Friday, April 06, 2012

Good Friday: My Smallness, God's Great Goodness

I went for a long walk this morning at the nature center not too far from my home.  I love this place; it's one of two places where my wife has my blessing to scatter my ashes.  We go there at least once a month with our son; our dogs usually go with us.  We've spotted three deer standing together in a heavily shaded spot near the edge of the trail.  We've seen many turtles, countless geese and ducks, a couple of beavers, and a small snake or two.  Walking the trail and glancing out at the pond, I almost always feel the presence of God.  It's one of the places where I feel closest to God, in fact, on par with the afternoons of solitude I sometimes spent on the shores of Lake Huron as a teenager.

As I walked the trail this morning -- with my wife and son in Chicago for a few days -- I realized how timeless the trees and the life cycle of birds are, and how timeless and endless the process of decomposition is.  The logs that are decaying now will crumble within a few more years, and they will again become part of the earth.  Yet new trees will exist -- in that place, or ten yards over -- or, if a poor decision is made by some short-sighted person and the nature center is someday turned into a subdivision, well, trees will grow elsewhere.  But nature continues.  As much as we need to respect and protect the natural world, the whole process of birth, growth, and death is timeless.  Yet, paradoxically enough, those particular trees and vines and birds and deer are very much a part of this moment.  The same is true for me.  I am alive now, and someday I will not be alive -- not on earth, anyway, not in my current, flawed form.

And it's true for every last one of us.  I'm small; we are all small.  Look up at the sky on a star-filled night and  try convincing yourself that you are not small.  The closest stars, other than the sun, are billions of miles away (and the sun is 93 million miles from us).  This planet has existed for billions of years.  The dinosaurs have been gone for 60 million years.  Infinity is almost the right word here.  Yes, we are small.

And yet we matter.  The individual human being matters -- if not to all the people around that person, then at least to God.  The least of our brothers and sisters, Christ tells us, must be viewed as deserving of love and respect.  (Yes: millions of boys, girls, women, and men have been allowed to starve to death due to the callousness of other human beings -- that is our doing, not God's.  Genocides have been committed -- our doing, not God's.)  God loves each individual person born at any point in human history.  I'm convinced of that.  I can't prove it to you; I wouldn't put much stock in anyone who said they had hard evidence that God, the creator, is not just the great clock-maker of deistic lore.  No, it's a matter of faith.  But it's a belief that is at the core of my faith.  Good Friday is at least partly about God's infinite creativity, God's infinite love for us very finite creatures, and God's willingness to come to live among us and help us learn how to die to self -- our foolish, materialistic ways; our violent, inhumane ways of dealing with other people and the world of nature; our willingness to dehumanize others; all signs of our brokenness, our sinfulness -- so that we may live more fully in the love of God that nurtures and redeems.  God creates, God loves, God transforms.

For me, Good Friday is about God's great goodness, a goodness that is shared generously with me despite my smallness:  my limited life span, the limitations of my body and mind; my brokeness as a sinner.  And God's nature truly helps me to realize that death and decay do not mean the end of everything good.  The God I worship is the creator of life, the creator of all good things.  There's just no way death gets the last laugh when that God is the inventor of all creation.

This Rich Mullins song came to mind near the end of my walk, so I found it on YouTube as soon as I got home.  This is from a chapel service at Wheaton College, one of his last performances before his death in 1997.  The song is all about grace, and nature, and God's love which is both more powerful and more gentle than anything we can imagine.  Not a bad song, I think, for a holy day that focuses on God's redemptive love and our own frailty as God's creation.

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