We have kept fish as pets for about eighteen years now, since our son first won a goldfish at a fair (which died two days later, just as he was excitedly writing about ‘my first pet’ at school.) I had never had a pet fish myself as a child, and was unprepared for the lessons fish could teach me.

First of all, this stuff about the three second memory of a goldfish is rubbish. Our goldfish knew exactly what time feeding was, within a few days of being in our house. Every morning and every afternoon at feeding time, they would animatedly swim around the tank, eagerly looking for food. They may not have words, but they are adept at communicating hunger to us! I’ve learnt a lot about eagerness and spiritual hunger from watching our fish!

Secondly, when fish are ill, it’s very difficult to know what to do. Diagnosing what is wrong is difficult. Initial symptoms always seem the same: lethargy, ‘unhappiness’, lowered fins, erratic swimming. It’s some time before specific symptoms appear which you can treat: streaked tails, blood, unusual markings, clear evidence of velvet or finrot which you can actually treat. Sometimes we have successfully treated the water and saved the fish. Other times, sadly, we have not.

That’s not how it is with people. Sin is always our core problem, but the symptoms are so varied that we are often deceived into thinking something else is the problem! With humans, the symptoms look different, but the cause is basic: our rebellious hearts and desire for independence. The cure is always the same. We need a Saviour.

Most of the problems that fish have occur when they are stressed, when the water quality is poor or when new fish are introduced into the tank. We have only really introduced new fish when one has died and every time, there have been problems. It’s as if the new fish bring their own bacteria and problems into the tank and the new combination of things causes problems. That too reminds me of people! Most of us think we could survive quite happily in our Christian walk if we only didn’t have to deal with other people! We can think lofty thoughts and be virtuous and loving in theory, but then we have to deal with the criticism of a spouse, the moods of a child, the unhelpfulness of a colleague, the spitefulness of someone we thought was a friend… and it’s so hard to be Christ-like in those circumstances!

Life is all about learning to get along with people who are just as sinful as ourselves. Their sins may be different (just as the fishes’ bacteria may be different!), but we have to learn to adapt and let love cover over a multitude of sins (1 Pet 4:8)