Rarely a day goes by when I do not see at least one dead kangaroo on an Australian road. After a century of cars on roads, they’re still not good at navigating the traffic and will often run in the wrong direction.
I sympathise with each death, but the one I saw this week really got under my skin.
Not long hit by a passing vehicle and unable to move, she was standing all alone on the side of the road. Breathing heavily, and hunched over with her tail between her legs, it was as if she were clutching her belly in pain.
There she stood. One minute she’s grazing peacefully by the road and the next minute she’s doubled over, ribs broken by the violent impact, bleeding from internal wounds and waiting to die.
Now, let’s carefully walk that image up alongside something Jesus once said,
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. (Matthew 10:29)
Jesus spoke these words in order to comfort His disciples in times of trial and tribulation. And it is a comfort. God has His hands on the wheel of this world, and therefore, we are to remember that our lives are in good hands. Safe hands. The best of hands.
Yet, given the violent and grievous way that sparrows and kangaroos sometimes meet their fate, there is also something very discomforting about this truth. Okay, so we accept the death. But why the violence?
This is the thought that has been swimming around my head this week.
It’s tempting to try and cushion the force of the verse by acknowledging the first part but denying the second. “Well yes, God does ordain the death, but not the means.”
But this does not square with scripture.
Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.
…This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God. And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18-19)
Peter was going to die. Moreover, he was going to die in a way designed and ordained by God and for God’s glory.
By necessity, if God ordains the sparrows fall then He also ordains the means by which the sparrow falls. And those means are sometimes violent.
Nowhere do we see this more clearly than in the death of Jesus prophesied in Isaiah 53 (Isaiah 53:4-5).
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him… (Isaiah 53:10)
As believers, we have come to accept the reality of death in this world. And that death comes to all of us. But we are still left with the awkward question: Why the violence?
It’s a question that is sometimes directed towards God in angry and accusing tones.
But then it occurred to me as I drove along the road, What if the voilence is not so much speaking about the character of God, but the character of me?
What if the violence that came upon this kangaroo was not a reflection of God’s deepest desire (Lamentations 3:33) but a reflection, a vivid witness to the destructive power of man’s sin… my sin.
Our adulteress, lying and arrogant sins bring destruction wherever they go. Our sins do violence to our neighbour, our friends, our world, and those we claim to love the most.
As Ralph Venning (1621-1674) wrote in his treatise entitled, The Plague of Plagues,
In general, sin is the worst of evils, the evil of evil and indeed the only evil. Nothing is so evil as sin, nothing is evil but sin…
No evil is displeasing to God or destructive to man but the evil of sin. Sin is worse than affliction, worse than death, than the devil, worse than hell.
Affliction is not so afflictive, death is not so deadly, the devil is not so devilish, hell is not so hellish as sin is.
The four evils I have just named are truly terrible and from all of them everyone is ready to say, “Good Lord, deliver us”. Yet none of these nor all of them together are as bad as sin.
Could it be that the violence we see in death is in fact a mirror of who we really are apart from Christ? Instead of pointing an angry finger at God, is the violence set before me a testimony to the destruction I have brought into the world through my envy, my pride, my loveless greed?
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned… (Romans 5:12)
And so Christ died for sin. He fell to the ground violently to save sinners who sin.
Reflecting on Matthew 10:29, a wise old man once said to me, “David, where the sparrow falls, there is holy ground”.
There, on the side of the road, violence testifies to the death my sin has brought into this world. But God is also there, and so the ground, and the moment, are holy. And we are called to bend the knee and find mercy.
Perhaps then, death, all death, even the death of a sparrow or a kangaroo, not only testifies of the violence of sin—my sin—but is also a loud-as-can-be call to look to the death of sin in the death of Christ, and give thanks to God.