[This is a first draft, so pardon any glitches or gaffes. What's more, please tell me about the glitches and gaffes! Thanks!]
What a hoot I had yesterday in a couple of my classes. We were doing a lesson on animals. I think the students got the point about behavior––what we see animals do––and their abilities––what they can do in various, perhaps unusual, situations. We did the CD exercises and vocab. sections, and then were left with 5 or 10 minutes of dead time before the bell. I didn't feel like forging ahead with more book-content, so I decided to teach the kids some "natural skills." Simple things, like, you know, how to kill a wolf, how to catch and kill a raccoon, and how to hunt a polar bear. ("See," I reminded them, "isn't English fun!")
Seeing as some of my readers may not be savvy about the above natural skills, allow me to tell you how to kill a wolf, a raccoon, and a polar bear. You never know when might need to know. More important, however, I realized, while I was driving home, how the three methods I taught throw startling light on what the Church means by sin and salvation. Take a minute to learn how to kill a wolf, a raccoon, and a polar bear, since it just might save your––here below and in eternity.
If you should someday find yourself stuck in the woods with wolves, first, hopefully you'll live long enough to pull the following stunt in the interest of self-preservation. Your food is dwindling. Wolf meat sounds great. But how to catch and kill one? First, you need a good knife, like a buck knife or a Kabar, or just, well, not just a Swiss Army knife. Second, you need to find a spot away from your shelter to lay the trap. Third, you dig a small hole in the ground, large enough to bury the hilt, and then secure the knife upwards in the hole. Fourth, apply a fair amount of blood to the blade (either by cutting yourself somewhere not too harmful, or bleeding some smaller creature you caught). Fifth, go back to your shelter and wait. In time, a wolf is bound to smell the bloody blade and approach it for a free snack. A blood lollipop, if you will. He will, naturally enough, lick the blade to slurp the blood, but as he does so, he will slice into his tongue, which will, in turn, just add blood to the blade. The minute, clean cuts into the wolf's tongue is not, by a wolf's standards noticeable enough to stop slurping a blood fountain in the forest. The more it licks, the more it drinks–and the weaker it gets… and the more hungrily it slurps. Eventually, the wolf will either drop dead there, or stagger away, leaving a bloody trail for you, the Lupine Candyman, to track and secure for meals.
That's one way to kill a wolf. Or a dog, if you really are that draconian about keeping the neighbor's pooch off your lawn.
Killing a raccoon works in a similar, albeit less gory, manner: the animal's psychology is its own downfall. The wolf, being a fierce carnivore, instinctively drinks himself to death. The raccoon, by contrast, can be done in by his sneaky scavenger brain. Killing a wolf is more daunting, because you still have to reckon on its pack mates looming by your trap, but killing a raccoon does require more sophisticated equipment. You need a canister or can and a lid or some kind of insert that can occlude the top of the can. You need to leave (or make) a hole in the lid, and then jam nails or hard sticks downward through the lid into the can, so that it forms a shrinking opening, like an upside safety cone or an inverted ice cream cone… made of nails… in the forest.
At any rate, next you place something shiny or tasty, but not flexible or fragile, in the bottom of the can. Leave the trap and wait (maybe the wolf is done drinking by now). Eventually, a raccoon will come to inspect the can, notice the object inside it, and reach in to grab it. When he retracts his hand, however, it is now too large to slip out of your ice cream cone lid. The raccoon will tug and tug, but he will not let go of the object; scavenger's don't become scavengers by dropping what they seize. As you make your rounds, check the trap, and, if a raccoon is stuck there, serenely, and politely, approach him and club him to death. Then reclaim your shiny prize for another round of raccoon roast.
The final method is certainly the most grueling and obscure, but, hey, why not at least know how to kill a polar bear? How many of us––of you––can honestly say you know how to hunt a creature with ten centimeters of blubber in its coat, that can run over 30 MPH, stands about ten feet tall, and weighs about 680 kg (1,450 lbs.)? Well, hopefully, in a few moments of reading, that many more of you can.
You are an Eskimo. Don't worry, no seals were harmed in the making of your tundra clothes… no more, I mean, that really had to be killed. Anyway, you are a hungry Eskimo. Winter has passed. You notice a hibernation hole and, to speed things up, see a skinnier, very hungry polar bear emerge into the warm subarctic spring air. Being an Eskimo, you carry a pouch of blubber inside your parka, in case you get hungry, or in case you want to kill a polar bear. Like now. So, you withdraw a hardy, springy stick (probably a treated strip of tendons as hard as wood), sharpen both ends of it, bend it in half (s0 it looks like a giant pair of tweezers… made of tendon), and hold it in one hand while you take a hunk or blubber out of your pouch. Insert the tendon tweezers into the ball of blubber, roll the device on the ice to harden the blubber, and then chuck it towards the bear (without, of course, letting him see the big, warm piece of meat––you––waving its arm from behind a snow drift). The bear will smell the blubber and go to eat it, tweezers and all. Inside his stomach, of course, the blubber will soften, melt, and the tiny spear inside it will spring open, tearing open the bear's stomach.
At this point, you have bested the animal, but that doesn't mean he will be bested if you go to claim your prize. The bear will, naturally, start scrambling away in pain, but if you get too close to him, he will easily destroy you. So, as a savvy Eskimo, you bide your time… over the course of two or three days as the big animal staggers for some kind of respite, leaving behind him a glowing trail of red on white, blood dripping from his mouth and anus as he goes across the snow. Finally, he will collapse, bled out, and then you can go to eat his eyes, tongue, brain, and the like. It is also in your best interest to mark the location, as you will most likely store most of the animal in ice to reclaim months or years later, bringing home only the better portions of meat for your long trek home.
