God’s way of doing things doesn’t often make sense to me. Who needs kudzu, mosquitoes cancer, or infant HIV? Doesn’t the management of the universe need a suggestion box somewhere to find out how to run things a little more efficiently? The Canadian Thistle, for example, is an especially annoying piece of creation. In Indiana, it is such a pest to farmers that state law requires its destruction, but it scoffs at human law. I used to grow a large garden in Indiana and the thistles there always found a way to stab me.
The Goldfinch, on the other hand, is a beautiful creation. Decked out in bright yellow gold and black they dart through the air, every glimpse providing evidence of artistry.
How strange it is then that goldfinches are to be found among Canadian thistles. They congregate there for hours, teasing out the seeds, among the butterflies, bumble bees and other foragers. Why should a source of affliction provide food for so many? Why is beauty so often joined to thorns? Why is it that the greatest joys in life have a tear mixed in? What a strange way to run a world.
When my philosophy classes reach the section on metaphysics, I ask them “What is reality?” The question is easy to ask but hard to answer. I tell them what Heraclitus, Plato, and Aristotle said, and we eventually move on to other things. Sometimes I am not sure I know the answer myself. It seems that the paradox of goldfinch and thistle is at the heart of reality itself, in the form of the cross. Reality itself is cruciform. Why? I don’t know. The only thing to do is accept it. Otherwise, the pains and losses in life exterminate our joy.
Getting older means saying good-bye more often. Children leave home. Parents die, sometimes after suffering long. Pets that cheer us by teaching us not to take life so seriously, collapse under the burdens of the flesh. It’s all too sad and confusing, unless God the Son is at the center of it all beckoning us to the life that lies beyond what we can see.
Florence Nightingale, founder of modern nursing, well knew the cruciform nature of reality as she worked amid Europe’s battlefields. Hope cannot mean an absence of sorrow or that nothing ever dies. The Christian hope is that God can bring new life even out of death — that is, life is more basic than death. So, she can confess that “the coffin of every hope is the cradle of a good experience.” Reason cannot comprehend this, but Faith can begin to after passing through the door of futility. Goldfinches and thistles, the beautiful and the tear, go together in Christ’s world. What can we add but “Amen?”