From the Pastor's Study
From the Pastor’s Study
Squirrel Mazes and Obstacles
March 1, 2023
Most people do not want squirrels to have access to their birdfeeders. There are some, however, who do want the neighbourhood squirrels to access the birdseed, but they put up obstacles that create a maze that the squirrels must learn before they can eat. We can see examples of such mazes on the Internet, and some of them are quite complex. I suspect that those who create the mazes start small and add obstacles as the squirrels figure out each step. I wonder sometimes if the squirrels, who have just accomplished the current obstacle and have access to the birdseed, when they return to find another obstacle, if they become frustrated and angry. I don’t pretend to know the mind of a squirrel.
A number of years ago I was talking with a friend who was so thankful that he and his family had very few problems. He was comparing his family to another family who had suffered significant illness, bankruptcy, death, and marriage breakdown. He knew his blessings, and he felt deeply for the other family. He also wondered if his faith would be as strong as he felt it to be if he was confronted with the kind of difficulty the other family had experienced. He found out. A couple of years after the conversation, several members of his family experienced very serious, life-changing illness, a daughter died, and there were a few marriage breakups. This was very difficult for him and his family, but these struggles did not diminish his faith. In fact, his faith is even stronger than it had been. It did seem to him that he was a little like the squirrel encountering one obstacle after another, barely overcoming one before one was presented. He may have experienced frustration and anger, but his faith was not threatened. In spite of the challenges, he knew that God was with him.
We can also think of the Israelites in terms of challenges put before them and the impact of those struggles on their faith in God. When the Israelites were freed from slavery (Exodus), they experienced something that no other people had experienced before. God acted in a very powerful way to free his people, but immediately following their deliverance the Israelites entered into one of the most inhospitable wildernesses in the world. It was there that they encountered significant difficulties – lack of food and water, difficult travel conditions, enemy attacks – and they did not respond well. Instead of trusting God, they were quick to complain against him, saying that he did not have their best interests in mind. Their faith was not strengthened by their experience of difficult circumstances.
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 10, refers to Israel’s times of difficulties as he gives guidance to the Christians in Corinth. The Greek word that is used in that chapter is translated as both “testing” and “temptation.” To us these two things sound very different, but they are closely related to each other. Difficult situations test our faith, but we also find ourselves tempted to distrust God and walk away from our faith. Paul advises the Corinthians that no testing (the NIV says temptation) has overtake us except what is common to everyone, and he goes on to say that when we are tested (again the NIV uses tempted), God will provide a way out so that we can endure it.
I should be clear that we should not compare God to the guy who made the maze for the squirrel, for that would attribute to God some fairly atrocious things that result in death, starvation, violence, and the like. The creator of the maze is playing with the squirrel, but God does not play with us in the same way. Obstacles are not God’s work, and we should never take them as such. They are, however, common occurrences within a world that is tainted by sin in every place. We can expect life to be full of obstacles and challenges and difficulty. Although God is not the creator of these obstacles, he can and does use them for our own good. In other words, he can bring out of the bad, and he can turn difficult times into opportunities for our faith to be tested and strengthened. When that happens, we have two ways to respond: we can turn away from God in anger and frustration, or we can turn to him in faith and hope.
Perhaps we need to be a little bit like the squirrel in the maze. The squirrel does not understand why the human made the maze, and he might not appreciate that another obstacle is added soon after he accomplishes the previous one, but he knows this for sure: the human has provided food at the end of the maze, and if he perseveres, he will be able to eat. The squirrel, then, approaches the obstacles in his life with a sense of optimism, knowing that his endurance and hard work will not be in vain.
Again, although God doesn’t create the obstacles, he can turn them to our good. The result is not a full stomach, but, rather, a closer and stronger relationship with him. And, as the relationship grows, our confidence in him grows as well. God will never allow more obstacles in our lives than we can endure, and he will always be willing to use the ones we face to bring us closer to himself. My friend discovered that. When members of his family became ill or experience marriage breakdowns, he turned to the Lord. His faith is stronger today because he understood that God was for him and not against him. In a way, the choice is ours: how are we going to face obstacles? With a growing sense of distrust in God? Or with an increased faith that he can use those obstacles for our own good?