sheep as a reference point because His listeners knew sheep. First century Palestine was highly dependent on shepherding and people understood when He referred to Himself as the good shepherd who gives His life for the sheep, and to us as sheep who tend to basically not be too-terribly-smart and wander off and get ourselves into situations we don’t know how to then get out of. These analogies were a good learning tool for that time, but most of us have never seen a sheep in real life, much less had to spend any amount of time with them to really understand from personal experience what Jesus meant.
Yet I am convinced that God made all of creation–not just sheep–a reference point for us. Including ferrets! Because if you think about it, you can learn something valuable about God, or us, or His relationship with us, from everything! Maybe you’ve familiar with this passage in Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians:
“…what may be known about God is plain to them [humankind], because God has made it plain to them [to us; to everyone]. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…” (Romans 1:19-20 NIV)
He’s absolutely right–God specifically revealed what He wants us to know about Himself, us, and our place in the world in the Bible, but He’s also revealed Himself through the physical world He designed for us to care for and exist in. So what can I learn from a ferret?!
Well, for starters, when I think about my relationship with this helpless little creature, it makes me think about God’s relationship with me!
Our little boy is so absolutely dependent on the human in his life, just as we are dependent on God. The human gives him food and water, as God gives us these–yes, we like to argue we get them with our own efforts just as the ferret probably feels he finds his food on his own, but I understand that without my providing the conditions and circumstances for him to get his food, he would die. The human brings him treats, just as God gives us so many extra things over and above and nonessential for our survival–yet so nice to have! The human cares for his cage and living space, just as God upholds “all things by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3) for us. Not only that, but the human also keeps him from foolishly hurting himself, even though he is totally oblivious to the dangers surrounding him. We’ve got mousetraps strategically placed throughout our home; he’s so curious–he’d get caught and fatally injured within a very short period of time. We’ve got an open staircase–railings spaced appropriately to prevent children from squeezing through, but absolutely perfect for our little (we suspect) near-sighted, and honestly not-too-bright in this respect, ferret to fall right off of! He wouldn’t even know what hit him–he needs the human to protect him from dangers he’s not even aware of, just as we need God to protect us from all of the various dangers we are oblivious to.
And, he’s afraid at times, just as we are. His three-story cage is “his house;” our daughter’s room is his greater world–his “outside” (even though it’s obviously not outdoors). Because he sleeps eighteen hours a day and his circadian rhythm is incompatible with ours, he spends the night in his cage in another room; during the day he’s loose in our daughter’s room. So these two areas are his world, what he’s familiar with, and all he basically knows for the most part. Every so often, however, I’m holding him and realize I’ve forgotten something downstairs, so instead of leaving him behind I just walk downstairs with him.
He’s still okay in the upstairs hallway, but by the time we get to the open staircase, he’s trembling. I don’t know if it smells differently or he feels the slight temperature change, but whatever it is, it scares him. Maybe he thinks he’s about to be fed to something or kicked out of his home; more than likely he has no clue but just senses a change that he’s instinctively afraid of because it’s different, but regardless, I know there’s no danger to him. I’m not going to place him down where he can get himself caught in a trap; I know my intentions toward him are only good, even though he’s terrified. (Yesterday, for example, I brought him down to get the blueberries he loves as treats I had set aside for him!)
Aren’t we absolutely the same? When something seems different, or scary, or un-understandable to us, don’t we get terrified? Our instinct is to forget Who is holding us in His hands; Who it is Who loves us and has “…plans to prosper…[us] and not to harm…[us], plans to give…[us] hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)?!
Sometimes when I look at our little boy–at his sweet little face, his fur, his long little fingers; when I see how he looks to me–how dependent he is on me for everything, how much he actually really does trust me; I can honestly say I delight in him. And isn’t that at least a little bit how God must feel about us when we trust in Him?
Imagine how much differently I’d feel about our little guy if he ignored me; if he hissed every time I walk into the room; if he rejected the treats I give him; if he bit my hand whenever I pick him up? God doesn’t hate us when we reject Him, but you have to think how sad it must make Him–because He sees what we’re missing out on because we don’t quite trust Him!
Because God knows; He really does have it covered! Just as I can foresee what would happen if I gave the ferret the unbridled freedom he thinks he wants–that he would run off of the second floor landing, or get his neck snapped off in a mousetrap–God sees what would happen if we try to run off and do what we want without taking the directives He gave and protections He put into place into consideration, so He disciplines us. Sometimes He literally holds us back from the ledge–we’ve all heard the stories of people who were late for a doomed flight or just barely missed a major collision as if supernaturally held back by the hand of God. Yet many more times He lets us go just a bit; then, if we’re not smart enough to figure it out on our own yet, He lets something bad happen so we stop and think and pull back. Not really serious with eternal consequences, but something that hurts, or disappoints, or embarrasses–just enough to cause us to come to our senses. All because He loves us; because He wants good for us; because He delights in His people!
“Think how much the Father loves us. He loves us so much that he lets us be called his children, as we truly are…”
(1 John 3:1 CEV)
Dear Lord God,
Thank You that You reach out to us in so many different ways! Amen.