A Tiger Lesson


A tiger. A huge, male Siberian tiger, the largest cat in the world. Pacing unceasingly, restlessly, back and forth in a cage that was way too small for him. Every now and then he shot an impatient glance at the irrelevant spectators beyond the steel bars that held him fast in his prison. He was not a happy tiger.

For some reason I was alone there, without my family, watching him. It was long ago, in the sixties or seventies; probably in the Helsinki zoo--it doesn't matter. I was quite close to the tiger, by the railing. I contemplated the proud, beautiful beast, so powerful that, in nature, he could have dispatched me in a second, had he thought it worth his while. I thought it outrageous that he should have been thus imprisoned, and felt this intense wave of pity welling up inside me.

So did the tiger. He looked at me once more with a fierce stare of disdain. Then he turned around and squirted me full in the face. As I retreated, wiping myself off and beginning to devise plans for showering, laundry, and dry cleaning, I realized that I had been taught a lesson.

The tiger, more powerful than I by orders of magnitude, was suffering there in the zoo for my sake. If it hadn't been for him and his imprisonment, I'd never in my life had an opportunity to see a Siberian tiger, let alone come so close to one. What this tiger taught me was that you don't pity your betters when they suffer for you. Their suffering makes tham greater, more awesome--not pitiable. Jesus bore my iniquities and you bear my infirmities. I've deserved neither, and I'm awed by such love, so much greater and purer than what I'm capable of. But as much as I pray that your suffering be relieved, I don't pity you. The tiger taught me not to.