Swimming in Grace

RENEE MATHIS|CONTRIBUTOR

This is a fish story. This is not a grandiose tale of record-breaking sizes nor of hard-fought battles of rod and reel, waves and wrestling. The scale is smaller and the location is my daughter K.’s apartment, in an aquarium that is home to Bob, the longear sunfish. Bob’s home is lush with green plants, their leaves wave gently in the water. The rugged stones on the floor of the tank afford him places to hide, rest, and dart about. Floating through the water are smaller fish, the same kinds he was used to eating in the Tennessee waters from whence he came. All in all, a pretty good life for a fish. Except it wasn’t.

In case you are wondering if maybe you’ve stumbled onto the wrong blog (fish?) let me assure you that I think I’m on pretty safe ground using a fish for an illustration. The world God made is rich with objects, analogies, comparisons, and every wonderful thing to use as a picture to help us know him better. Camels, sheep, lamps, and coins – when we have eyes to see – help us to understand abstract truths in a concrete way. Think back to your favorite Bible stories and I’ll bet you can think of a fish or two.

A Certain Death

This fish was dying. The problem seemed obvious. Bob suffered from an ailment called “popeye,” where a fluid build-up caused his eyes to bulge out wildly, marring the appearance of his beautiful turquoise and orange body. Blinded, he kept swimming straight into the glass walls of the aquarium, unable to eat, and slowly starving to death. My daughter tried to give him different food, improve the condition of the water, and even treat the water itself with medicine— all futile efforts. Bob’s blindness was due to an underlying infection, and without treating that, he would not make it.

The problem was, how do you get medicine into a fish that won’t, or can’t, eat? K. sought a solution. Thanks to the Internet, You Tube, and a knowledgeable pet store owner, she found it. First she had to create a paste made of bloodworms (larvae that fish love to eat) and antibiotics. Next she put the medicated food into a syringe. Afterward she gently reached into the aquarium, took hold of the fish, and with her other hand used the syringe to squirt the food into its mouth.

What a beautiful illustration of the gospel! Here are some truths I noticed. Perhaps you can find even more!

An Illness

A host of problems plagued this fish. He was blind, ill, and starving. Fixing the obvious problem— his blindness— wasn’t enough. The greater, underlying infection needed to be dealt with. What a picture of our hopeless, sinful selves! Remember what Jesus said to the paralytic, handed down through the roof by his caring friends? “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). Paralysis was not the worst of his problems. And the problems that paralyze us are minor compared to our overarching problem. Our sins need to be forgiven. Friends, whatever problem or need initially drew us to Jesus, we needed to realize our real problem was our separation from God. We needed to be reconciled with him. Thankfully, he made that forgiveness available to us through Christ. Think for a minute: What did God save you from? Were your habits, relationships, and idolatries proof that you were worshiping something, anything, but the Lord Jesus Christ? What waters were you swimming in?

Intervention that Failed

Fixing the environment wasn’t enough. Changing the filter, cleaning the tank, and even adding medicine to the water wasn’t working. Bob got sicker and sicker. I can’t think of a better illustration of our human failings. How often have we tried to find peace by changing our circumstances? How pitiful have our efforts been to treat symptoms broadly, hopefully, by adding some “cure-all” to what we crash up against every day? God’s grace, by contrast, is strong and specific. It is powerful and guaranteed to do exactly as he intended.

The gospel was never intended to be an easy fix, but a costly one. Easy fixes don’t work. We are dead in our trespasses and sins and that requires more than a band-aid.

Intervention that Worked

What does rescue look like? Something bigger, more powerful, more capable needed to literally reach down and do for the fish what it couldn’t do for itself. This fish was almost dead. It could not save itself and it couldn’t help itself and it couldn’t even ask for help. I realize this seems painfully obvious (it’s a fish!), but how often do we think we have it in ourselves to ask for revival, when in fact it is Christ himself who needs to drag us out of the water we are drowning in, and bring us to new life?

The fish needed help and help wasn’t available inside that aquarium. There was food and oxygen but the cure needed to come from outside. This good medicine was specially prepared and gently administered directly to the needy creature. Again, think for a moment: Where were you when God found you? Whether you have the most boring, most unexciting testimony (praise God!) or whether your experience of coming to faith in Christ was more dramatic, you have been granted forgiveness and eternal life through the cross.  What has healing looked like? Can you sing, along with Newton “I once was blind, but now I see?” Do you rejoice, along with the psalmist “My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge” (Psalm 71:15)?

Irresistible Love

When God created the world and determined to have a people for himself, he made a way for relationship. A stiff-necked, grumbling, hard-hearted people would not, on their own, be able to fellowship with him. How can a holy God make a way for an unholy people? Love. “He rescued me because he delighted in me.” (2 Samuel 22:20) How easy it is to skip over that word “delight.”  The Hebrew definition includes not only to be pleased with and take pleasure in but also to move toward and to bend down. The God of the universe bent down toward you and took pleasure in saving you because he delighted in you.

If one young woman knows how to tenderly care for a fish in her small apartment, how much more will God, the maker of heaven and earth, tenderly care for you? Friend, may you be encouraged today to reflect and rejoice upon your own salvation. If this picture is new to you and you fear that you don’t know for certain that you have been saved, may the God of heaven gently reach for you, may he grant you the faith to respond, and may he welcome you with open arms into his kingdom.

(Post-script: Bob, the healthier, livelier version, lived for several more months. Now the aquarium has a new occupant, a shellcracker sunfish named Sake. She was bought from a bait shop, saved from certain death; you might even say “redeemed.” But that’s another story…)

About the Author:

Renee Mathis

Renee is passionate about teaching. She loves nothing more than to gather around God’s word with the women of Christ Church in Katy, Texas. She has taught high-school writing and literature and now mentors Classical Christian teachers through the CiRCE Institute. Serving on the advisory board of Covenant College is another joy. Since she has 5 children and 7 grandchildren around the country, Renee’s suitcase is always ready for the next trip. Closer to home you can find her baking, weightlifting, or trying one of Houston’s new restaurants.

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