While running on Saturday morning I came across a squirrel lying on the rain-wet sidewalk a few miles from my apartment. It was on its stomach, with its four legs spread out somewhat on each side. I stopped to look at it. I thought it was already dead, but after a few seconds I saw its head move. The squirrel would intermittently gasp for breath through its red, bloody mouth—it must have fallen from the tall willow oak tree above—and try to muster the strength to crawl back to the tree. It was sometimes able to pick up its head and move a few of its scraggly limbs, but it could never move its emaciated body. I pitied it. I wanted badly to help if off the sidewalk and onto the grass near the tree or just put it out of its misery somehow. (I contemplated stomping on its head.) But I didn’t want to risk rabies, and I thought that my intervention would somehow be messing with the sacred order of nature itself.
Even before the squirrel expired, ants already began crawling upon their next food source. I was so angry at them for molesting this poor creature as it helplessly lied there dying. I found myself praying, asking God to rid it of the ants until it died—Give it is dignity!—and to put its life to a quick end.
How often, in our sanitized world, do we come face-to-face with something in the throes of death? We city dwellers and suburbanites are generations removed from the life of farms, where the seasons of weather and of death were the rule. We herd the elderly into nursing homes and the dying into remote floors of hospitals, trying to maintain a cheery outlook on life. Are we trying to evade death by keeping it out of sight? As I watched the squirrel writhe, its every noble attempt met with futility and grief, it struck me how truly ugly the whole affair was. How hideous is this Conqueror Worm! And if this was but the demise of a wet, scrawny rodent, how much more that of a human! Surely the whole of creation has been groaning in its futility and bondage to decay—the decay brought on by Adam’s sin, the sin that lives inside of me and of which I am both a recipient and active participant.
Oh, how we need the “hope of the glory of God,” the resurrection-hope in which we are saved!
On this mountain [the LORD] will destroy
the shroud that covers all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
he will swallow up death forever. (Isaiah 25:7-8a)