Shortly after the legendary Fat Cat incident, our neighbors matched it with an equally outrageous one involving their beloved Toby the Turtle. Odd pet? Hardly. Half the kids I knew had tiny pet turtles living in plastic lagoons on their bedroom dressers. Many families ended up flushing them down the toilet (resulting in an outbreak of sewer-dwelling ninjas in the 80s). But our neighbors the Cartingers couldn’t bear to part with Toby, and he eventually grew to be the size of a dinner plate.
Although Toby wandered incessantly, he was visibly nervous about living amid a herd of thundering feet. So Mr. Cartinger tied a length of hot-pink yarn to his shell, and the other end to the banister of the stairs.
Toby was now free to roam, and whenever anyone wanted him they would simply “follow the yarn.” One moment he would be on the third stair and an hour later…the fourth stair (I didn’t say he wandered quickly).
One day while vacuuming, Mrs. Cartinger heard a series of bangs upstairs. The mysterious noise moved from room to room, and then suddenly, as if wearing a powerful miniature jet pack, Toby zoomed into view, shot down the stairs at roughly eight million miles per hour…
And crashed into the vacuum cleaner. Mrs. C. stared uncomprehendingly, then turned off the device. The little reptile settled to the ground as his horrified human mom realized her vacuum cleaner had spooled up his tether!
There was nothing left but a shell. No legs, no head… Oh, calm down, he was fine. He was just hiding inside his shell. In fact, he came out…six weeks later.
Fast-forward 20 years, when one day it struck me that there was a parable in the dual Fat Cat and Toby stories.
Sadly, many religious folks are Tobys or Fat Cats:
Tobys are legalists. They live in fear of God, but not the Old Testament kind (reverence), more like the fear of Godzilla kind. They tether themselves to rules and hide behind a shell of religion, all the while avoiding their actual Creator. They live in fear of being stepped on by a dangerously capricious God. They know about sin, but not about grace.
Fat Cats are liberalists. Their doctrine is not fear, but presumption. They have no tether. In fact, they have no authentic connection to God at all. If they pray, it’s to butter him up (“I love you soooo much!”). They know about grace, but not about sin.
Both miss out. Tobys miss God’s love and assurance. Fat Cats miss God’s protection from sin, and from themselves. (Fat Cat always missed out on the safely de-boned chicken my mom prepared for our other cats!).
There are two things we can never fully understand:
The depth of our sin, and the depth of God’s grace. Only God can reveal them to us. No secondary source, no spiritual teacher, not even Scriptures can fully reveal them to us; only God himself. So go to the source. Go to the Shepherd and learn to know his voice. Don’t be a turtle or a fat cat…
Be a sheep.
“My sheep know my voice, and I know theirs. And I give them eternal life.” ~John 10:27