Zookeepers often end up with strange things in their pockets. Most are harmless: little bits of string, pieces of hay, or plastic bags. Some, as you might imagine, are a bit gross. I once had to carry around a rubber glove filled with fish one of my penguins had regurgitated until I could get to an appropriate garbage can. They frown on us putting really smelly garbage in the cans in the public areas of the zoo. Other things that end up in my pocket can be a bit dangerous: pieces of broken glass, razor blades and rusty nails.
One day, I was cleaning the large open area of our bird house where over 60 birds are free to fly around visitors in a jungle like atmosphere. I felt a sharp pain on my leg, but I was near some plants so I assumed I had poked myself with a branch. I continued working, but felt the pain again. This time I wasn’t near anything. I rubbed the sore spot and it seemed to stop, so I chalked it up to one of those weird pains that come and go. Maybe I was standing on a rock and pinching a nerve slightly. When the pain started again, I tried to simply ignore it, hoping it would go away. It didn’t. It grew and grew until it was a strong, focused burning on the outside of my upper thigh. I rubbed the spot again, making the pain go away until my pocket settled back onto the same spot and continued burning. Then I realized it must be something in my pocket. I reached in to find the offending object, but immediately drew my hand out, yelping. There was a small red mark like a minor burn on my finger. I couldn’t imagine what could be happening. Quickly but carefully, I emptied my pocket onto a shelf where we place food bowls for the birds. When I pulled out my key ring, one of the many keys radiated heat. I tapped it quickly with my finger and found it was very hot. I’d heard stories of “spontaneous combustion” in people, but never in keys. I kept emptying my pocket until the last item made it all clear – a 9 volt battery. The battery had lost enough charge that I had to replace it in a carbon monoxide detector, but it had enough charge left in it to heat up my key. Though I had carried the battery in my pocket most of the day without problem, it only took a small shift of the pocket contents to end up with one of my keys lying across the two terminals on the top of the rectangular battery. The metal completed the circuit, and with nothing else for the energy to do, it created heat.
Though the explanation makes so much sense after the fact, while I was trying to figure it out, I never would have guessed the cause of my pain. If you had told me at the beginning of the day that I would be burned by my own pocket litter, I probably would have thought that I wouldn’t be so stupid as to put something flammable in my pocket. But I did. There are things that happen every day that we just don’t understand at all. Thankfully, we don’t have to understand it. Isaiah 55:8 says “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways.’ This is the Lord’s declaration.” God understands the world in a way we can never even imagine because He created it. “Where were you when I established the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who fixed its dimensions? Certainly you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? What supports its foundations?” (Job 38:4-6a) God alone knows the answers to these questions, and to all the questions He goes on to ask in Job chapters 38-41. I’m thankful that I can trust in the One who knows all of those things. One who knows better than to put a battery in a pocket with a set of metal keys.