By the Way With Joel Meeker
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He’s Just Trying to Scare You

An encounter with an aggressive hippopotamus reminded me of a biblical source of courage.

My head snapped around, and without thinking, I crouched in fight-or-flight position. Fifteen yards away, a huge male hippopotamus had just lunged out of the Palala River, black eyes fixed on me, mouth impossibly open in a noisy explosion of water.

As I stepped back from the river bank, he slipped back beneath the surface. I looked at the ranger next to me. He had glanced at the hippo, before returning to the animal tracks he was following in the dirt.

Keeping my eye on the river, I kept the ranger between the water and me.

Danger lurks in Eden

In the pristine Waterberg Massif of South Africa, stream water is pure enough to drink without filtering. Baboons, monkeys, hyraxes, impalas, bushbuck, zebras, wildebeests and eland are plentiful.

Waterberg has been called an Eden, but not all the animals are placid. The leopard I heard rasping outside my rondavel the night before would not lie down with the kid. Voracious Nile crocodiles congregate in river pools.

While hiking, we watched constantly for rhinos. I was instructed always to have a tree to my front mentally selected, and if anyone yelled “rhino!” I was to sprint and climb my tree.

“But,” another hiker asked, “what if you find it’s a thorn tree?”

“If there’s a rhino,” the ranger assured, “you won’t notice the thorns.”

Back to the hippo

But at this precise moment, I was focused only on one conspicuous hippo. A big male with foot-long teeth can weigh 10,000 pounds, run more than 20 miles an hour and bite a crocodile (or a columnist) in half!

As he submerged, V-shaped ripples moved toward us. A few moments later I flinched again as the brute gave another explosive display of size and strength, much nearer than the last.

The ranger flashed a smile: “He’s just trying to scare you.”

I tried to smile back: “It’s working!”

He gestured to the vertical drop from the bank to the river. Hippos, it turns out, can’t jump. For all their size, a step up of even a yard or two puts them off. In spite of the aggressive spectacle, we had never been in any imminent danger.

A biblical key to courage

As the adrenaline in my blood slowly dissipated, a Bible passage came to mind. Our world is an increasingly frightening place; dangers lurk at home and abroad. Prophecies of what the Bible calls the end time show the world will grow immeasurably worse before it will get immeasurably better.

But the Bible says Christians shouldn’t fear: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:18-19).

When we comprehend the depth of God’s love for us, and the unlimited power He commands to act on that love, we know we are absolutely safe in His hands. People in the world—and our evil adversary—will try to frighten us, distract us into rash and wrong thoughts and actions. But nothing can prevent God from accomplishing His perfect will toward you and me. It is His “good pleasure” to give us His Kingdom (Luke 12:32).

So, rather than fearing the hippos of the world, we can take courage by concentrating on perfection in love: our growing love for God and His perfect love for us.

—Joel Meeker


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