July 18, 2007

Sparrows and the Will of God

When we were children living on my father’s farm, sparrows were a nuisance bird that made a mess and, according to my dad, kept other, more valuable birds away. In the Bible, Jesus uses sparrows to make a point. He says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin?” (Matthew 10:29)

In those days, people wasted nothing, even the lowly sparrow. They were a ‘poor person’s sacrifice’ in the temple and even sold in the marketplaces as inexpensive food for the poor. I can hardly imagine how many sparrows a decent meal required, but this is what my Bible dictionary says.

When Jesus said this, He was talking to His disciples about the dangers they would face as His followers. As “sheep in the midst of wolves,” they would be rejected, spit on, persecuted, delivered up to death by family members, and “hated by all” for His name’s sake.

He reassured them, sort of, by telling them that because He suffered, they would also, but they were not to fear those who hated them because their evil schemes would be exposed. Instead, these disciples needed to consider the sovereign power of God. Their enemies might put their lives in danger, even kill them, but they were not to fear them, but God “who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

I suppose in their minds they were thinking, Are we not important to God? Why would He allow anyone to touch us, never mind cause all this suffering and even take our very lives? Doesn’t God care? And why is Jesus talking about His destructive power? We are more interested in His protection.

Then Jesus mentions sparrows. Two of them were worth a copper coin. My dictionary says this is about 1/16 of a day’s wages. In those days, that was mere pennies. Today, if a person makes minimum wage and works eight hours, that is about $3.25, a little more than pennies, but still not very much.

As Jesus tells them the worth of a couple sparrows, He adds, “And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.”

In another place, it says, “without His knowledge” and knowing God knows is some comfort, but here Jesus goes beyond that. He affirms that God controls the timing and circumstances of even the most insignificant of events, the death of an almost worthless bird. The implication of that is that He most definitely is in charge of what happens to His children.

Weeks ago in a discussion about life’s events, one person expressed that some of the stuff that happens to us is “just part of life” and that “God isn’t in all that.”

However, because of what Jesus says about sparrows, I disagree. My response is that if God is not in all of everything that happens, how do we decide which events are in His control and which are merely ‘life just happening’?

Maybe I’m an all or nothing kind of person, but beyond that, I don’t think I’m capable of handling the stress of trying to understand where God is at work, or not. If He is not sovereign over everything, then how can He be sovereign over anything?

Of course that leads to big questions. If He controls all things, why is the world in the mess that it is in? Why do babies die? Airplanes crash? People get cancer? Or heart attacks?

The only people who can answer those questions are the people who have put their trust in Him and persist to trust Him through life’s stressful times. Yet even as they articulate what they know about the will of God, their answers make no sense at all to those who have decided that God doesn’t waste His time thinking about mere sparrows.

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