I seem to have this unfulfilled fantasy of fishing in the snow. There’s something magical about how snow blankets the trees, shrubs, and rocks, hiding their intimate details from our vision. I especially enjoy how it can muffle sound, especially during a calm snowfall. In late November 2013 I tried to fish the pond during an early season snowfall, but instead I became a participating witness to a coyote who was hunting a jackrabbit, a rabbit that seemed to use my truck as a defensive barrier. Of course, my fantasy conveniently ignores the effects cold snow has on my comfort, particularly toes and fingers… but that’s part of the effort-reward transaction that usually comes with any great outdoor adventure.
The Spring Mountains west of Las Vegas have gotten some decent snow these past few weeks, but other priorities like family, Christmas decorations, and work caused me to postpone my outdoor foray. By now I knew the snow had receded to the 8,000 foot elevation, but this Thursday seemed like a fine afternoon to visit my local pond in serenity even if it was without snow.
Although I was the only one fishing the pond, I did have a couple of odd visitors. There was a woman driving a white Toyota 4Runner who came driving down the pond’s bumpy road. I thought she might stop at the pond, but instead she drove right past it and continued down the jeep trail that attaches to the paved Cold Creek Road a couple miles down. It seemed odd, but then she probably lives up in the town and just wanted a scenic bypass drive through the high desert.
Speaking of Jeeps, there was a guy who appeared in a brand new Jeep Wrangler with a suspension lift, 32-inch tires, and what appeared to be decorative wheels. It was what my daughter would call “fancy.” The guy barreled down the trail to the pond, cut sharply over to the diversion ditch inlet, and stopped. While the motor was still running he jumped out dressed in black clothing and tennis shoes, but unfortunately he miscalculated where the inlet water was flowing. He had a camera in hand and began snapping photos of his new Jeep with me casting in the background. After 60 seconds he hopped back in and tore up the trail from whence he came. In a minute or two I saw him driving back to Vegas on the Cold Creek Road.
I also had a female mallard duck that kept me company. I came up for a non-fishing visit just before Thanksgiving at which time I observed a mated pair of mallard ducks, but on this visit the male was absent. These ducks were accustomed to people; they were not afraid. I suspect the Cold Creek residents might be feeding them. But the solo female seemed odd. I wondered if she was injured in some way. I did note a black fungus on her bill.
I fished for about an hour. It took me a while to discover the recently stocked trout were on the bottom of the deepest part of this tiny pond. I managed to land four, and returned each to its watery world.
It was a pleasant way to spend three hours, including the round-trip drive in the Tacoma. As usual I was listening to Christian radio while driving. I don’t recall exactly what or who I was listening to, but my wandering thoughts began to examine obedience vs. trust, and how they are related or different. I clearly know when I don’t follow God’s direction, but I always seem to have excuses. I’m either stressed or tired, or the people I’m supposed to “love” seem unworthy, or maybe I just like my sins more than being “good.” Of course, my Christian conscience eventually brings on guilt from which I can only find relief by confessing my sins to God and asking for the Holy Spirit’s power to eradicate my deliberate and free acts of commission and omission.
Psalm 119 seems to begin with the sobering recognition that the righteous are to obey God’s commands, to essentially follow His divinely inspired words in the Scripture. But we know very well the numerous mortal sins that King David committed, the worst being murdering the husband of the woman he seduced. In light of those heinous sins, David’s opening verses 1 through 6 amazingly focus on his joyful obedience to God’s law (NLT version):
Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the LORD. Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts. They do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in his paths. You have charged us to keep your commandments carefully. Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect your decrees! Then I will not be ashamed when I compare my life with your commands.
Being raised in the Catholic religion I can relate to the guilt that builds from disobeying the Lord’s commandments. As a youngster I likely misunderstood what I was taught, but I can tell you my sense was the Sacrament of Confession (now known as Reconciliation) was necessary in order to be absolved of sin and be acceptable to God in heaven. The timing of this Sacrament seemed critical, for if you died with unabsolved sin (mortal or venial) on your heart your eternal destiny seemed to be in question. And if you add to that timing God’s providential control over our lives (which doesn’t negate our free will of thought and action), the whole thing seemed like a crap shoot (pardon the Vegas vernacular).
It wasn’t until I began to read and study the Bible myself that I began to understand that God loves me (i.e., all of us). The Creator of all loves me and wants what is best for me (1 John 4:7-21). His plans are perfect for me, after all he created me and knows me better than I know myself (Jeremiah 29:11-13, Psalm 139). He doesn’t want me to obey for obedience’s sake, but because I believe and trust in him (Hebrews 11:6). He wants me to obey because I love Him, and because I trust in his promises. I know he will be there protecting me from evil, always (Isaiah 41:10), and that salvation comes from faith in Him, a faith that trusts in His promises (Romans 10:9-10). In short, I want to be obedient to Him because of who He is and what He has done for me through His death and resurrection. I want to love and obey my loving Father in heaven. In my reading of the Gospels, this is the love and trust that Jesus’ disciples grew into during their three years living with and following Jesus. It was a love and trust that gave birth to a new and revolutionary understanding of God.
Some might joke about the “Catholic guilt” that I alluded to above. Today I find much relief 1 John 3:18-24 (NLT)
Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God. Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if we don’t feel guilty, we can come to God with bold confidence. And we will receive from him whatever we ask because we obey him and do the things that please him. And this is his commandment: We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us. Those who obey God’s commandments remain in fellowship with him, and he with them. And we know he lives in us because the Spirit he gave us lives in us.
Returning to David’s Psalm 119, after starting it with “obedience” he goes on to explain why he wants to obey God (Psalm 119:137-142):
O LORD, you are righteous, and your regulations are fair. Your laws are perfect and completely trustworthy. I am overwhelmed with indignation, for my enemies have disregarded your words. Your promises have been thoroughly tested; that is why I love them so much. I am insignificant and despised, but I don’t forget your commandments. Your justice is eternal, and your instructions are perfectly true.
As for me, I can’t imagine a world without God. As the creator of it all, how can I deny His existence and His call to me to believe in and love Him? But in my heart, if I don’t trust and believe in Him, how can I consistently follow his Word (and of course, Jesus is the Word as so beautifully explained in John 1:1-5)? And that is where I left my thoughts about obedience vs. trust as I drove south on US Highway 95 towards home. Perhaps some day I’ll weave my thoughts about God’s unmerited grace into those on obedience and trust in Him alone.