Smells Like Salvation

What price would I pay to save this creature?

Lee R. Tripp pastored for 40 years in Ohio, New Jersey, and California before retiring. This article originally appeared in the Adventist Review, August 18, 1994.

WHILE HIKING ON THE FIRE road near our home one day, I rounded a curve and came upon an animal in trouble. A smelly black-and-white animal. It had gotten caught in a steel trap.

Marks in the dirt indicated that the creature had dragged itself around and around, trying to release the trap’s grip. I immediately felt sorry for it and wanted to help.

But as I thought of what I might do, a challenge presented itself: How could I help the poor animal without paying the price? I knew enough about skunks to respect their proficiency in chemical warfare.

I began by talking calmly to the skunk while inching toward it. I realized I would have to get close in order to press down on the trap spring with my foot. As I took a better look at the trap, I also discovered that it would require pressure on both sides to release.

Each time I moved toward the skunk, it gave the unmistakable signal that it considered me an enemy and was ready to take the necessary measure to repel me. Each time I backed off, my mind raced to come up with a brilliant strategy.

Finally I decided to continue my walk while thinking—and yes, even praying—about the victim. My walk would bring me past the skunk again, and I knew it wouldn’t be going anywhere. A little time wouldn’t be fatal to it, and it might enable me to formulate a plan.

But as I walked, no plans emerged. I finally concluded that if I was going to free the skunk, I must be willing to pay the price.

When I returned to the site, I scouted the area for resources. I came up with a live bushy branch I would use to divert the skunk’s aim. I also found a hefty dead limb I would use to help open the trap once I released the spring—or to apply the coup de grace if it became vicious. After all, I had limits to the price I was willing to pay.

I tried to imagine the skunk’s thinking as I approached with what looked like a weapon in each hand. And sure enough, it misread my motives. It began to fire away.

I put the bushy branch to work diverting the skunk’s aim. Its shots stayed around my ankles, but the stench filled the air.

I continued to move toward the trap and finally saw through the branch that my feet had succeeded in putting enough pressure on the steel to release its jaws. The skunk could now pull its trapped foot free. But it wouldn’t do it. It was too busy firing at me.

I told it in clear English that it was free, that it could get out of the trap. But it had been trapped so long that it apparently didn’t believe it, and its foot was probably numb from the pressure. I actually had to use the limb to lift its paw out. When it realized what had happened, it just waddled off up the hill, tail held high, without a nod of thanks to its rescuer. A rescuer who now smelled a lot like the creature he had rescued.

As I made my way home with the acrid stench filling my nostrils, I couldn’t help comparing our human situation to that of the skunk. Our pain sometimes numbs us to the point that we’re not even aware we are trapped in sin and earthly pressures.

And I thought of the One who came to our rescue and who set no limits on the price to be paid for our release. We need only recognize and accept the salvation that has come to us.  

Jesus has laid down His own life in order to spring the trap for us. If we will step out of the trap, abundant life awaits us (John 10:10, 11).

Lee R. Tripp pastored for 40 years in Ohio, New Jersey, and California before retiring. This article originally appeared in the Adventist Review, August 18, 1994.