My husband and I returned recently from a vacation in Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone is a fascinating and unusual place and we very much enjoyed the scenery, the wildlife, and the many thermal features of the park (which is a giant volcano).
Everywhere we went inside and outside the park we saw signs and publications that warned tourists about the unpredictability of the wildlife—and that they should stay a good distance away for their own safety. And yet, as we traveled around the park, we witnessed numerous situations in which people were much too close to the bison and elk. In one case, a frustrated park ranger was trying to protect an elk group, but he was being ignored by most of the people. We thought it must be exasperating for the park rangers to spend their days yelling at foolish tourists who put themselves in harm’s way.
Likewise, as we toured the thermal features of the park (hot springs, geysers, mud pots, etc.), there were numerous signs warning sightseers to stay on the path or boardwalk—that stepping into the thermal areas was dangerous and would damage to the feature. Yet we frequently saw footprints in the volcanic sand along boardwalks where people had stepped off and walked close to a hot spring or mud pot, probably to get a picture. Again, it was upsetting to see these footprints and the selfishness and lack of respect for the park the prints represented.
But were we surprised by the foolish and selfish choices some tourists had made? Not really. We human beings often do things that we know are not wise or healthy or helpful. We too often think that the “rules” are meant for others and not for us. We think we know best. And along the way, we risk being hurt and hurting others.
I often wonder what God thinks when we so often ignore God’s “rules.” God’s rules—loving neighbors, forgiving others, doing good—were created for our good. Even the “thou shalt not’s” like not stealing or not murdering or not lying are intended for our good and for the good of society, our families, and our communities.
I am humbled by the frequency with which God has had to forgive me for my foolish and arrogant decisions that have caused harm to myself and others. I am a person of faith and should know better, but still I am prone to sin and thoughtless decisions and am in regular need of God’s mercy. The same may be true of you as well.
As one who has received God’s unmerited mercy on too many occasions to count, I should in turn, be motivated to share that mercy with others, even those who break the rules, even those who behave badly. It is a growing edge for me and probably for us all. But as one rule-breaker to another: it is what we are called to do—to forgive as we have been forgiven.