Some of the great truths of Scripture are not so much great doctrinal concepts as they are simple relational realities concerning God’s orientation toward us. What Calvin says of the Lord’s Supper can, I’m convinced, be applied to this whole category of truth. “I rather experience than understand it.” [Inst. IV. xvii. 32] Grasping these truths is an experiential rather than simply a cognitive act. Reading the old familiar passage from the Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 6:25-34 – we encounter one of this sort of great truth of Scripture. There I learn from Jesus that my Father in heaven really does care about me personally.
The focal point of Jesus’ teaching in this passage is the exhortation that we should not be anxious concerning the necessities of life. The reason for setting aside those anxieties, according to Jesus, is this: that we are highly valued in the eyes of God.
This point is easily and commonly misread, if I am any measure. That tendency to misread this passage is curious in light of the fact that Jesus’ words here are quite plain, straightforward, and unambiguous. But the misreading of plain and simple statements is good evidence that the issue is not cognitive but rather attitudinal or affectional. In Matthew 6:26, Jesus uses a rhetorical question to emphasize the great truth that we are highly valued by God. There is simply nothing unclear about the statement.
Yet, when I read my own response to this statement by Jesus, I find that I introduce a subtle corruption to Jesus’ assertion there. I shift the ground, so that I hear Jesus saying, “Don’t be anxious about having the necessities of life, because God feels sorry for you in your neediness, and so he will have pity on you and give you what you need.”
“Your Father in heaven highly values you” vs. “God will feel sorry for you in your neediness.” The outcome of those two attitudes of God might be much the same, i.e., that God will give us what we need. But the relationship between God and us that is implied by each of those two readings is very different indeed.
To illustrate this let tell you about a fuzzy, gray, fledgling starling that I found squatting on a rock by one of my backyard ponds last summer. The flight feathers on its wings and tail had already grown in, but there was still a marked downiness about the little bird. As it stood there on that exposed rock, the little bird looked very hunched up and uncomfortable, very anxious, very vulnerable. I hadn’t seen it fly. I didn’t know how it had come to be on that rock. It was just there when I walked out into my backyard. If may have simply fallen out of a nest in one of the tall trees that line my yard. When I approached it, the bird didn’t flutter away but merely hunched itself down, trying to turn itself invisible.
This little bird, exposed and in the open in the middle of my backyard, was certainly not where it should be. I knew that if one of my cats or dogs were to find it there in that condition, this little bird would meet an unpleasant and violent end to its short existence. So, I kept my predatory pets inside the house for the next couple of hours, and by later in the afternoon the little starling was gone. Having flown or hopped away on its own or having been taken by one of the Cooper’s hawks that frequent my neighborhood, which I didn’t know.
I had felt sorry for that little bird. Its abject vulnerability touched me. I didn’t want to witness a violent end to its brief life. I didn’t want to be responsible indirectly for its demise by loosing one of my pet carnivores on it. But I could not honestly say in any sense that I valued that little bird. It was plainly a starling, a very, very plentiful breed of birds which I personally hold in very low esteem. They reproduce at an exceptionally high rate. They are noisy, aggressive, mean-spirited toward their own kind and all others. They are an invasive pest of a bird species. As one who likes birds, I say without remorse that I find nothing likeable about starlings.
And yet, I felt sorry for that vulnerable, little toddler of a bird squatting in my backyard, and my pity moved me to do a bit of good to it, even though I did not value it even a little. That is exactly NOT what Jesus is saying in Matthew 6:25-34 about God’s attitude toward us.
God does not merely feel sorry for nasty, little us in our neediness. God treasures us. We are precious to him. His attitude toward us is like my attitude toward my children. We are treasures woven into his heart.
© 2013 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.