One day recently I was driving a large vehicle at considerable speed, when two small birds – swifts – flew across the road in front of me. One of them managed to avoid the truck but the other didn’t. I heard a little thud from the body of the truck over me.
As before when I’ve hit birds while driving, I felt hurt and sad. I have a lot of respect for them. They work with all their might just to survive and raise their young successfully. At some point in the past I had to harden myself to this kind of event, since I do a lot of driving, and it’s impossible to miss them all.
However, I had to say to the Lord, as I have many times before, “Lord, you could have prevented that from happening – why didn’t you?”
This little prayer led me to wonder how many other things happen that God could stop but doesn’t. I recalled a part of Matthew’s gospel, where Jesus talks of falling sparrows. I’m going to pluck a verse out of its immediate context here, bounce it a around a bit, and then put it back in place:
“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” (Matthew10:29).
On the day I hit that swift, it occurred to me, as never before, that the sparrows Jesus spoke of do actually fall. He didn’t say that when the sparrows fall, God stops them half way down and restores them.
We live in a fallen world where things go wrong in everyone’s lives. Even those with the greatest faith have troubles and disasters. The mortality rate among humans is very nearly one hundred percent (taking into account the Elijahs of the world). We react when things go wrong as though God has let us down, and maybe isn’t there at all. Was he looking the other way, and failed to see what was happening? Does he not like us? Did we do something wrong?
But when we consider the whole of Scripture, and not just the parts we want to make use of for our own material enrichment, we find that trouble is a prescribed part of life for every one of us. God said to Adam (and so to mankind), “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life… until you return to the ground…” (Genesis 3:17b – 19). Job said “man is born to trouble, as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). Even the greatest of Biblical characters endured hardship and suffering, including Jacob, Joseph and Paul, and of course the Lord Jesus, the Son of God himself.
God doesn‘t promise to make this life perfect for us. To perpetuate this world God would be perpetuating a hell on earth, where the violent, the selfish, the greedy, the immoral, the thief, the arrogant, and the God-haters thrive and make a mockery of Creation.
“Jesus said “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b). It is for the life to come, without sin or decay, that we who have accepted the Son of God as our Savior, have the promise of perfection and freedom.
So to get back to the original question, why doesn’t God stop the sparrow from falling? My point here is illuminated by extracting a significant part of the Matthew verse above:
“…apart from the will of your Father.”
God allows a fallen physical universe to continue – for now. He sees all that happens, even the sparrow that falls to the ground. If he sees fit to stop it, for his purposes and not ours, he will. If the sparrow falls to the ground, it is in accordance with the will of God. If His will and concern extends to the fate of a single sparrow, then it certainly extends to us. Nothing can happen to us that’s outside of his will and purposes.
Now, putting this verse from Matthew back into its context (the entire chapter) we find that Jesus was talking to those who were sent and would be sent out with the gospel message, finding that persecution against them is common. He told them, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell (Matthew10: 28).
We attach all importance to this temporary body of ours, as though it would be eternal if only we could get the world around us to treat us the right way. But Jesus, putting our current existence into perspective, relegates our earthly lives below the importance of our eternal life and that of others.