animals, birds, nature

The Comfort of Dead Birds (Part 2)

How can a dead bird be comforting? You’re walking along a trail on a cool and crisp fall day and notice a little dead bird in the leaves by the trail. Does that comfort you?

I don’t think we should take some peculiar pleasure in the death of animals. Native Americans killed many animals, but had great esteem and appreciation for them and industriously made use of the meat, hides, bones, and more. Hunters today may not be as industrious, but they also esteem and appreciate the animals they kill. So, the comfort isn’t so much in the killing or death of animals, but the providence of God behind the death of animals. Seeing a small dead bird along the trail can give us a sense of comfort because the bird fell to the ground by the providence of our heavenly Father.

Do you know what the providence of God is? Could you explain it to someone in a way that they could understand the comfort of it? The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks in question eleven, “What are God’s works of providence?” It answers, “God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.” [1] So, God’s providence is God preserving the life of that little bird. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that God feeds the birds of the air (Mt. 6:26). God also governs that little bird – his location, his flight patterns, his migration, his provisions, etc. Every action of that little bird is being preserved and governed by God’s holy, wise, and powerful will. And when that little bird’s days are up, it falls to the ground by the sovereign will of God. How much more does God value us and preserve and govern us.

The Heidelberg Catechism provides a wonderful explanation of God’s providence. Question 27 asks, “What do you understand by the providence of God?” It answers:

God’s providence is His almighty and ever present power, whereby, as with His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures, and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things, come not by chance but by His fatherly hand.

See, God’s providence is God’s power. God’s providence is God upholding the universe by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3). God’s providence is God’s sovereign governance of everything. The colorful fall leaves are governed by God. The rains of Mawsynram, India, which happen to average about 467 inches per year, are governed by God. The soil which fails to produce enough food for the village is governed by God. The cancer revealed by the blood test is governed by God. Every dime of Bill Gates is governed by God. Nothing in this life is chance. Nothing is random. Nothing is meaningless. Nothing happens apart from our Father’s good and gracious hand. If this were not the case, life would be random and God would be impotent and no longer God.

Where is the comfort for believers in this? In his commentary on Matthew 10, J. C. Ryle gives us something to consider. Ryle said:

Those who try to do good must keep before their minds the providential care of God over them. Nothing can happen in this world without His permission. There is no such thing in reality as chance, accident, or luck. “The very hairs of their heads are all numbered.” The path of duty may sometimes lead them into great danger. Health and life may seem to be periled, if they go forward. Let them take comfort in the thought that all around them is in God’s hand. Their bodies, their souls, their characters are all in His safe keeping. No disease can seize them–no hand can hurt them, unless He allows. They may say boldly to every fearful thing they meet with, “You could have no power at all against me, unless it were given to you from above.” [2]

Many will find the idea of God’s providence unsettling because they do not trust God or His Word. But believers, God’s beloved children, so trust their good Father that they joyfully embrace His providence. They take comfort knowing that whatever happens to them is their heavenly Father’s good will for them, therefore His loving Fatherly hand is in it and will use it for their good and eternal salvation. This was the posture of our Lord before the looming cross (“not my will, but yours be done”). God’s providence emboldens God’s children as they persevere through suffering, for in suffering their loving Father provides them the grace and Spirit to live for His glory. God’s providence is safety and security for believers. Do you find comfort in God’s providence?

[1] The Confessions of Our Faith, Fortress Edition, ed. Rev. Brian W. Kinney (Fortress Book Service & Publishers, 2007), 125. [2]

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Jonathan Shirk

Welcome to the online home of Jonathan Shirk, family man, Reformed pastor, author, podcaster, and small town theologian. Whether you're from a small town or big city, may this website help you find deeper comfort and joy in the gospel.

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