Commentary for the April 13, 2013 Sabbath School Lesson
“…fire came down from heaven and devoured them.” Revelation 20:9b, NIV
Last year, we lost a beloved cat to coyotes. Cats are nocturnal hunters as are coyotes. When evening would fall, our cat, Khan, would always frantically try to get outside to enjoy the warm summer nights. The fields near home were teaming with mice, shrews and gophers. He could hear every rustle they made in the brush--sounds that were too slight for human ears. But his ears would rotate like small radar dishes picking up clues we could never understand.
He was a prodigious hunter who could leap four feet into the air to pull down dragonflies as they zoomed by. But he had no sense of the possibility of his own destruction. Eventually, he faced a keener predator than himself. Just as Khan had done with the dragonflies, that predator showed no mercy. For all his personality and the love we had for him, he became another part of what biologists call the food web which links all life on this planet. These scientists might call this simply fulfilling his place in nature’s order. Creationists might argue that this is not natural and is the result of mankind allowing sin into the earthly realm. But these differences of perspective are not the focus of this commentary.
Instead, I wish to consider the actions of my wife and I regarding our unfortunate cat. We had the option of keeping him confined indoors where he would have been protected from predation. However, we chose not to. Not realizing the imminence of the danger, we allowed him to go out into the evening. He had gone for these dusk forays many times without incident. Although he had always returned safely home, we knew that coyotes, owls and hawks were a danger to cats and small dogs. We made the mistaken decision that the loving, compassionate thing was to allow him to enjoy the warm evening. We could have confined him and endured his plaintiff pleas for understanding as we do with our present cat, Jasmine, but we chose instead to be a friend to our cat, and through our misguided idea of what love and friendship meant, we allowed him to go to his death.
Like Khan and Jasmine, we plead with our God to allow us so many things that we yearn for. When the door is closed we “meow” at the door with our prayers, demanding to be allowed through. We know that what we desire will be so wonderful and be a blessing to us and everyone else, if we can only pray our way through to receiving it. We know that a loving God would want us to have our desires granted as long as we promise to use them for others benefit as well as our own. No doubt Khan would have been happy to bring home his kills to share with us, also, as is the way with cats.
However, just as Khan had little idea of the dangers he faced, we also do not know the full story. Our perspective is limited by our limited understanding. We simply do not possess the omniscience of the God we petition. Just as our cats could bring forth anguished cries if we did not allow them out into the evening air, we complain when we are prevented from our course. We may even feel that God is simply too stern or even unjust in the restraints he places on us. But would it be any more loving for Him to allow us to pursue a path to destruction than it was for us to allow our cats to pursue their natural cat desires? The Bible tells us that we are little different from them in this.
We naturally are drawn to a God who blesses us. Our cats are drawn to us as well for similar reasons. We walk around the house magically dripping food from our fingertips into their little cat bowls, conjuring streams of water from metal faucets, and providing warm and comfortable places for catnaps. These things are beyond their understanding, but just like us they find it far easier to trust us when showered with such blessings than when they are thwarted in some desire they might have.
Perhaps we also prefer a God who demonstrates an interest in our well-being by showering us with blessings. When we are clothed and warm, fed and healthy, our hearts purr with praise to our Creator in response. We know that all are not thusly blessed, but if we experience any dissonance over this, we cobble together theological justifications for why we are blessed and they are not.
Such justifications find a God who can also be angry a convenient prop to our spiritual edifice. We tell ourselves that God is not blessing because they themselves are an impediment to being blessed. The Bible tells us that this is not so, but since it feeds our spiritual pride and sense of self-justification to believe otherwise, we do, even though it betrays our failure to understand God’s character.
Several thousand years ago, when the Israelites poured into Palestine with a vengeance and wrought judgment on the Canaanites, they did so in God’s name. The record of this wrath is spread through much of the Old Testament. Paradoxically, that wrath they executed was justified by what they felt was the relatively greater sinfulness of the Canaanites, a sinfulness the Israelites became blind to when it appeared in their own ranks and they in turn were decimated by an invading people. When this happened, it was hard for them to understand how God could favor the heathen Chaldeans over His own chosen people. To this day they have not understood that when the Israelites invaded Canaan, they also may have been little better than some of the inhabitants they were displacing.
Instead of humbly acknowledging their failures meant that their only hope was God’s grace, they proudly proclaimed themselves the chosen and Jerusalem as God’s holy city. Just as the idol worshipping Jews who went into the Babylonian captivity still had prophets among them such as Jeremiah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, so a consistent God would not have abandoned the Canaanites to destruction without a witness, a voice of righteousness to call them to repentance. In the Bible we see an example of this when God used a Jewish prophet, Jonah, to reach the Assyrian city of Nineveh, whose principle deity was Ishtar. The prophet left the city after delivering his message and watched from afar, awaiting its destruction. When it was not destroyed, Jonah had difficulty reconciling his concept of an angry, judgmental God with the sparing of the city. His spiritual pride meant he conveniently overlooked the grace he had experienced earlier from the same God.
The God who demonstrates such compassion is not consistent with a God who would deny us anything that would be truly beneficial. Hosea modeled this in the parable of his relationship with Gomer. We do not find him beating Gomer into submission as some might sadly do when their will is crossed. Instead, he drew her with love, a love that flowed from his understanding of God’s will for him concerning his wife. As Hosea later records God saying of His relationship with Israel, “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.”
Since we spent many days in the fields searching for our errant Khan, I can understand a God who has that kind of love for His people. Just as my love carried me out to the fields day after day, God’s love compels Him to continually seek the hearts of those who would turn toward Him. I called out my cat’s name many times as I searched for him. Our hearts were broken when we failed to find him. Just as God pictured holding Israel to His cheek as a child, my mind would fill with images of special moments with Khan as I searched for him.
In the end, I found only my cat’s collar near the edge of the field. Since then others have lost pets to the coyotes in the same field. Each incident is a reminder of our own pain of loss. Perhaps, it is possible to believe that if the loss of our cherished animals can touch our hearts, the eternal loss of each human being is a similar but far greater pain that God feels. A pain that reminds Him of the day He went searching for His Son and instead of a cat collar, found only an empty, blood-stained cross on a deserted, wind-swept hill.
Can I have the hope of ever seeing my cat again? I do not know. I must leave that in God’s hands, but because God’s Son rose from the tomb that held Him, I can hope that one day all things will be set right. The heartaches of this world will be healed, and we will no longer feel the pain of separation from those we love. I can hardly wait.
 Proverbs 16:25
 Luke 13:1-5; Matthew 5:44-46
 Psalm 46:4-5
 Jonah 1:2
 “Nineveh,” Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, Review and Herald Publishing, 1960
 Hosea 3:1
 Ibid., 11:4
 Revelation 21:3-4