Can a Tiger Change Its Stripes? A Tale of Scorpions and Frogs

A scorpion stings. That’s what they do. That is their nature.

Joel Furches recently posted the following on social media:

“The Aesop’s Fable I have come to most appreciate over the years is ‘The Frog and the Scorpion’ If you’re not familiar, it’s about a scorpion who asks a frog to swim him across the water. The frog doesn’t want to, because he’s afraid of getting stung. The scorpion points out that if he stings the frog, they will both drown. So the frog swims him, the scorpion stings the frog, and they both drown. Why? Because it is the nature of scorpions to sting.

“The moral: things act out of their nature, even at the expense of their self-interest. Or as my dad used to say, ‘a person will never do something that person wouldn’t do.’ Which, I suppose, could be rephrased, ‘A person’s always going to do what that person does.’ (My dad would say ‘peoples are peoples’)” 

A more modern phrase that conveys the same idea might be: “the tiger cannot change its stripes”; or “the leopard cannot change its spots”. The idea is that a person cannot change his or her essential nature or character.

My “take” on the frog and scorpion fable is that we shouldn’t expect people to be anything other than who they really are. Despite what the scorpions tells you, the scorpion IS going to sting you. That’s what they do. That’s who they are.

Fables are meant to teach life lessons. The wise, theoretically, learn from them without having to experience those lessons firsthand. In reality though, it seems most of us have to learn our life lessons from experience.

These fables are still helpful by allowing us to crystallize those hard learned lessons in graphic ways that we can remember and pass on – if only people would listen. Right?

But what is the lesson? We might “walk away” the next time someone hurts us with a lie swearing under our breath, “Once a liar, always a liar! I will never trust him or her again!”

Fables teach us something about human nature, but fables don’t always give us specific guidance tailored to our own dilemmas. We still need wisdom to apply the lessons in our particular circumstances. “A word to the wise” requires wisdom for its application in our own lives.

“Truth is truth” (wherever it may be found) is a “truism” I like to repeat. Aesop may have been a very wise man (if there really was an Aesop), and Aesop’s fables carry with them the ring of truth, but truth is often more complicated than we like to think it is.

Just when you think you understand the laws of physics, quantum mechanics comes along and turns everything upside down. Further, the wisdom needed to address our particular circumstances doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with knowledge and awareness.

The Frog and Scorpion fable rings true, but Scripture gives us a different angle on the truth of this fable and guidance that we need to deal with the scorpions in our lives. That lesson may not be immediately clear if we limit ourselves to the fable, itself.

The fable is written in a way that we are supposed to identify with the frog who trusts the scorpion and gets stung. The immediate lesson is this: a frog should not trust a scorpion because a scorpion stings. That’s what they do. That is their nature. We fool ourselves to think otherwise.

What if the scorpion is our best friend? What if the scorpion is family? An uncle, a sibling, a parent or a child? What if the scorpion is us?!

The fable seems to assume that people are either scorpions or frogs. It seems to assume that people either have good character or bad character, and people of good will should not trust people of bad will. But is it really that simple?

Not if we understand and believe Scripture. Frankly, not if we understand people, including our own selves!

We live in a culture in which the popular narrative is that people are basically good. We like to think of ourselves as good people, and we want to give others the benefit of the doubt.

We tend view our tribe (however we define ourselves), as the good guys. There are bad people in the world, but we tend to think they are “other” people and are members of “other” tribes. “We” are the good guys, and the bad guys are “them”.

We tend to think that most people have pretty good intentions most of the time. We want to be good, and we want to be counted among the good guys, at least as we compare ourselves to people, generally.

I submit that the reality, though, is different than we popularly suppose. Scripture is also much more realistic and candid about the human condition than Aesop and our popular culture.

The Bible tells us that people are not scorpions or frogs. We all have the nature of the scorpion in us. That scorpion is called sin, and its sting, biblically speaking, is death.

We are also all frogs. The scorpion in us will take us down. That is the nature of sin. It destroys and leads to death. That is what it does.

On the other hand, frogs are “scorpions” to other creatures, like the fly.

We are both scorpions and frogs. We are made in God’s image, so we have the potentiality of being like God in his purity, goodness, justice and righteousness. Because of sin, though, we do not live up to our potential.

The Bible is brutally honest about it: we have all sinned and fallen short. We are flawed creatures. We tend toward corruption in our natural state, and that is where we will gravitate unless we fight it.

And this isn’t all the bad news. It gets worse! None of us can overcome the scorpion in ourselves. The more we fight it, the worse it appears to be! In fact, we might not even realize how flawed we are until we make a concerted and intentional effort to be good. Paul says it this way:

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:15-16, 18-19)

If the story of Nazi Germany tells us anything, it tells us that good guys (an educated, advanced and Christian nation) can become bad guys under the right conditions. We all have it in us to be evil, and we fool ourselves to think we are basically good people who “uncharacteristically” do bad things.

Sin, in fact, is our natural condition. The parable is right about one thing. Scorpions are different than frogs, and scorpions cannot be anything other than what they are. Try as it might, the scorpion cannot become a frog. A tiger cannot change its stripes, and a leopard cannot change its spots!

This is the bad news, but there is good news. Exceedingly good news! The thing we cannot do for ourselves, God has done for us!

Though we are all born with sin in our “genes”, and therefore we are what we are, we offered the option of new birth by which we may become children of God and become what our potential is to become.

God became man. He lived out a flawless life, and in death he took our sins upon Himself when He submitted himself to the cross. By virtue of that effort, He is able to offer to all who receive Him, who believe in His name, “the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)

If we understand our true nature, it should not surprise us that we must be born again. (John 3:7) Flawed humans can only give birth to other flawed humans (John 3:6), but God offers us union with Himself by which union we may inherit eternal life, and, with it, righteousness and all that we lack in our finite humanness.

Paul, the Apostle, explains the answer offered by Christ this way:

“I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:21-25)

The truth about the fable of the Scorpion and the Frog is that we are all scorpions, and frogs. Even frogs are like scorpions to flies.

We are all flawed by sin, but thanks be to God who has offered us a way out of our flawed condition! By offering us Himself and the opportunity to become sons and daughters of the Father, we have access to Life and freedom from the curse of sin and death by simply receiving Him and believing in the name of Jesus.

When we do this and, thereby, submit ourselves to God and to his mercy, we are born again. We born spiritually into relationship with God as our Father. This is not just metaphor, but a reality that becomes evident in us as we submit to Him’ It becomes reality as our spirit begins to testify with God’s Spirit that we are His children. (Rom. 8:16)

The Tiger cannot change it stripes. The leopard cannot change its spots. The scorpion is not a frog, and it cannot be anything other than that which is its nature to be. A man cannot overcome or change his sinful nature, but God can cause us to be born again into new creatures, new creations, born of the Spirit as children of God!

2 thoughts on “Can a Tiger Change Its Stripes? A Tale of Scorpions and Frogs

  1. I was stung once by a scorpion, but that is because, not seeing it, I stepped on it with my bare foot. If I had been taking it across a stream, I doubt it would have stung me. Scorpions do not sting randomly; they sting to protect themselves from enemies. Treat a scorpion as a friend, and you are not likely to be stung.
    On the other hand, some people are just plain vicious…. J.

    Liked by 1 person

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