(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column of those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Augusta Press.)
One of my favorite pastimes while living at one of our former homes in Evans, GA was to sit on my front porch late in the afternoon and early evening and talk on the phone with some of my preacher friends while drinking iced coffee. I loved to watch it get dark and experience the peace of the day. One day I noticed a small turtle as he came out of the yard next door and slowly made his way into our yard. He was headed toward a bank of Azaleas that were planted around some pines. I watched him carefully as he went into the overlapping branches of those bushes. A few days later, there I was again on my porch talking and drinking iced Starbucks coffee. There he came again and made his way to the same spot under those Azaleas. I got to the point that I looked for him every day and he did not disappoint me. This little turtle became a “buddy” of mine, and I did all I could do to protect him and keep life going for him as it should.
I think that my attachment to that little guy was rooted in the fact that earlier in my life, when I was eleven years old, there was another turtle. Here’s the story: When I was eleven years old, we lived on East 16th Street on the North side of Tifton. At the time we were almost out in the country. The street in front of our house was still dirt and we had a peanut field on the other side. Get the picture? I was a member of a Cub Scout Pack and I had been given a Boy Scout knife with a leather sheath. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world to wear that Boy Scout knife on my hip. I got really good with that knife. I could throw it very accurately. One of my “games” I played with it was that I would throw it and stick it in cigarette butts that people threw out of the car as they went by our house. I was very good at it. I was so good in throwing that knife that I would part my toes and stick the knife between my big toe and the toe next to it. My mother did not know I was doing such a thing and I don’t recommend it to kids today!! I came awfully close to a hospital visit a couple of times but somehow, I avoided it. Stupid kid!
One day I was around behind our house near a small Mimosa tree when I noticed a little box turtle crawling around under that small tree. I picked him up and played with him for a few minutes. Of course, he pulled himself back into his shell and closed the door. Then a devilish thought entered my mind. I don’t know why it came but it did. Something said to me: “Why don’t you stick the point of your knife right in there where he closed his shell and kill him? Slide it right in there!” For some strange reason I did it. I put the point of that Boy Scout knife right in that slight opening and shoved it to the hilt. He sort of “hissed” when the knife went in. His legs spread straight out in all four directions, and he was gone. Suddenly, the greatest fit of guilt I had ever experienced came upon me. I ran from the yard toward the field behind our house. It was a field deeply covered with sage brush. I stood at the fence and threw that turtle as far as my eleven-year-old arm would make him fly. I thought I had thrown my sin away and by doing so I would never think of it again. How wrong I was. I will never forget going back up to our house and washing that turtle’s blood off of my Boy Scout knife. The event was over, but it had lasting ramifications.
Over the ensuing years, I would have fits of guilt and depression with that whole event looming before my eyes and harassing my mind. I can remember when I was about fourteen years old, I went through one of those events. When they would come, and they came about every six months, I would pray and beg God to take it away. I would say how sorry I was for killing that innocent little turtle. It would sometimes last for three or four days and then it would be gone. Then I would thank God for taking it away and for forgiving me. But, in a few months there it was again! This sequence continued for a number of years. All through my teenage years it came and went. After I was married, I found that that little turtle’s memory would invade me again. I never told anyone that I was going through these events. I just prayed really hard each time it happened and then when it was gone, it was gone. Even after God called me into the ministry and I was preaching repentance and forgiveness to people every Sunday, I would have an occasional bout of this troubling guilt. One day, when I was the Pastor of Metter Baptist Church, I was walking to the church on a Sunday morning. The sermon was prepared, and I was looking forward to the day. I had been dealing with another of these guilt episodes and I was totally frustrated with it. I couldn’t understand why they would not go away and leave me along after all these years. I remember exactly where I was on my short journey to the church from our house when I said to the Lord: “I don’t understand this! Why won’t it go away? Why am I continually bothered with this guilt and depression? I am asking you to forgive me.” God spoke very clearly back to me, and He said: “Forgive you for what, Bill?” I said, “Oh, you know,…the turtle thing.” You remember, I picked him up, stuck my Boy Scout knife in the crack where he closes up and I shoved it into him. His legs went straight out, and he sighed a long sigh before dying.” God very clearly said, “no Bill, I don’t remember that. To which I replied, God, you have GOT to remember. If I can remember it I know you can!!’ He came back with something I did not expect. He said: “Bill, that’s where you are wrong. I forgot something that you are still remembering.” “I remember it no more.” “I forgave it and forgot it long ago. You are suffering because you are remembering something I chose to forget.” Then He said: “if I forgot it, why don’t you do the same thing.” “You are letting the devil have a victory by making you remember something I forgot, and he convinces you that if you can remember it then so can I and therefore I am still holding you accountable.” All of a sudden, it was gone. God finally got through to me about forgiveness and cleansing.
Our enemy, Satan, knows something about human nature that we don’t seem to understand. He knows that if he can get us to remember something that he can make us feel guilt for it all over again. It’s as if our recall of that event activates it again and then he jumps on the situation with new and renewed accusations. “See there, you sorry thing, you are guilty before God for this sin.” But remember this while you are at it, just because you can remember it does not mean that you are guilty of it all over again. God has chosen NOT to remember those things He has forgiven. We can do something God has chosen not to do and that is we can remember sins He has forgotten. He has thrown them behind his back, tossed them into the deepest part of the sea, and flung them out into the furthermost edge of the universe. They are gone until Satan harasses us with it and, generally, people are not spiritually mature enough to realize that he is causing us to remember something God has forgotten in order to keep us from being all that God wants us to be. Satan realizes that he cannot get your soul if you are saved. But, he can keep you miserable and unable to enjoy your Christian life and serve God as you would like. So, if he can’t get your soul, then he will settle for making you miserable all your life. Don’t let him do it. God has forgotten it and so should you.
Over the years, I have used this story about a simple little turtle to make the point to people that if God has forgotten something, then it is forgotten forever and if He forgets it then why can’t people accept that fact and do the same. He is the one who will judge us and if the Judge has forgotten our sins covered them by the Blood of Jesus, then why should I let them continue to bother me? If God is satisfied, then we should be also. If He accepts the Blood of Jesus as a covering for my sin, then why shouldn’t I? When God deals with our sins through Jesus they are forgiven; forgotten; forever.
It has occurred to me that the little box turtle that crawled under our Mimosa tree in our back yard all those years ago still lives. Every time I relate this story in a sermon, that little turtle lives. Little did I know all those years ago when I took the life an innocent little turtle, that I was actually enabling him to live on and on as long as the story is related. But, it is no longer a point of guilt and depression. It is a story of release and freedom from sin. Live on little Turtle.
Reverend William (Bill) Harrell has been in ministry 48 years. He served as the pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez, GA for over 30 of those years. He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also check out his blog at www.williamfharrell.com