Consider the Hermit Crab

Have you ever watched a hermit crab manipulate a newly found shell, a new piece of armor? I have, in the tide pools of Hawaii where I grew up.

The hermit crab seemed to examine the shell carefully, considering any dents or scratches. It looked inside the shell and seemed to be asking, “Will I fit?  Is there room enough in here for me to grow?” If the shell met all the requirements, there would follow the briefest moment of vulnerability as the hermit crab, a tender morsel to such predators as the shark, cuttlefish and octopus, exited the old shell and expertly inserted its soft, hidden parts into the new one.

I used to envy the hermit crab. I would imitate my small crustacean friend, and drag my old self around looking for a new one. I’m no fool, I’d say. I’ll drag the old self around until I find a new one. I intend to expose myself only briefly to all that would hurt me, before stuffing my unprotected underbelly into a new shell.

But my strategy did not work. No matter how long and how hard I searched I could not find a new self, a new shell into which I could insert myself. I would cry out in despair. I was tempted to give up the search. I had to learn the difficult lesson the apostle Paul teaches in Romans 13: 11 – 14, where Paul says in essence: “No, you must leave that old self–that armor of darkness behind–and put on the armor of light before you can even glimpse the new self.”

How does the armor of light protect? Not by covering and concealing, but by exposing and revealing. It is a paradox, and a risk we must take in order to grow spiritually: to be truly protected we must be fully exposed, vulnerable, in the light like a hermit crab between shells.

This is how a change of heart works. We must accept our nakedness, our vulnerability, our dependence upon God, before we can see the new self in Christ taking shape. We must leave our old life behind and put on our new life in God. This is the armor of light.