On Saturday night we went Hyena Hunting, or rather hyena spotting. I never thought I would ever say those words, but while in Ethiopia, apparently it is one of the things you need to do.
Berhanu, a local pastor friend of ours took us to the outskirts of Addis Ababa, to find these predators who roam the streets freely. As we approached the rubbish dump, Gabriel shouted out from the back seat, "There! Look there!". In the beams of our headlights we could see several pairs of eyes glinting in the darkness like tiny mirrors. As we drove closer we began to make out the shapes of the animals behind those eyes.
These hyenas are as large as the largest dogs, with coarse spotted brown fur, elongated necks and front legs much longer than their back ones so their backs taper away from their powerful shoulders. They brazenly scaveng around a collection of rubbish skips no less than 50 yds from people's homes.
In South Africa we see these carnivorous beasts in game reserves, but here in Ethiopia they have moved in to the city from the surrounding hills and taken up residence in the capital. In some ways they perform a useful service, keeping the city's growing population of stray dogs and feral cats under control and consuming the carcasses of dead donkeys and other animals. But there are now believed to be somewhere between 300 and 1,000 of them living in the city and they are dangerous.
In 2011 the airport authorities had to call in hunters to shoot a pack of hyenas that was posing a threat to planes landing and taking off. People living near the Ketchene public cemetery have complained of hyenas digging up and eating the corpses of the poor that are buried in very shallow graves.
Periodically they attack some of the many Ethiopians who sleep rough on the streets of Addis every night. According to an article from BBC News, a volunteer at a clinic run by a Mother Teresa mission in the city said that a couple of times a month he has to treat homeless and destitute people who have had fingers and toes gnawed by hyenas while they were drugged or drunk.
Some tourists feed these Hyenas, and step out of thier vehicles to see how close they can get to them! Dangerous indeed! I could not help but think of Proverbs 6:27, which asks the question, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned?”
I am sure that if these hideous hyenas were given half the chance they would be gnawing more than the toes and fingers of tourists. The very things that we consider crazy and would never do in everyday life, we do with regularity in our Christian lives. We entertain Hyenas, or if you like, we play with fire. We carry it next to our clothes. We do this by entertaining our sins and toying with them instead of putting them to death at the first opportunity. Rather than taking drastic action to deal with our sins, we coddle them. We hold them close, because we like them too much.
The Puritan theologian John Owen, in his helpful treatise On the Mortification of Sin, argues that when we coddle our sins and fail to put them to death, we are in effect hurting ourselves. Sin, according to Owen, is a thick black cloud that envelops our souls and blocks out the beams of God’s grace and favour toward us. It keeps us from seeing that God really is for us in Christ. It keeps us from sensing God’s grace and favour. This means that when we toy with our sins and refuse to put them to death, we show the truthfulness of Proverbs 6:27. We are playing with fire, and we will be burned.
Instead of toying with our sins, we need to deal drastically with them. This is Jesus’ whole point in Matthew 18:7–9 when He tells us to cut off our hand or foot or to pluck out our eye if any of them is causing us to sin. We must deal drastically with our sins, even if it means a great inconvenience to ourselves.
Our trouble is that we do not hate our sins enough. We like playing with fire. We see our sins as familiar companions, but they are a destructive force. We need to cultivate a hatred for our sins—to destroy them before they destroy us—by continually reminding ourselves of what our sins cost Jesus on the cross and of what our sins continue to cost us. We rob ourselves of joy and of all awareness of the grace and favour of God when we toy with our sins.
We all struggle with sin. We all need this reminder. We cannot carry fire close to our chests without being burned just like we cannot entertain hyenas without being bitten.