The Bible often mystifies me. Levitical law is too far beyond my culture and era to fathom; Paul is obnoxiously confusing at times (You seemed pretty confident that I’m saved by faith, so what’s this line about being saved through childbearing, Buddy? Get your story straight.); and the finer details of Revelation leave me scratching my head every time.
So there’s this perplexing passage where Jesus is talking to His disciples about how they shouldn’t fear people- the worst they can do is kill your body, but they have no power to touch your soul. Rather, shouldn’t we be concerned about God and what He thinks of us because He has true authority over us?
But He follows up with what I’ve long considered to be one of the worst pep talks ever:
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31: 29 )
I don’t know about you, but here’s what I’m reading: A sparrow isn’t worth much. But God still knows when it dies. I can barely keep track of when I’m supposed to wash my hair, but God, apparently, keeps a running tally of each follicle, clean or otherwise. Moral: Don’t be afraid, because you’re worth more than many cheap sparrows. The end.
Here’s my problem, in case any of you missed the apparently non-sequitur leap from message to moral: the sparrow is dead, people. We aren’t supposed to be afraid because of a dead sparrow? (I’ve complained enough about this passage to one friend, that she sent me this picture because dead birds remind her of me now. I know, it’s pretty bad.)
Jesus doesn’t say that when a sparrow, who is worth almost nothing, starts to fall, God swoops in to resuscitate it. Jesus doesn’t say, if the sparrow starts to plummet, I’ll give it wings like Eagles and send it on its merry way. Nope. He simply says that the sparrow doesn’t go down “0utside your Father’s care.” Oh, and have no fear.
Ahem, “God, pardon my irreverent question here, but how does watching a bird die count as ‘care’?”
OK, I’m going to let you just hold onto that awkward irreverent question while I pause to insert a brief side story:
I was talking to my friend Susan recently about the how I’m stressed from always being high- and when I say “high”, I mean my blood sugar numbers have been elevated because of my diabetes. (Ah, I enjoy that joke too much.)
I told her I had struggled to feel like God cared for me in the midst of my suffering; that He didn’t seem to want to help. But I also told her I felt like I was supposed to say “yes” to whatever He wanted to do through my problem- that I needed to let Him use the circumstance for His plan.
And she basically said, “You’re still looking at the circumstance.” Pff…um…no I was trying to learn God’s lesson for me, right? That’s what all this is about, right? Being made mature and God using me to help others and bladabladah? But maybe she was right? Maybe I was putting way too much emphasis on the circumstance itself.
If I was upset at God for not healing me, I was defining Him by my circumstance. If I was waiting for Him to do something through my pain, I was defining Him by my circumstance. If I was feeling that I had to somehow figure out how to use my problem for something better, I’d still be focusing on my circumstance.
So…can I define God completely outside of my circumstance?
Back to our dying bird and the deafening silence I left you in after my last question to God: What if the point of that story has a lot more to do with WHO GOD IS than with the condition of the bird? Here I’ve been making sarcastic comments to God about how His little dead bird anecdote is hardly uplifting- when all the while that dead bird has been pointing me to a God whose character is outside my circumstances.
In the middle of our worst moments we ask God where He is, whether He is big enough, whether He “cares”. Why? Because our circumstances changed.
But did He?
What if God simply IS good? (Whether our car gets totaled or we inherit a lamborghini?)
What if God simply DOES care? (Whether we’re enjoying a day at the beach or we just got diagnosed with an illness?)
What if God simply IS love? (Whether we feel Him powerfully in the moment or lie awake in the dark wishing we knew where He was?)
Maybe the story is really saying, “If I care to know this bird’s story, if I’m aware and concerned for it’s death, then I’m a God who cares that much more about you. No matter what is happening to you. I’ve numbered your hairs- because that’s how much I care to KNOW you…because that’s just who I am. I can’t promise you no pain, I won’t promise you won’t die, but I promise you that as your circumstances change, I never will. Who I am is gloriously unaffected by your circumstances. So when your pain and heartache and loss tell you I’ve left you, can you remember that I’m not defined by those things? Can you still trust Me because you know who I am?”
I’m on the upswing of a rough week, and the weather is finally bright and sunshiny…its possible that my rising belief in God’s goodness is related to that. But now more than ever, I desperately want to KNOW God deeply, because I need Love and Care and Good that will not change no matter what I face. Because I’m pretty sure there will be worse days, and I’m going to need something solid to stand on.
What about you? Have you ever felt like you were defining God by what was happening around you? What have you found about God’s character in the middle of your trials? What do you think it means that God cares for us even when our struggles remain?