My roommate got a dog last week, a cute, five-week-old, little lab mix, whose name is now Radley. (By the way, having a roommate who gets a dog is just the best! You get all the enjoyment of having a dog, but you never have to pay vet bills, worry about boarding him, etc. It's great!) Anyway, everyone encouraged my roommate to cage-train the dog so that he'll get used to being in a cage when we're gone during the day, sleeping in a cage, and most importantly, not going to the bathroom in the place he lives!!! So, that's what we're trying to do. One of the keys to cage-training a dog is that their cage is only as big as they are, no extra room. This way, they can't mess up one end of the cage and then go lay in another. Put them in a small cage, and if they poop or pee, they gotta lay in it, thus discouraging pooping and peeing inside. Great concept, and one that I think, ultimately, will work.
Here's the thing, though, Radley's only five weeks old. Physically, biologically, he can't hold it all day/night. Actually, he can't really hold it more than about 30 minutes to an hour at a time. It's really a double whammie. Not only is his bladder and colon the size of paddle ball, he can't control either one. In and of itself, that's a challenge. Add on top of that the fact that we're expecting him to hold it for four or five hours and, uh, yeah, you've got the recipe for clean-up on aisle eight!
Now, I don't know if Radley tries to hold it. I have no idea if in that little chickpea-size brain of his there's an internal battle between the forces of wanting to hold it and the realities of developmental science (if there is, by the way, the forces for science are way ahead headed into the sixth inning!) My guess is there's not a lot of highly developed cognitive debate going on in his head. I mean, he still struggles remembering where his water bowl is. At the same time, as I've watched and thought about Radley's struggle, or lack thereof, with cage-training, I've been reminded of how this is a great example of us trying to live out the law and the Christian life apart from Christ. I mean, my roommate and I are trying to force this little guy to do something that right now, he's just not capable of doing. Whether he tries or not, he just can't hold it. Now, there might be times when he holds it, by chance we happen to get home just at the right moment before the floodgates open, but really, that's just timing, not real success. Until he gets bigger and muscles stregthen and develop, it ain't gonna happen.
And isn't that the way it is with us when we try to live the Christian life apart from Christ? We can try, and sometimes it looks like we even get it right, but really, that's just luck, timing, coincidence. The truth is, trying to live by faith and believe the Gospel is impossible for those who don't know Christ. It's like trying to tell a man with no arms and legs to climb a tree. . . or a little five week old puppy to hold it. When I see friends or acquaintances who seem to be always struggling with issues of belief, doubt, etc. I'm becoming much more comfortable asking them the hard questions to see if they really think their even believers. They might get mad, they might get offended, but really, if they're not a believer, if they haven't been adopted by God, justified through Christ, if they don't have the Holy Spirit working in their lives to produce his fruit, then all the things I can tell them about faith and believing truth don't mean a thing. It's not that I don't think people can be true believers and struggle, not at all. I'm the posterchild for that message! It just seems pointless to encourage someone to believe again and again when they don't have the capability to do that because they never really believed the first time.
The good news is there's hope for Radley! He'll grow, develop, and eventually be able to hold it. And that'll happen overnight, and we'll be sooo freakin' excited, until we realize that he's just moved on to some other thing that we've got to correct and deal with. Hmm, sounds vaguely familiar. Anyone know somebody like that?!