A couple of years ago, I was asked to share a short devotional at the faculty assembly. I found it the other day while cleaning out my files. It seemed appropriate as a blessing for the beginning of the year.
Yesterday evening a large bird hit one of our windows and died. We think it was a Northern Flicker, or so it looked to us from the “backyard birds of Iowa” chart we like to consult. It was a beautiful bird and it felt like a small tragedy to see it lying there on the ground. (My children buried it, of course). But it made me think of this passage:
Matthew 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
The picture Jesus paints of his Father is of a God who is comprehensive in his care, whose eye is on the sparrow, and one would assume on the Northern Flicker as well.
But when sparrows do fall to the ground and when Northern Flickers fly into windows, we are reminded that the world – God’s world – is not a safe place. It is a world in which far worse things happen than beautiful birds flying into windows. Alongside beauty we find brutality. Alongside ineffable joy is incomprehensible pain. As Chesterton put it, the good we experience is so good that we feel that all the evil could be explained, but the bad is so bad that we feel that all the good is just a mistake.
But trusting that God is sovereign doesn’t require us to explain how all of the bad will work together for good. As a student of theology, I am quite content to say that a successful theodicy is above my pay grade. Because what Jesus gives us in this text is not a guarantee of a life free from suffering; just the opposite. A few verses before this he tells his disciples that he is sending them out like sheep amidst wolves.
What Jesus promises us here is that in the face everything, we don’t have to be afraid. We don’t have to be afraid, Jesus says, because we are his. Body and soul, in life and in death, we belong. He watches over in such a way that not a hair can fall from our head except by the will of the Father, in fact, all things must work together for our salvation. These are not just words we recite and truths we hold. They hold us. They give us something solid on which to stand.
I’m thinking of an image from a poem by James Wright. In the poem, he notices a blue jay outside the window:
In a pine tree,
A few yards away from my window sill,
A brilliant blue jay is springing up and down, up and down,
On a branch.
I laugh, as I see him abandon himself
To entire delight, for he knows as well as I do
That the branch will not break.
The blue jay can dance, can dance as it were on the edge of death because, he knows that the branch will not break.
We live in a world where all the branches will break before the end. Perched on those branches, we will fall to the ground like so many sparrows.
But Jesus tells us that there is a branch that will not break. And so, we can abandon ourselves with entire delight, because there is a branch that will not break. We can give ourselves with joy to our Lord, to our loved ones, to our life’s work, because there is a branch that will not break.
Psalm 84:3 – [For] Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young – a place near your altar, LORD Almighty, my King and my God.