Friday, July 8, 2011

The Fall of a Sparrow

We are continuing through Jesus' instructions for the Twelve Disciples on their first-ever mission to spread the Gospel to the Jews. In the previous study, we observed how Jesus told them to fear God, not man. This study picks up right were that one left off.

The Fall of a Sparrow
“There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.” Hamlet, Act 5 Scene 2, Shakespeare
One of the things I find fascinating about the works of Shakespeare is how they have eloquently encapsulated the Christian beliefs of an era gone by. In this quote, Hamlet is telling his good friend that God is in control of whether or not he will die that day. This type of belief still exists, but it seems to be modified in the Christian culture of our times. One of the sources of this belief, and the inspiration for Hamlet's line, is Matthew 10:29-30:
“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.” NIV
The meaning is clear. God is in control of everything from how many hairs you have on your head to exactly when you (and every other creature on earth) will die. In Matthew 10:31, Jesus goes on to explain that the Disciples should not worry because God thinks that they are more valuable than sparrows. Luke 12:6-7 echos all of these words too.

Modern Christianity does recognize this Godly control, but the extent to which it is recognized varies greatly across denominations and churches because of its implications. If not a single sparrow dies except by the will of God, then surely not a person dies except according to God's will. That means that every death of every person is through God's will.

Every person to die from age-related degradation, trauma, electrocution, poison, accident, fire, disease, cancer, parasites, thirst, hunger, a fall, a birth defect, cold, heat stress, radiation, asphyxiation, wild animal attack, lightning, tornado, earthquake, volcano, tsunami, hurricane, or whatever the cause, that person dies by the will of God. God controls death. All death.

If you do believe, if you are a Christian, you do not have an excuse for thinking that God does not control the carnage from natural disasters or that God does not kill people through cancer, and it is your challenge to reconcile this with the concept of good.

Finally, because God does control all death, then there should be no talk of God conquering death or Jesus' victory over death. It is a hollow victory to affect what you have absolute control over.


  1. Yet something else that makes no sense. The whole belief system is full of contradictions. "He conquered death," they say. But, didn't god create Satan and death?

  2. Exactly! But it all makes sense when you do not think about it. ;-)

  3. My daughter drew a picture yesterday. Did she create it, or did I? I created her, right? So I'm the one who brought that picture into the world?

    Regarding natural disasters, while I agree that God created weather and weather is often brutal, I do not believe that God causes it to destroy this place or that. I do not believe that God directed the path of hurricane Katrina and caused it to hit New Orleans, as Pat Robertson and a few other crazies do. I don't think that natural disasters are evil per se. An avalanche can kill you, but it's just gravity acting on snow--and most people would agree that gravity and snow are Good Things. So does God "control the carnage" or does he not? He allows things to run their natural course. He will not stop me if I choose to climb Mount Everest naked. He will not move me out of the way if I stand in the path of a tornado. Taken to its logical conclusion, he would have to physically control my actions in order to "control the carnage" in such cases. Likewise, he doesn't stop forest fires from engulfing the houses of people while they sleep. It's awful and tragic when such things happen. In this world we will suffer (John 16:33), but it's not because God is intentionally causing death and destruction. He's letting things run their course in this place where Satan is god (2 Cor. 4:4).

    The concept of "conquering death" is important for Christians because it means that physical death isn't the end of the story. In order to conquer death, Jesus had to pay for the sins of the entire world--something we cannot comprehend, and definitely not a "hollow victory" to those who have chosen to accept forgiveness.

  4. If not a single bird dies apart from God's will, then how much more-so does that will apply to man?

    Take Judges 9:50-57, for example. Abimelek, as a freewill agent, attacks and besieges Thebez. The residents, also freewill agents, secure themselves in a tower. Abimelek decides on his own accord to set fire to the tower. A woman inside the tower, under her freewill, drops a millstone on Abimelek's head while he is trying to start the fire, mortally wounding him. In Judges 9:56, God explicitly takes credit for orchestrating Abimelek's death by a woman (how shameful!) as payback for Abimelek murdering his brothers.

    The moral of the story is that just because it appears like you have freewill, it does exclude the possibility that God is yanking on your puppet strings.

    Whether or not God actively controls the weather all the time is up for debate, but it is clear from the various plagues on Egypt and the curses with which God threatened the Israelites in Deuteronomy 28 & 29 that God can, will, and does control the weather at times to yield massive death and destruction.

    Now as for death, if I can bring dirt to life by breathing in it, or create intelligence from nothing, or cause you to live or die by every word which comes from my mouth, how is it that physical death represents any kind of barrier to me whatsoever? If I could simply will that which had died back into existence, is that truly "conquering" death?

  5. Responding to your last paragraph there, I believe that the type of death in view in that concept is *spiritual* death, not physical death. I agree that raising someone from the dead *physically* would be a very easy thing to do for someone who had created the entire universe. But to conquer death in the sense of redeeming a human being who is guilty of a lifetime of evildoing/rebellion/sin is clearly--from a Biblical perspective--a major, major task. Indeed, one that only Jesus could fulfill.

    And regarding the story of Abimelech, first note that it was not the woman who dropped the millstone but a man in Abimelech's own army who actually killed him, although he was probably going to die from blunt trauma to the head anyway. From my human perspective, it would seem that God might have caused 1) Abimelech to get too close to the tower; 2) the woman to push the millstone at just the right time; 3) Abimelech in his misogynistic arrogance to ask someone to slay him just in case he might die at the hands of a woman; or 4) the guy to actually kill Abimelech with his sword. From my human perspective I might argue that God told this woman to push the millstone out of the tower, and out of her free will she chose to obey. But again, that's from my human perspective. When you know the end from the beginning and you have the ability to put people in this place or that at any time in history, it becomes nonsensical to think that God needed to *intervene* and *change* history in order to accomplish his purposes. People are living according to their own free will, but God has chosen to place them in history for *his* purposes. At least that's another way of looking at things.

  6. LOL! I was wondering if you would contest the killing being assigned that woman. You did, and rightfully so as I probably would have done the same. ;-) Yes, you are absolutely right that it was a soldier who ultimately killed Abimelech, but the damage of shame was done. When the event is later referenced in 2 Samuel 11:21, the woman gets full credit.

    Your alternative perspective involving what I will phrase as God's "omniscience design" is definitely a good one to consider. I have also thought along that path too, although there seems to be more Biblical text suggesting active involvement and tweaking. Still, even the "omniscient design" view raises some issues.

    Consider the world's best bowler. He regularly gets perfect 300's. When he does not, it is just because he wants to practice on his splits, just for a challenge. He knows exactly where to stand, how quickly to approach, and what spin to give the ball on release to make a strike any time. Once he releases the ball, he has no control over it. Yet based on his experience and practice, he knows physics will carry through to knock down all of the pins. He knows the end from the beginning. This is analogous to omniscient design.

    The question is this: Is that bowler responsible for knocking down all of those pins, or should the blame be put only on the ball or the laws of physics, given that the bowler had no control over the ball what-so-ever after releasing it?

  7. Certainly the bowler is responsible. But if the bowling ball grew legs and jumped over to another lane, I would say he's no longer responsible. ;-)