Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10.29-31
Following a discussion the other day, a gentleman approached me and told me that he does not believe God controls things or predestines people or outcomes. He meant about the same thing as does a woman I know who assures me with a great deal of certainty that God does not micromanage. The issues are that, if God is just distant enough, we can hold on to human freedom and independence, and we can justify some of the awful things that happen in our world while still believing in the goodness of God.
The problem we run into is that Jesus obviously was not of the opinion that God was distant or removed from the smallest of details in our world. If even sparrows have the attention of our Father, then how much more is He paying attention to us? But this is hard to understand as well. How can God run a universe if He’s worrying about our child’s fear before a math test, our frustration with a tiresome co-worker, or low returns on our retirement account? We want our Father to be big enough to deal with the major events – illness, tragedy, war, disaster, death and the like – or we fear the Father of our faith is a caricature of God, trapped in the minutia of daily life. The answer is a sort of all of the above and none of the above at the same time.
First, a sparrow is not a human being. It is a common, sweet bird, created by God, but it is not the image of God, the creature of God’s design reflecting Him. Jesus’ point to His disciples as He warns them of future persecution is that their Father is aware of every moment down to the smallest detail. A sparrow turns out to be a bit of a detail in the overall scheme of creation, and yet, a sparrow is worthy of our Father’s attention and care. However, a sparrow was never a free creature, independent and able to choose. A sparrow does only what it is created to do – fly about, chirp, build nests, reproduce, and eventually die. Never is there a sparrow that decides it would rather get an education and become an aeronautics engineer. The sparrow simply does the single thing for which it was created: live a sparrow’s life and do sparrow things.
The only comparison between a sparrow and a human being is the interest and care of God. A human being is infinitely complex because – and solely because – we are made in the image of God. Our minds hold the potential for a vast array of creative ventures; our hearts hold innumerable shades and grades of good and bad, hope and despair, love and hate. I suspect it is easier to manage an expanding universe in which stars burst into life and spawn galaxies millions of light years from our own than it is to manage a single human life. After all, the laws for creating new galaxies are those our Father put into place when the Word spoke light into being the very first time, and each ensuing galactic birth would follow the original blueprint to come into existence.
But a human being…? The difference is immeasurable. A sparrow does sparrow things, and a universe does universe things, but a human being does almost anything. What law has ever succeeded in managing human beings? Even the law of Christ has not. The yearning restlessness and endless imagination in each human life are finally unmanageable. Life is either channeled or chaotic, but it is not controlled, not even by God. Some of us choose to live a sparrow’s life: we flit about, build a nest, reproduce, maybe chirp a bit, then die. Others of us live as subjects of the winds and tides that blow and swirl around us. What is either mundane or disordered to us is not lost to our Father.
Just as a sparrow is not the measure of a human being, neither is a human being the measure of God. When we want God to be distant, we imagine distance makes Him somehow bigger and more inaccessible and mysterious. When we draw Him close, we suppose He has been tamed in some degree. He becomes a bit more manageable as He tends to our concerns and wishes. In essence, we either choose to make ourselves insignificant in the whole scheme of things or God insignificant in the cosmic panoply of existence. Neither is true.
The most incomprehensible of all truths is the eternal and infinite God who is present in and value this finite and commonplace moment. Our Father is the unknowable and unfathomable God who is immediately and intensely invested in every moment of our lives. He is the God who spoke creation into being, then chose to become His own creature. He possesses the power to fling stars across the heavens, the knowledge to form unlimited variations of DNA, the love sufficient to lay down His life to give us ours, and the respect to allow His creatures free reign and free expression. In a single moment He could destroy us with a single breath, but He breathes goodness and life into our world, permeating our lives in ways we never know. And even if we never call His name, He whispers our own unceasingly, calling us, wooing us, beckoning us to turn to Him.
God is not distant, and God does not control. We fear God because He is God, because we cannot control or manipulate Him. We love Him because He could do anything – He possesses the power, the knowledge and the authority – but He loves. He loves this majestic, wretched, rebellious, beautiful, cruel, tender, fearful, and complex creature whose hairs He has numbered.
In Christ –
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