Last week, I witnessed death for the first time. And it was just so devastating yet eye-opening all at once.
It all started when my friend Lacey and I found a beautiful place to have our quiet time with the Lord. We stumbled across this closed-off patio shaded by trees with such inviting tables and chairs. Joyfully, we entered into this piece of heaven and sat down to spend some time individually in the Word and prayer.
I began to read in the book of John about Lazarus, the man who died and was risen to life by Jesus. My heart began to feel heavy as I felt some of the emotion contained within this passage. Jesus is summoned to go see his dear friend Lazarus, who is very ill, and instead of going to see him right away, he waits. This is the man who heals the blind and lame. This is the man who speaks of love and God’s goodness. And yet when he finally makes it to where Lazarus and his sisters are staying, he finds that Lazarus has already died.
The most difficult part of this story for me to read and understand is when it says that Mary, Lazarus’ sister, falls down at Jesus’ feet and says to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32). As she weeps on the ground, Jesus begins to weep as well.
The story does end with Lazarus being raised back to life, but I was stuck on that one part, that one image of Mary being raw and completely filled with sorrow before Jesus, the man who she thought was going to heal her brother and save her from this pain.
I sat in that beautiful, lonely patio and prayed. I confessed to God that I didn’t understand Him. I knew that Jesus was glorified through Lazarus’ death, but I couldn’t bear the thought of Mary’s suffering. It’s a similar suffering to the one I see all around me. People die every second of every day. People mourn from loss all around me. And Jesus does not heal everyone. Why, God, why?
I didn’t understand then and I still don’t fully understand now. But what happened next was something I needed to see. God found a way to calm my soul.
I looked across the table and saw that Lacey was watching the birds playing in the trees above us. She seemed so captivated by them, and I glanced at her Bible to see what she had been reading. It was a passage from Luke 12, but I couldn’t make out what exactly it was. I later discovered it was this passage about sparrows.
I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Luke 12:4-7)
As I began observing the birds myself, I was reminded of a different passage about birds (which I also later discovered was in Luke 12).
Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? (Luke 12:24-25)
So here Lacey and I were, both thinking about birds. I didn’t know what she was reading, and she didn’t know what I had been thinking and had just spoken to God. It was at this very moment that we were unknowingly having our hearts prepared for what was to come.
The same birds that were innocently frolicking through the trees suddenly flew into a window above our heads and dropped to the ground next to us. There were three of them, and they laid motionless while we were rendered speechless.
Lacey jumped up to examine the birds and confirmed that at least one was dead. Tears flowed from my eyes. What does this mean, God?
The two other birds were unmoving but breathing. It seemed as though they were paralyzed and hopeless. But Lacey did what I didn’t have the courage to do. She picked up the birds and stroked them. She prayed over them. And all I could think to do was pray, too.
God, in your Word it says that if you care for the birds, then you must care for us, right? But if you DON’T care for these birds, then what does that say about your love for us?
It was in that moment God reminded me that He didn’t have to prove anything to me. Whether or not the birds continued to suffer and slowly die, His love for me and for His children would remain true. It always has been true and always will be.
But still I hoped that these birds would live. I begged God to heal.
The truth is that I knew in my head that God’s love was real, but in my heart there was doubt because so much in this world screamed otherwise.
How could I trust unwaveringly in God’s love and goodness when people are dying from gunshots, cancer, and starvation? How could I believe that God would take care of me when innocent people have been victims of suffering since the beginning of time?
These questions have haunted me because there isn’t one perfect answer. All that I have been told is to just believe.
And here was a moment where I had to believe more than ever. I was staring at death. True, they were birds, but they were living creatures I thought God cared about nonetheless. If they all died, then I would be faced with the choice to either continue believing God’s Word to be true or let that moment change my mind about His love.
He said that we are more valuable than birds. He said that we are worth more. He said that just as he cares for them, he cares for us.
So if they all died before my eyes, what would that say?
Even though I heard the voice of God telling me so surely that He loves His children, I wanted proof.
Understand this: God didn’t HAVE to heal those birds. They all stupidly crashed into a window and there seemed no divine reason for them to be rescued and raised back to life.
But I think that because He knew I was struggling and questioning, because He knew I was like Mary who found herself begging at Jesus’ feet, He chose to heal them as a testimony of His love.
It was a small and simple testimony, but one I needed and cherished nonetheless.
Just as quickly as they had come crashing down, the two unmoving birds responded to Lacey’s tender touch and flew back up into the trees to continue their lives.
They were well again. They were alive and healed.
And a part of my heart was healed, as well.
I still can’t fully fathom His love or completely understand why the world is the way it is, but I do know this: God is good. Even if he hadn’t healed those birds for me, He would still be good. That’s a hard concept to grasp. I think that humans are very limited in their understanding of life and pain and death. I know I find myself confused and baffled by such things all the time.
But I’m learning, slowly but surely.
God knows my weaknesses and my doubts, and He doesn’t condemn me for them. Instead, He invites me to believe in Him. And when I’m struggling to believe, He gives me bits and pieces of evidence and wonderment. Like He did with those birds on that day. It was a truly beautiful thing.
God is in the business of producing beautiful things– both around His children and in His children. That’s something I’m believing in more and more each day. That’s something we’re all beckoned to believe in. I think now is the time to pray for our eyes to be opened more than ever to the divine power and beauty around us. There is love and life to be found.
Taste and see that the Lord is good.