Water Off a Duck’s Back: How Forgiveness Protects Me

The day after my birthday, I woke up abruptly around 3am:


ducks tuft wings

I was hoping to go back to sleep and let these “random synapses” pick a different word. Like, maybe “rest,” God? “Rest” is a nice word at 3am.

That didn’t happen, so I was left with “forgive” rolling around in my head, at 3am.

duck mallard wings back

“Let offenses roll off, like water off a duck’s back,” my husband used to say.

ducks silvery back

If you’ve ever watched ducks, you’ve seen them constantly cleaning their feathers, over and over throughout the day. Every time, they cover their feathers over again with oil.

This keeps water from seeping through the outer feathers, into the soft, inner duck down . . .

which, of course, would weigh the duck down.

duck back black wings up

Instead, the water droplets roll right off, because the feathers are coated with oil.

“the . . . oil did not run dry” (1 Kings 17:16)

When I’m struggling to forgive, it’s usually because I’m afraid of making that outer layer vulnerable. I’m afraid of exposure to re-injury — that God might want me to open myself back up to whatever “hurt” seeped through before, weighing me down.

I’m afraid that God condemns “self-protection.”

duck big splash

God’s ways are reliably different from what I imagine.

duck silver wings over group

The truth is: Forgiveness (which I think is the opposite of self-protection) is the one thing that does keep me protected from real injury.

I have trouble “getting” this, the same way I struggled to “get” physics (my worst grade ever).

Apparently Noah was good at physics, since he was entrusted with the blueprints for a giant barn that could float.

God told Noah that when the ark was finished, seal it with a covering, to make it watertight.

duck mallard splash wing

“So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out.”

(Genesis 6:14)

Coat = kaphar
– literally: “cover”
– usually translated “atonement”
– as in: “make an atonement” (for sin)

Pitch = kopher (comes from kaphar)
– literally: “covering”
(“pitch” is understood to be the covering that Noah used, so NIV translates it that way)
– most often translated “ransom”
– as in: “ransom of a life” (one human life given to save another)

duck mallard wings spread at left

“Coat it with pitch” could be translated “make atonement with the ransom of a life.”

God made “atonement” with the “ransom” of His Son’s life. He paid the ransom for my life, saving me from death’s eternal claim on me. My salvation is as secure and watertight as the ark that carried its passengers to dry land.

Jesus’ own blood has poured over me, as the covering and sealant against sin, which threatened to seep through and drown me.

Nothing can keep God from carrying me over the flood, to the safety and promise of solid ground on the other side. Not even my own guilt can seep through and weigh me down — as long as I keep myself covered with belief in God’s forgiveness.

ducks preen

Ducks are nearly obsessive about covering their feathers with oil — the way I need to obsessively remind myself that I’m completely forgiven.

“Do your best to improve your faith. . . . if you don’t grow . . . you have forgotten that your past sins are forgiven.” (2 Peter 1:5a, 9 CEV)

Once I understand the weight of my sin — if I’ve experienced nearly drowning in it, followed by the relief of salvation — I’ll start seeing other people’s sins differently.

They are drowning, sinking to their deaths, until they learn their need for forgiveness.

Which one of us is vulnerable and unprotected? Which one needs help?

duck mallard wings over white duck

As I keep pouring out forgiveness, I’m the one who is covered, sealed, and protected.

“‘[I have] nothing . . . except a small jar of olive oil.’

Elisha said, ‘Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few . . . Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.’

. . . she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, ‘Bring me another one.’

But he replied, ‘There is not a jar left.’ Then the oil stopped flowing . . .

[Elisha] said, ‘Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.'”

(2 Kings 4:2-7)

How much do I want to have left to live on, after my own debt is paid (by some miracle)?

What I have left will be proportionate to how much I gave.

duck shaking head

When I pour forgiveness into others, I show I believe that sin leaves the sinner empty. By my actions, I demonstrate my belief that forgiveness was generously poured into me, when I didn’t have enough to cover my debt to God.

That belief saves me.

“Jesus said . . . ‘The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all.'” (John 11:23-26 MSG)

“When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit . . . until the redemption (Ephesians 1:13b-14a)

“do not grieve the Holy Spirit . . . with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. . . Be kind and compassionate . . . forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:30b, 32)

This doesn’t mean I’ll always allow people to keep sinning against me. It means that my motive shifts away from self-protection and shifts toward concern for others — that they are able to stay afloat. It means helping others get free of dependence on anything else that they imagine will keep them afloat, besides God’s forgiveness.

I can only give that kind of “help” if I’m totally dependent on God’s forgiveness, for myself.

duck chewing foot

“…in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:2-5)

Forgiveness clears my eyes, giving me a different perspective. It frees me both of hypocritical criticism and of fearful self-protection.

duck group bright

Forgiveness is the only thing that gives me the right to offer anything to anyone else. What I have to offer is the same forgiving grace that saved me.

duck white wings spread

“For it’s by God’s grace that you have been saved. You receive it through faith. It was not our plan or our effort. It is God’s gift, pure and simple.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 VOICE)

“Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
(Colossians 3:13b)

“Do your best to improve your faith. …if you don’t grow… you have forgotten that your past sins are forgiven.” (2 Peter 1:5a, 9 CEV)

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