In a particularly memorable chapter from his book, Falling Into Grace, John Newton (who’ll be speaking at our Fall Conference in Oklahoma City 10/28-29) opens with the story of “The Scorpion and the Frog.” You may already be familiar with the story, but I wasn’t, so I’ll run through it quickly:
The scorpion is looking for a way to cross the river, but, for obvious anatomical reasons, he’s having a hard time finding anyone willing to give him a ride. He asks the frog, who says, “No way, you’ll sting me!” The scorpion eventually cajoles the frog into giving him a lift across the river; after all, he argues, “If I sting you, we’ll both drown.” Midway across, the scorpion stings the frog. Outraged and on the brink of death, the frog demands an explanation. “I’m sorry, but it’s in my nature to sting you,” the scorpion responds.
After reading the book, which Sarah Condon reviewed here, I kept thinking about that story, and the way it made me feel. I identified with the image of the scorpion’s stinger, and that feeling described in Romans 7:15-20 of lacking even the ability to do God’s will. As often happens with a well considered illustration in a sermon or a thoughtfully delivered constructive criticism, I felt known by the book. The scorpion stood out because I recognized something of myself so clearly in him. Newton was careful, though, to move beyond simply pointing out faults or naming wounds and insecurities. Instead, Newton discussed the healing experience of falling into grace.
First, he quotes Richard Rohr. “Do not waste a moment of time lamenting poor parenting, lost job, failed relationship, physical handicap, gender identity, economic poverty, or even the tragedy of any kind of abuse. Pain is part of the deal.” It’s key in recognizing our acute need. “God heals our stinger, and leaves a massive scar in its place,” Newton writes. “Our unique purpose in life is no doubt mysterious, but one thing I know for certain: it has everything to do with what flows out of that scar.”
I was forced into painful recollections of stinging others and having been stung myself, sure, but the beauty of Newton’s book is the full picture of God’s grace that he paints. Newton puts it best when he writes,
God does indeed soften our stinger. That’s what healing is all about. But like Jacob, we leave our encounters with God limping. We’re present to more joy and pain than before we encountered God. We discover that we are both healed and more broken all at the same time, and that the two experiences are one in the same. We find strength as we fall deeper into a grace-filled life of waiting and weakness. And in the midst of our waiting we come alive with fresh purpose.