Human Faith or Animal Instinct?

By Marcy Barthelette

Do you feel it? The crunch of dry leaves as temperature and humidity levels drop. Do you smell it? The scent of burning leaves from a neighbor’s yard or an occasional wood fire wafting from a nearby chimney. Do you see it? Pumpkins and scarecrows and jewel-toned mums have taken center stage. Do you hear it? The howl of the first cold snap of the season and the chatter of squirrels frantically scurrying about storing food for the coming winter.

Fall has definitely arrived and our yard is a very busy place at this time of year. You see, we are blessed to have both pin oak and bur oak trees, producing both the smallest and the largest of acorns, and they are literally alive with activity. Those little gray bushy tails seem to be everywhere at once, climbing one tree then swinging across and racing down another. In their quest for acorns and nuts, it seems they must burn more energy than could possibly be provided by the nutrients they consume.

Our pin oak produces prolifically every year but the bur oak only has a banner season once in a while, thank goodness! Two years ago, it was so heavily laden, it was a full-time job to collect the acorns as a matter of self-defense. Bear in mind, bur oak acorns are very large, sometimes to the size of a ping pong ball. By the time you add their

 mossy ringed cap, they become quite a hazard in the yard. Not only do they wreak havoc on mower blades but you can easily find yourself in a heap on the ground if you step on one the wrong way. We piled them at the base of the tree thinking it would make the task of gathering easier for our quirky little friends. Yet they, to our great surprise, left them under the tree and went about the business of preparing for winter in their tried and true way, which always includes burying countless acorns in my flowerpots and landscape beds. Springtime brings a flurry of tiny oak trees the critters have forgotten. During the course of that winter, however, the acorn pile beneath the tree began to disappear a few at a time and by spring, little was left but caps and shells.

The squirrels prepared by instinct. They couldn’t reason that we had created that pile of acorns just for them but when the weather became brutal and their stashes were depleted, they ate whatever was available. They behaved instinctually but were also opportunists.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

We, humans, take for granted that our homes will be warmed in winter and we can go to the store to replenish our food supply. We aren’t forced to rely on the efforts of our summer and fall laborers to supply our winter’s needs. At least, not in our times. While we often exercise our instincts in making decisions, we have faith that what we need will be there for us. The big question is, where do we find our faith. Is it found in amassing wealth or things? Can our family and friends be counted on to provide for our needs?

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-encompassing power is from God and not from us.

II Corinthians 4:7

I recall thinking as a child that the jars referenced in this scripture were glass jars filled with modeling clay in a variety of subtle hues. So when I heard the verse, I pictured all kinds of interesting creatures and structures that I could create with the soft, pliable clay. When I was a little older, I realized God’s Word described jars that were made of clay, hardened to protect their contents, and in Jesus’ time, all manner of things were stored in them. They might contain spices or grain. One might use them for hard biscuits or sweet treats. They were the equivalent of our glass and plastic containers of today.


God uses the metaphor to help us understand what we should be storing in our spiritual “jars of clay”. He fills us with just the right amount of strength to help us pass through troubled valleys. He creates a humble heart that allows us to accept His instruction. He knew we would be reluctant to accept all His decisions for our lives so He provided patience enough to wait for His good timing. When someone around us is in need, he gave us compassion and a generous spirit to share what we have. The qualities God stores in our “jars of clay” are endless. His mercies are endless.

God created our cute and industrious little squirrels with the instinct to gather and store in order to survive a long, cold winter. He gave us faith enough to believe that He will always provide. But He also gave us free will to decide what we will store in our jars. He chose to give each of us the power to decide whether to fill our jars with the sights, sounds, and smells of the world or with the promises of His Holy Word.

Therefore, imitate God like dearly loved children. Ephesians 5:1

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