Saturday, April 3, 2010

Watch the Porcupine (Look Past the Quills)

My niece has been digitizing 8 mm movies my dad took decades ago. I have several of them on DVDs from her. Most of these are in color, but some are in black & white. There are quite a few interesting scenes. The earliest films were shot while Dad was in the U.S. Army Signal Corps in Alaska. Sometimes someone else took the camera and Dad ended up in the picture.

When Dad first went to the "Last Frontier" in 1940, he worked on building communications facilities connected by land lines, undersea cables and radio. These were in a variety of settings, from windswept tundra to coastal rainforests. The movies show fellow soldiers at work and at play. They also show landscapes, weather and animals.

Several wild animals became camp pets. The most intriguing I found were porcupines. At least two of these prickly rodents made themselves at home among the servicemen. They were being fed by hand, rubbing against a soldier’s leg and being held. One even crawled up Dad’s arm to nuzzle his neck.

This is not what we expect from a creature with a "touch me not" reputation. We think of these pine pigs (that’s what "porcupine" means) with their quills erect, bristling against anyone and anything. But these "walking pincushions" had their quills laid back, giving them a somewhat sleek, non-threatening appearance. They obviously appreciated warmth, affection and companionship.

Sometimes people seem to be porcupines. It may be a stranger or someone we know. It may be at work or at school, in a store or on the street, in church or at home. Sometime, somewhere, we encounter a "porcupine," someone who bristles, quills spread out like a pincushion. The message is, "Touch me not."

People usually bristle for the same reasons as porcupines: fear, hurt, anger, territory. When threatened, sharp quills deter attackers. When hurt and angry, barbed quills punish perpetrators. When intruders appear, erect quills protect perimeters. For both humans and animals, attacks and threats can be real or imagined. Either kind elicits the same bristling response. Yet within there are non-bristly desires.

So how did porcupines become camp pets, friends of a bunch of soldier technicians stringing wires in the wilderness? They responded to kindness. These spiny rodents came looking for food, and the soldiers fed them. When they were not chased off nor threatened, the pine pigs began to trust these two-legged strangers who had invaded their habitat. Eventually they accepted, responded to and returned affection. That is how many wild animals have been tamed. Kindness drew them in. On our part, there is something inside us which wants to return to Eden, where all of God’s creatures lived in harmony.

How then shall we deal with the prickly people in our lives? How do we tame the human porcupines? Let’s see what the Bible says.


But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7) *1

First we must see our porcupine people as God sees them. God told Samuel that He "looks on the heart." He sees what a person is inside, regardless of outward appearances, just as Jesus did:
"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." (Matthew 9:36) People may be grasping, greedy, hateful, fearful, ignorant, defensive, etc., but Jesus saw them as hungry, sick, neglected, and misled, as Dotty Rambo wrote, "He looked beyond my fault and saw my need."*2 So too, we must look beyond the quills to see porcupine people as God sees them, hurting, hungry, threatened, needy.


A soft answer turns away wrath,but a harsh word stirs up anger.(Proverbs 15:1)

When we encounter bristles, it is natural to be bristly in return. But Solomon says that leads to more trouble. When we are defensive in return, it justifies the other person’s defensiveness. To be honest, most of us know this from experience. Solomon’s advice is to answer softly, to defuse anger, to disarm defensiveness. And Moses said, "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD." (Leviticus 19:18) Similar advice is found in the New Testament:

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:17-18)
Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. (1 Peter 3:9)

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Matthew 5:9)
"You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you,

Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:38-39)


An oft-quoted saying is "Hurt people hurt people." Porcupine people usually hurt us because they have been hurt. When we hurt them back, the cycle of hurt continues. God’s key to breaking this cycle is forgiveness. We can forgive with God’s forgiveness as our example. In fact, Jesus connected our forgiveness of others to our forgiveness from God (Matthew 6:12,14-15; Mark 11:25; Luke 11:4). Jesus Himself set the example on the cross, when He prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34)

It is a fact of life that, intentionally or not, we will be hurt and will hurt others, so mutual forgiveness is to be a way of life among Christians:

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:12-13 )


Just as the soldiers won over the porcupines by feeding them, we can try to win over the difficult, defensive person with acts of kindness. This speaks to him or her at the point of need. The Bible applies this to even our outright enemies.

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.(Proverbs 25:21)

"If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." (Romans 12:20)

"But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you." (Luke 6:27)
For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, ..." (Romans 5:10a)

There is also an example in how the prophet Elisha urged King Jehoram of Israel to deal with enemy soldiers miraculously delivered to him:

[Elisha] answered, "You shall not strike them down. Would you strike down those whom you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master." So [the king] prepared for them a great feast, and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the Syrians did not come again on raids into the land of Israel. (2 Kings 6:22-23)


Another tool for dealing with porcupines along our way is prayer. For one thing, if we pray for someone, it affects how we think of that person. Also, God can do to and through someone what we could never do on our own.

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:43-45)

Again, Jesus set the example with His prayer from the cross (Luke 23:34), as did Stephen when he was being stoned to death (Acts 7:60).

The hardest Porcupines to deal with are the ones we encounter in the mirror. We find it so hard to tame ourselves. We may not see ourselves as porcupines, but when we bristle others do.

Thank God we have help. Paul says that the Holy Spirit in our lives brings self control (Galatians 5:23). He also said, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13) It is easier for me to understand a porcupine when I remember that I myself am also one.

Wesley G. Vaughn,
© 2010



David said...

Like Solomon, you too have wisdom Wesley. Thank you for the reminder to not be so "porcupinish".
David M

Vondi said...

I'm spreading this as widely as possible! It is great.