In 2006, zookeepers at Tokyo’s Mutsugoro Okoku Zoo were surprised at the friendship they saw emerging. Gohan and Aochan began living side by side, at times even curling up next to one another as they sleep. When you consider that Gohan was a three and a half inch dwarf hamster, and her companion, Aochan, was a rat snake, this friendship was certainly a bit of a shock. The hamster, whose name actually means “meal” in Japanese, was originally given to Aochan as dinner after the snake refused to eat frozen mice. But instead of dining, Aochan decided to make friends, and the two have shared a cage ever since. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” laughed the zookeeper. “Gohan sometimes even climbs onto Aochan to take a nap on his back.”
I have been told that unusual bondings have occurred throughout the animal kingdom without bad endings, but I still find myself leery of the snake’s intentions. Can the nature of a snake remain reversed because of a relationship?
Isaiah describes a scene full of similarly unusual relationships: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:6-9).
It is difficult to imagine such a scene. We would never allow a child to play near a cobra. Yet the vision speaks of a dramatic change in nature throughout God’s kingdom, where the aggressiveness and cruelty that are so much a part of our world will be forever changed. This is an image of things to come. But is it not also something more?
What if there is something about the knowledge of the LORD that causes things on earth to be turned upside-down—even now. It is unnatural for a wolf not to harm a defenseless lamb or a snake not to bite the hand that invades its nest. Is it any more natural that you or I should be able to defy our human nature? That we should claim the old has gone and left a new creation in its place?
Yet to bow before Christ, we bow before the One who is both Lamb and Lion in a way that overturns our very nature. In his work Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton finds fault with the way this is often envisioned. “It is constantly assured,” he writes “…that when the lion lies down with the lamb, the lion becomes lamb-like. But that is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion eating the lamb. The real problem is—Can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity?” This is what Christ achieves. He alone can reverse the nature of the snake; he is both Lamb and Lion.
Your Friend in Faith,