God’s eye is on the sparrow…revisited

So, about a month ago, I wrote a rather saccharine little piece about God’s eye being on the crow family that lives in a pine tree outside our condo.  I was inspired by Jesus’ words in Matthew and Luke about God numbering the hairs of our chinny chin chins[1] and knowing when a sparrow falls.  It was just all very cozy and comforting to me.  Until last Friday, when I suddenly got a different perspective on the sparrow’s fall.

I didn’t actually see the sparrow fall.  In fact, the morning started out well… for some of us.  Imagine my delight upon hearing our three adolescent crows cackling excitedly in their “Hot damn – it’s chow time!” way.  I could tell that one of them had scored something big, but the birds were backlit and I can’t see anything with my glasses anyway.[2]   I figured one of them had rustled up a discarded piece of steak or an old hamburger bun from the local wildlife’s favorite eatery, “Le Café Dumpstré.”  I grabbed our camera with the ten million millimeter digital zoom[3] and proceeded to hone in on mealtime.  Which is when I suddenly realized that the crows’ breakfast was going to force me to reassess my precious theological observations from last month.

God’s eye was indeed on the crows that morning.  But some sparrow came to an ignominious end, its poor little carcass the subject of cacophonous dispute between three half-grown and hungry crows.[4]

This is MY breakfast! Go eat your frickin’ Cheerios, why don’t ya?

I’ve had several days to reflect on this.  The question, for me, isn’t about crows eating sparrows.  It’s about why bad things happen if God is, indeed, watching.  For your consideration, here are the theological explanations I’ve rejected so far:

The Circle of Life:  There are no bad things.  God’s eye is on the sparrow and God ensures that nothing goes to waste.  Kumbaya.

Shit Happens:  Some days, you’re the chicken.  Some days, you’re the worm.  Get over it.

The Sparrow Had It Coming:  Bad things happen because we deserve them.  Sucks to be a sinner. 

It Wasn’t a Sparrow, It Was a Finch[5]:  Bad things happen, but being rational about it will see us through.

So, here I am with some well-developed and time-honored theological explanations for misfortune and suffering that all strike me as falling somewhere along the continuum between naïve and grotesque.   This becomes particularly apparent when I am ministering to a person who has just received a terminal diagnosis and cries out to God, pleading to know what she did to deserve this illness, what her partner did to deserve bankruptcy, what her fifth grader did to deserve losing his mother.

My answer to these questions is always another question:  What do you really believe about God?  Forget for a moment what some churches would have you believe.  What, in your heart of hearts, is your understanding of the Divine?

For me, the answer is sometimes frustratingly simplistic.  God’s eye IS on the sparrow.  And we don’t know the plan.  Again, for me, this boils down to what I believe about the nature of God and what I value about relationship with God.  Even though the moral and spiritual challenges of this relationship sometimes exasperate the hell out of me, my life is richer for them.  Even though God’s unwillingness to spell everything out for me sometimes seems patently unfair, I like not being God’s wind-up toy.  Like Jacob, I appreciate the opportunity to wrestle with God over these questions.  Ultimately, for me, the point cannot be to “solve the problem” of suffering.  My goal is, and must continue to be, learning to trust a God of mysteries.


[1] Heads, chins, whatever.  I find that the older I get, the less hair I seem to have on my head and more I seem to have in places where hair never grew before.  Which means that, in order to avoid looking like a limp-locked bearded lady, I’m investing a lot more time in teasing and tweezing than I used to.  The root of all evil may be the love of money, but the root of a lot of squandered hours is the pursuit of beauty.

[2] Since I’ve already bitched about mid-life hair loss, I’ll just take this opportunity to bemoan that inelegant period of life when a person suddenly can’t see a thing, with or without her glasses.   Also, my arms appear to be getting shorter; at restaurants, my husband now has to hold the menu up for me from ten paces away.

[3] Okay, although this may be a bit of an exaggeration – because everyone knows you can’t get that kind of zoom out of a $400 Canon – my husband and I did manage to catch Nancy Pelosi on the west balcony of the US Capitol building straightening some handsome young fellow’s tie.  Like a good paparazzi, I wanted to sell it to the nearest tabloid, until my husband pointed out the fifteen other young interns or students or Future Farmers or whatever the hell they were having their ties straightened and pictures taken with the former Speaker, too.  Rationality and good taste so seldom trump scandal, I’m proud to have been a part of this.

[4] In all fairness to the crow family, it’s worth noting that while crows are shameless culinary opportunists, they are not, to my knowledge, birds of prey.  So, I’m sure whatever happened to the sparrow befell it before the crows decided to make breakfast out of it. 

[5] In truth, I think it was a grackle.  Which, if we were inclined toward karma, is probably indicative of some sort of cosmic justice.  The grackles are even more obnoxious than the crows.

 © Marian the Seminarian, 2012

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One response to “God’s eye is on the sparrow…revisited

  • Sue Keefer

    This reminds me of a book called, Everybody is Somebody’s Lunch. It’s a kids’ book that talks about the predator-prey relationship and how it’s simply part of life. Oh, and crows are corvids. I have that on good authority! 🙂

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