Consider the common denominator between these passages of scripture:
“Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise!” (Ps. 84:3-4, ESV).
“And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?” (Mat. 6:28-30, NLT).
You’ve heard it said that sometimes we can miss the forest for the trees. We get so caught up in the details that we completely forget about the big picture. This can certainly be true in our theology as Christians. We run the daily rat race forgetting about the reality of the gospel, the meta-narrative our postmodern neighbours are working so hard to discredit. I get this. And sadly, I live this way sometimes. It’s so easy to put my head down. And as all good Canadians know, it’s when the hockey player puts his head down and forgets to look at the big picture that he gets slammed hard from out of nowhere. But here’s the thing: sometimes the coin falls to the other side too.
There’s been a significant, passionate emphasis on the big picture of the gospel coming from many great sources lately. This emphasis has been both needed, and highly beneficial for me in my personal walk with God. But in the last week or so I’ve been reminded in several ways that this big-picture passion MUST trickle down through the layers of my thinking and living so as to affect the seemingly insignificant details of my life. The catch is, the big picture can’t filter down to the detail-layers of my life if the big picture isn’t there to begin with – I’m all for the big-picture emphasis. But having the big picture in place is only the start. You can’t have a forest without trees, or even more minuscule – without twigs. We need to figure out the process of bringing the gospel to bear on daily living (which many are teaching to God’s glory). This could not be more needful for those of us who find ourselves suffering, mourning, or dealing with stressful trials.
We can see a parallel to this two-sided coin (the big picture and the details) in the very character and being of God. He is the infinite architect who designed and maintains the structure of the entire universe. And yet He is intimately involved in the colour, shape, water, nutrient supply, and daily protection of a mere flower that will only bloom for about a week. He cares about leading a sparrow – through her instincts – to the food sources she needs to keep her babies satisfied.
God is at the same time both a God of infinite immensity and of minuscule details.
It is very difficult to feel neglected, forgotten, or unimportant when we read a verse like, “…for through him [Christ] God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see-such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.” (Col. 1:16-17 NLT).
The Eagle Nebula (the lone stellar spire circled in the image above) measures an estimated 90 trillion km in height. When I consider that God could rest this entire nebula region in the palm of His infinite hand, and when I think that He can span the seemingly infinite distances between galaxies within the reach of his fingers, I am left joining the Psalmist in amazement:
“O Lord, our Lord, how magnificent is your reputation throughout the earth! You reveal your majesty in the heavens above! From the mouths of children and nursing babies you have ordained praise on account of your adversaries, so that you might put an end to the vindictive enemy. When I look up at the heavens, which your fingers made, and see the moon and the stars, which you set in place, of what importance is the human race, that you should notice them? Of what importance is mankind, that you should pay attention to them…” (Psalm 8:1-4 NET).
Isaac Watts penned the words, “Did e’er such love and sorrow meet…?” There are many paradoxes to be found in the passion of Christ, of which love and sorrow are but one example. The one my mind has been drawn to lately is the paradox of scales. That God the Son, beyond measure and worthy of all praise, would take on humanity and enter our race leaves me speechless. That He would then follow this act of loving condescension by standing between me and God the Father’s wrath against my sin – absorbing its full outpouring in my place – leaves me in tears of gratitude. Infinite God in a roughly 6-foot-tall human body bearing the infinite blast of God’s wrath against each individual, minuscule sin of mine…
Consider that the grandeur of the scale of God’s intimidating holiness, power, and justice is matched by an equally massive love without condition. Consider also that this grand holiness condemns me even for the tiniest of trespasses against God’s law. Consider that this condemnation is complete, spanning the full scope of my legal standing. Then consider that this condemnation has been completely canceled by the perfect substitute in the largest, single act of love ever to be witnessed.
This act of love cannot be put on trial. He really did do it. And He really did do it for me. Its effectiveness for my specific pain due to my specific circumstance today cannot be questioned. Isaac Watts also wrote, “Love, so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” ‘All’ – by its very definition – includes the total sum of me and all of the minuscule details of me.
