My dog Jack and I love walking the quiet lanes of our neighborhood and are familiar with every block. He knows where the good smells are and prefers certain bushes. I like picking out the places where fiddle ferns and daffodils will soon flourish.
But for Jack, his favorite part of any walk is spotting small animals. He asked if we could name the areas where they hang out, since he looks forward to chasing them so much (despite never catching any). So now as we walk, we pass Critter Crossing, Squirrel Meadow, ‘Possum Pass, and Deer Forest.
At nighttime, the narrow roads are quiet, animals tucked into their nests awaiting dawn. But last night at ‘Possum Pass, Jack got a treat. When he stopped ambling and started running, I knew he’d seen something move up ahead, and by the time I caught up, he was playing with a light grey ‘possum the size of a football, nosing it to move and wagging his tail with anticipation.
But ‘possums play possum in response to imminent danger, and a giant dog bounding in your direction definitely qualifies. This one was lying down, stiff and silent, allowing Jack to nudge him without so much as twitching an ear. When Jack realized a chase wasn’t imminent, he lost interest, and the ‘possum had cleverly avoided an attack.
We can’t, however, give the ‘possum credit for making the decision to play dead. Playing possum is an involuntary response to danger, and these critters can’t help but do it. The process involves baring their teeth, going rigid, drooling, and emitting a smell much like rotting road kill. They can even be picked up and carried but won’t so much as quiver. (I have to give Jack credit for trying to be friendly in the face of that many negatives.)
I looked at the ‘possum and thought, “Not too smart, playing dead while the mouth of a potential diner investigated your body. People would never do anything that stupid.”
But then I thought about God’s point of view. The ‘possum was doing exactly as he’d been instructed, but what do we do? The dumbest thing ever: we ignore God’s instruction. And how often do we do it? Every day.
Despite that foolhardiness, our loving God offers to help. Just as he gives every animal a defense mechanism (like the instinct to play possum), he gives people the very best defense mechanism of all: himself. He offers to personally be our Defender in the ongoing battle for our souls. He defends not just from visible enemies but invisible ones, too, those that are more difficult to overcome. He protects, guards, shields, and preserves us in our struggle.
We don’t deserve it, but he does it anyway, hoping we’ll follow his instructions at least as well as the ‘possum does.
“The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” (Exodus 15:2)