“…but after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared.”
This was the favourite Bible verse of Fred Craddock, the story-telling preacher. Fred Craddock came out of a life of rural poverty and spent his life retelling the Gospel to country folk, woven back in their own stories of daily life. I wonder how many could actually see that. Lots of work, unpredictable weather, and a host of other things can make life on the farm hard. And yet Fred Craddock saw the kindness of God behind it all.
Martin Luther said the same thing, that the arc of the universe bends toward justice. This, from a man who went up against the worst human beings can dish out, believing that the glass is half full. Most people would want to see some kind of evidence up against that.
The kindness of God has often been debated. Medieval thinkers sometimes framed the world as one that God wound up and set loose like a machine on auto pilot. Once programmed according to function, it went its merry way which often spelled disaster for human beings. They saw life as an unbending structure with no heart at its centre. They could find no kindness in the grand design.
But others see things differently. Deus ex machina (God in the machine) is a plot device used in theatre and film where a seemingly insoluble problem is abruptly resolved by a sudden stroke of good luck. It suggests that even though the universe seems to be big and impersonal, God is hidden at the centre, and sometimes tips his hand. Deus ex machina is a plot device that people instinctively relate to. It suggests that unexpected good fortune is something we already know about.
Today we were out for a walk and came across a perfectly formed bird’s nest. You don’t often get to see them up close. I expect the nest was raided and that was why we found it on the road. Eggs and hatchlings can be prey to larger birds like crows and magpies. Yes, nature can be dangerous, but there is more to the story. Knit into the heart of the nest is the trace of a grand design.
The tiny nest first of all is perfectly round - you could trace its circle with a compass. There is beauty and perfection in its form, and where the bird gains this skill I cannot explain. There is also the incredible uniformity of the nest - the same size that all the other mother birds create without instruction. The interior of the nest is a lot of work - the result of much gathering and the fruit of kindly intent. Somehow, the mother bird knows just how to nurture her young. If you were ever vexed by sweaters plucked at on the clothes line by birds, be comforted that you were donating toward the well-being of the next generation of birds. The soft lining is engineered to be a perfect bed. It’s an image of caring built into the way things work and birds do this instinctively.
This tiny image made an imprint on my day. There is a lot of randomness in nature, but buried beneath the design is kindness, even toward the smallest of God’s creatures.
Jesus said that “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Matthew 6:26” He was talking about a loving intent behind all things that we lose sight of in the daily struggles which drag us down. We forget that we are also part of, and maybe the focus of God’s grand design, and the goodness built into it. “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows. Luke 12:6”
Jesus also commanded us, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:48” I don’t think that was a bid for the impossible as much as a nod toward how things were intended to be, and how they are ultimately going to end up one day when God gets his way. Holy, is rooted in the same word as holistic. It means being integrated, and operating according to plan, to be restored and made whole. Looking at the flawless little bird’s nest, I think God is off to a headstart and for now, humanity will just have to trail behind.