Now, this is all grimly fascinating enough, I know, but what does it have to do with you, a modern, relatively very well-off citizen of the Technoglobopolis we call the world? You are the wolf. You are the raccoon. And you might have been, or may yet become, the polar bear of the above tragic fame. Correspondingly, the knife is sin, the shiny trinket is your leading idol, and the blubber grenade is potentially both sin-and-idolatry and your deliverance therefrom. Let me explain.
In the forest we call the world, traps are laid out for us, like weeds in an otherwise good field of wheat. We are drawn to the pleasures of sin as a wolf is drawn to blood. As I've quipped for years, "Sin tastes good." There is no denying the prima facie appeal of hedonism: if it feels good, it can't be all that bad. Indeed, if it makes you feel good, it must be good. Alas, however, the pleasure of sin is but the crimson patina on its true nature: a lethal knife that we willingly lick and lick until we die. The most tragic aspect of sin, is that it uses, exploits, a truly good fruit of creation (metaphorically, the otherwise naturally good of blood for a wolf) in order to undo us. Sin, like a sly drug dealer, gives you the first lick, the first taste, for free; every lick, every hit, after that is on you––nay, it is you. As with the wolf, the blood, the life, we give to maintaining a seemingly "sustaining relationship" with sin is exponentially more than the blood, the life, it gives us in return. Sin leaves us like a tattered tangle of cold shredded flesh dangling from a blood-soaked mouth. Indeed, the harder and faster we embrace it, the deeper it cuts into us.
Let us now turn to the raccoon, or, better, let us now turn you into the raccoon that you in fact are. A raccoon looks like a bandit, in my telling, at least, for a very good reason: he likes to grab pretty things and thinks he can get away with it, that is, with them. So it is with us and our idols. We are naturally, and legitimately, drawn to pretty things, to things better and higher than us. It is, in other words, of the essence of the world of created good(s) to draw us naturally out of ourselves and upwards to their Source. We are created to worship, but we are prone to worship anything but the One True God. We see an idol within our reach and latch onto it as a raccoon grasps his shiny trinket.
The problem with being prone to clutch onto idols is that we thereby become prone to them. The idol allows us to enter its temple and seize its alluring power, but it does allow us to walk away as long as our hearts are clenched around it. All we have to do is release our idols--the little gods of greed, lust, deceit, pride, indolence, and more--and we will be free. But we won't let go. Won't let go, that is, until our Enemy comes along and bashes our brains in for his eternal feast below. Only then does the idolater's grip loosen and the idol "releases" him to eternal unfreedom.
Lastly, we turn to the polar bear. We can turn you into the polar bear qua sinner and idolater, or we can turn the polar bear into our Enemy. In the first case, sin is like a blubber grenade we find as we stumble along in search of nourishment. We are created to consume divine glory, but we quickly settle for lesser things, like licking bloody knives and clutching trinkets to death. On the outside, sin seems unambivalently appealing and safe. Look, everyone is doing it. It tastes good. It's constantly being thrown in our direction. On the outside, sin seems firm and nourishing, but, of course, once we take sin into ourselves, it dissolves its facade in our innermost regions, revealing its lethal nature. The few moments of satisfaction, savoring the slippery richness of sin, quickly melt into a nightmare or pain and looming death. The trap springs inside us; our life blood becomes a stone within. We can still function, as the polar bear can still walk away and fight if cornered, but we are effectively dead the moment the stick rips open our gut. Then it is a question of how much blood and moaning we can disperse over the face of the earth as we stagger, blindly and futilely, away from our patient Enemy tracking us. Your fate is sealed from within. It is only a matter of time. Only if a skilled and brave surgeon intervenes, and only if he subdues us as we relent to being subdued, will we be saved from our swelling internal death. Such is the life of a sinner under the guise of a polar bear.
In the second case, we can imagine our Enemy as the polar bear. He emerges from the darkness of winter, seeking food, seeking to devour whatever he can find. The hunter knows the bear's hunger, like the wolf's, is his greatest weakness. So he sets a trap. He places a precious jade spring-blade inside a body of blubber, tosses it into world of the bear, leaving it helpless before the bear's gaping maw. God was in Christ as the spring-blade is in blubber. At the Cross, Jesus Christ allowed Himself to be consumed, devoured, chewed up and swallowed, by the Enemy of God and Mankind. He let the Devil have his great moment of victory: the Son of Life became the main course of Death. But once inside the body of death, deep inside the bowels of the earth, the Son of Man transfigured His body of lowly blubber into an incandescent oil lantern, unleashing the infinitely sharp razor of life inside the Enemy himself. He then left the Enemy's enclosing power and returned to the Father so that all His brethren "according to the blubber" might also be transfigured into burning lanterns of incense offered to God.
Meanwhile, of course, the bearish Enemy has nothing to do but stagger over the face of the earth to maul and consume whatever he can in his last agonized moments. He is, of course, still a mighty foe not to be engaged or trifled with too carelessly, but his fate is sealed from within. It is only a matter of time, he knows. So, as Christians, it is merely our job to keep ourselves safe from his gnashing jaws and deliver other bystanders from his lurching path of doomed destruction.