The grasshopper

I’m not sure I ever believed I would really write about this, though I have thought about it before.  But I think now is the time.

I hate the term “defining moments”, because it’s really overused and seems cheap.  But there are times in life that you think maybe, just maybe, had more to do with many things that followed than you ever realized.  Set the tone for who you were going to be.  Led to things you wouldn’t have imagined, for better or for worse, from that one instant of decision-making.

For me, just such a time happened when I was about 7 years old and playing with a neighbor boy–I’ll call him Steve–about the same age.  There was another boy there, too.  I think he was a cousin.

I came over and immediately found a game being played I didn’t understand.  Steve, who was friendly to me–and who I secretly had a crush on–told me he and his cousin were in the “I Hate Grasshoppers Club”.  They asked me if I wanted to join.  I had no real idea what they were talking about, until Steve explained they tortured and killed grasshoppers.

I’m not sure I really even knew what the word torture meant.  Both boys were so friendly.  I decided I would be a part of their club.

But that wasn’t the defining moment.

We went into their backyard, looking for grasshoppers.  I was secretly hoping we would not find any.  They did, however.

Over the next length of time that seemed a few seconds short of eternity, I watched Steve shove the grasshopper in an empty milk gallon and fill it halfway with water.  Watching the grasshopper struggle in the jug was one of the worst moments in my life.  I really do mean that.  It isn’t because it was one of the worst things that has ever happened in my life, just by the act of the grasshopper drowning.  There are many things worse than a grasshopper drowning.  But it was one of the worst things that ever happened because I was a witness to it, and I did nothing.

I didn’t know then how much that one choice would be setting my feet on a path that I would struggle to break from for years and years.

But that wasn’t the defining moment, either.

Finally, when the grasshopper did not drown after a long struggle, Steve took a nail and said he was going to drive it through the grasshopper’s body.  We were standing on the cement driveway and he had an old nail.  In many ways, I can remember that event better than I can remember yesterday.

I remember that the babysitter–probably about 16 of so–had come out of the house and was watching, with something like a mix of skepticism and acceptance.  I remember thinking how it must be okay, to some level, to be doing this if a babysitter could watch and do nothing.

I remember watching Steve drive the nail in the grasshopper’s body, and the agonizing struggle of the insect’s kicking legs, and then a stillness.

But even that was not the defining moment.

I went home and I felt awful.

I many times tried to block the whole thing out of my mind.  To some people, it might seem trivial, even funny.  It was, after all, an insect–and there are millions of them.  To me, it was ghastly.  And it became worse every time I thought about it.  To this day, I have never gotten over the guilt of it–it is a very conscious, shocking guilt, like having cold water thrown in my face, every time I think of it.  I believe because I thought, ever after, How could I have let that happen?  I didn’t think I could have.  I didn’t know I was the kind of person who lets something like that happen.

It was a far worse wound because I had done it to myself.

The defining moment, though, was a part of the story I haven’t told.

Back up to when the boys found a grasshopper in the backyard.

I felt so sorry for the small grasshopper.  I did not want them to torment it.  And I also desperately wanted to be liked.  And I saw an opportunity to do something that was really I think the most horrible thing I had ever done in my life up to that point.

Off to the side, sitting on the porch, perfectly at peace, perfectly still, was a large grasshopper.

I said, “What about this one?”

I become ill thinking about it.

Steve let out some cry of excitement.  Both boys congratulated me.  They let the little grasshopper go.

And the grasshopper that struggled in the gallon of water for all those long minutes, the grasshopper that had had the nail driven through his body . . suffered because of me.

I have never let it go.  I don’t think I will ever let it go until I am face to face with Christ.  It has been on the earthly-permanent list of things I cannot forgive myself for . . since the moment after the grasshopper died.  I walked away from that house knowing something had happened . . I had lost something in myself that I could not get back, no matter how hard I tried.

But God has brought to my attention that, even in what to me is irredeemable, God has worked.

Because in the most extraordinary way, at the age of 7, I experienced the reality of substitutionary atonement.

One grasshopper died in place of another, doing nothing to deserve this changing of places.  Just being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Jesus died in place of me, doing nothing to deserve this changing of places.  But, in this case, I wasn’t innocent, too.  I was totally guilty, making the changing of places a trillion times more unbearable.

But Jesus wasn’t at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Jesus claimed He was at the right place at the right time.  Jesus claimed, before He was ever placed on the cross, that He was going to be tortured and killed.  And He claimed that this was so all the guilty people who wanted to be innocent . . could receive their innocence back by His carrying of their guilt.

It’s an overwhelming premise.  It’s unequivocally the most defining moment in history: not the cross itself, but that Jesus reveals, in essence,

I will go to the cross for you.

When I realize what He did, to me it is more astonishing than His resurrection from the dead or any of His other miracles.  Stop here.  Look hard at this love.  Gaze at it for as long as you want.  It is not pretend; it does not go away.  This is the greatest miracle of all.

This is love supernatural.

But it is not just supernatural.  It is beyond that.  It is a love beyond what angels can afford.

It is the love of God.

I believe it is the love of Christ that is the best proof He is God, because there is nothing of such infinite quality in the entire world.

You can turn away.  It is possible.  You can click out of this blog and pretend you never read it.  You can scoff at the love of Christ.  You can even hate it.

But you can never find it anywhere else.

And if you turn away, you will be on your own when it comes to your conscience.

My sin has demanded the sacrifice of God.  But it in no way necessitated it.  God was under no obligation to act on the demand.

And yet He did.

By the love of Christ, I WILL NOT turn away from Him who, when He saw my future and my fall into the hands of eternal darkness and separation, volunteered Himself, revealing in essence,

Here I am.  Take Me instead.

And He did it knowing I was the one to point Him out.

Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that left Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished.

–by Stuart Townsend[1]

Surely he took up our infirmities

and carried our sorrows,

yet we considered him stricken by God,

smitten by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,

and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5, NIV)

[1] From How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, Stuart Townsend

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