What is a nail of 9 or 10 inches in length compared to the brilliance of a constellation of stars? What is a tightly woven cluster of about 20 or 30 brittle thorns when considered alongside the power of a black hole? How can 2 beams of intersecting wood be enough to hold the weight of the very God of the universe? How can a single phrase spoken by an unwitting Roman centurion contain the full breadth of truth that holds more significance than all the oceans hold water? How can the cries of mere hundreds of men be enough to result in the creator of trillions of stars being sentenced to die? How can the Son of God also be the son of man? What are 3 days compared to eternity?
If you are suffering, stressed, or grieving, think with me about God’s plan, His meta-narrative for all things. From the greatest of events to the smallest of details, He has it all meticulously planned. He is carrying it out in accordance with that plan. And He has a purpose beneath it all. It is literally impossible for God to have forgotten about you, for Him to have lost track of the details of your particular trial, or for Him to love you less than He did the day He died for your sins. The God of the manger is the God of the universe. The God of creation is the God of tomorrow. The God of Israel’s exodus is the God of this blog. The God of the flood is the God of that traffic jam, that wildfire, that election result, that test grade, and that news story you read about this morning. The God of all…is the God of your trial. He did not create sin, but allowed it in choosing to create worshippers of choice. In that choice, we have sinned, and the results of that sin are continuing to unfold all around us. We see it in terrorist attacks, we see it in cancer, we see it in broken homes, we see it in anger, violence, and in that feeling of pride you felt yesterday. Pile all of these sins together underneath the sin of Adam, then turn and see the approaching judgment of God against it all. But watch as the mediating, sacrificial Lamb steps in and takes the blow for us. Recall His work in your heart to create faith in Him and spark a quickening ray of light – the light of spiritual life. Listen as the verdict is read, “Pardoned!” and the penalty of sin is removed from your record. And now look forward and allow your eyes to adjust to the brightness of the hope that lies ahead – a living hope, a salvation brought to completion where the presence of sin and all of its consequences are removed. No more tears, no more pain, and no more heartache. This future is our possession now. We already own it. We are asked only to wait for its full fulfillment with lives of grateful worship.
That’s the forest. But it’s also the twigs.
Force yourself to bring that reality to bear on daily living – especially during tough times.
I don’t need to feel alone yesterday, today, or ten minutes from now. God has proven what lengths He will go to to pursue a close relationship with me! I should respond by pursing that relationship too!
I don’t need to feel neglected. Christ promised through inspired prophecy that He would come the first time, and He came at the perfect time. His promise to come again at the perfect time is just that – a promise! And in the mean time, He has sent the gift of His Spirit to comfort me and be with me on a constant basis, reminding me of the rest of the inheritance to come. This is no copout, and no cheap substitute. It is a gift more valuable and more constant than anything anyone else could possible offer me.
I don’t need to feel frustrated. If I’m frustrated, it means I had an expectation, and reality didn’t line up with what I expected would happen. I, I, I, me, me, me. Who created it all? Who is in charge of it all (both in the collective-whole sense and in the tiny-detail sense)? So who am I to declare that things should have gone differently? Next time I get frustrated with someone’s horrible customer service skills, for example, I need to remember that their sinful attitude is only a reminder to me that God is mercifully allowing this sinful race more time to hear and accept the gospel before it is too late! That puts things into perspective pretty fast, doesn’t it? So should I be frustrated or should I be sharing the gospel?
If you are suffering, mourning, or stressed out, let me encourage you to take some time and consider the forest – the good news of God’s saving grace and what it means to you as a Christian. But don’t stop there. Force your gaze to zoom in on the forest until you can see the twigs. Let the gospel have a real, measurable affect on your day-to-day living. This one discipline alone will help protect you from some of the potential pitfalls that come with times of suffering and pain. It has helped me. (Writing this out was as much a reminder for myself as it is intended to be an encouragement to you).
Soli Deo gloria!