Jesus tells us to consider the birds of the air, how God feeds them and that not one falls to the ground without his notice (Matthew 7:26 and 10:29). Yet, we cannot take Jesus to mean that because God notices, sparrows will not fall. That would contradict plainly observable facts.
Recently, I saw a robin build a nest in a tall hickory tree. It seemed like a good choice – a strong tree, far out of range of our family cat. A few days later, inexplicably, the nest lay on the ground, a freshly hatched robin nearby, and the mother robin vainly flying about, attentive to her offspring, but helpless to preserve its life. The doomed fledgling, too weak to walk, still stretched up its neck and opened wide its mouth begging to be fed, though itself on the way to becoming cat food.
Liars, fakers, and deluded people pretend that faith does away with the cross. Yet faithful Christians still die, sometimes slowly, painfully, humiliatingly. Christian children sometimes die, their afflictions mocking the physicians’ best efforts and the family’s prayers, or perhaps gunned down at school by their classmates.
We are tempted to deny or overlook such harsh realities because they confound our prideful illusions of social control and individual self-determination. Job’s friends thought they had proven that the cause for his troubles was his lack of faith. They saw faith simply as a technique to get the good things of life. They could not conceive that Job was tried severely, not because he lacked faith, but because his faith surpassed all others in cleaving solely to God, come what may. “We receive good things from God’s hand, shall we not also receive evil?” Job asked. The only possible answer is “Yes”. God’s “Yes” to Job met with Job’s “Yes” to God and Job was restored beyond anything he could ask or think. Job trusted God in the darkness as he had in the light. Thus, his time on the rubbish heap prepared him to see God.
This is a faith for a real world where, despite our best efforts and well-laid plans, birds of the air and good people fall sometimes, reminding us that life comes to us purely as a gift. While we yearn for a better world to come, so long as we remain in this world, we must learn what it means to confess with Job, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be Lord.” Then we can learn how to bless God in every circumstance.