My parents love cats and none more than the two they own (or should I say, are owned by?). Shandy is a proud male and Bella Mia is a tiny and very shy female. My parents treat Shandy and Bella Mia like grandchildren, and spoil these cats to the nth degree.
Both Shandy and Bella Mia came to them as kittens and so they have both been brought up to learn the rules of the house. They don’t go out at night and during the day, my father had set up a safe electrical system to keep them within the confines of the veranda. Within a short time, they no longer needed the little reminder to keep them inside.
The cats are kept inside for two main reasons: for the sake of the wildlife and for their own safety. Mum and Dad live in an area which when they first built their home—some 40 years ago—was semi-rural but now is very much residential. As a result, there is a fairly high traffic flow past their driveway.
Every now and again, when talking to Mum on the phone, she would anxiously tell me she had not seen Shandy for some hours and they were worried he had gotten out and gone off somewhere, but nine times out of 10, he would be found sleeping in some top cupboard or would eventually saunter out from who knows where looking for dinner.
On the rare occasion when a door had been left open and he had gotten out, he never went far anyway and would be simply at the front or back door waiting to be let in.
Bella Mia, on the other hand, was too shy to even think about going outside the safe haven of home. Both cats had learned where the love, the food, the warm bed and the cat comforts were, and trusted Mum and Dad who had taught them inside was “safe” and outside was “danger.”
Last year, through a set of very sad circumstances (the death of my sister Ruth), Mum and Dad took in another cat. Her name was Dee and everyone called her Dee Dee. She was the most loving cat I have ever met. In fact, Dee Dee espoused such a warm, friendly and affectionate nature that even as a dog lover, I could have easily been convinced to go over to the “dark side.” Shandy was Dad’s cat and simply ignored everyone else. Bella Mia was so timid that no-one (not even Mum and Dad) could get near her at times. But Dee Dee was the affectionate lap cat who would sit and purr to her heart’s content while looking up into your eyes with genuine (cats, after all, can be manipulative) love and affection.
Bear with me now as I digress to another cat-loving people: the ancient Egyptians. In approximately 1500 BC, the people of Israel were living in bondage to the Egyptian nation. They were being used as slaves to build some of the great works that we see to this day. But as the Bible tells us (in the Book of Exodus), Moses—former Egyptian prince and prophet of God—brought the people of Israel out of bondage. Imagine an entire generation, used to living according to the whims of a slave master, now with the freedom to act as they chose.
It would appear, however, that they didn’t in fact have the freedom to act as they chose. In the third month after escaping Egypt, God brought them to the foot of Mount Sinai, which Moses, on more than three occasions, climbed in order to speak with God. Through these conversations, God gave the people of Israel many instructions, including what is now called the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1–17). These instructions were given in the context of a covenant, a contract between two parties, one being “the Lord your God” and the other being those “brought . . . out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (verse 2). In other words, God was not giving instructions to just any group of people who happened to be wandering around in the desert region of Mount Sinai.
Now, getting back to Dee Dee. Mum and Dad did not find just any stray cat, plonk it in their house and give it commandments to obey or else. They specifically chose Dee Dee from a shelter, took her in when she had no home and gave her a home, a family, food, shelter, warmth, love and protection from danger.
You would think that having been shrouded in love and affection, Dee Dee would respond to Mum and Dad’s rules and boundaries with understanding and acceptance. (At this point you may be thinking, Dee Dee is just a cat right? But as any cat lover would tell you, cats are smart!).
However, if Dee Dee had any fault, sadly it was this: she wanted to break free from the boundaries of safety that Mum and Dad had created. Nothing could keep her in, not even the electric fence.
So one Sunday, Dad and his sister Sylvia bought some plastic fencing and many hours later, built what they thought was an impregnable fence that would stop Dee Dee from escaping. But somehow Dee Dee through sheer determination continued to work her way through to the “freedom” of the outside world.
Dee Dee’s behaviour reminds me of the Israelites. God chose to save these people, to make them His special people, to embrace them into His family, to provide for them, to comfort them, to guide and protect them. And while the Israelites at first enthusiastically accepted and adopted God’s rules, it was less than 40 days before they built and worshipped a golden calf, even when God’s first commandment said, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).
The Israelites’ behaviour—sometimes following the regulations, sometimes not—went on for many hundreds of years! Jesus Himself, when on this earth, with tears in His eyes, said, “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37).
My parents experienced great anxiety and concern each time Dee Dee went missing. They would go around the house calling her name, they would walk around their half-hectare property for hours calling “Dee Dee, Dee Dee, where are you, Dee Dee?” Dee Dee would not always answer the call and often would return home only when hunger got the better of her.
Then one evening, after Dee Dee had gone missing, there was a knock at the door. Dad opened the door to a stranger standing on the step with Dee Dee lying dead in his arms. Dad took Dee Dee into his arms and wept.
The Bible is clear: if we continue to disobey God, escaping the boundaries of safety He lovingly created for us, we will likely meet an end like Dee Dee (Romans 6:23). Death isn’t a punishment for disobeying God; it’s simply a consequence of rejecting our safe haven.
The principles given to Moses by God all those years ago at Mount Sinai continue on to this day for our sakes. But like Dee Dee, we often don’t understand the restrictions and choose to break free as often as we can.
As the apostle Paul says, “The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature” (Romans 8:3, NLT). No wonder the Israelites kept seesawing between obeying and disobeying God. And no wonder we ourselves struggle with heeding God’s commandments!
But God knew we would struggle. And so “He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins” (verse 3, NLT).
"Death isn’t a punishment for disobeying God; it’s simply a consequence of rejecting our safe haven."
No matter how much Dad loved Dee Dee, I’m not sure that even if he were given the opportunity, he would have chosen to die in order to save her life. But God loves you and I so much, “He gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
God gave us His Ten Commandments to keep us safe, creating boundaries for our relationship with Him and each other. But sometimes, even when we understand that, we still make mistakes. The good news is, God in His foresight, planned for that with Jesus.
* Bible verses marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used with permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.