I was reminded this week, about a story that John Wesley told in one of his sermons…
John Wesley tells a scientifically implausible story about a frog who lived its life trapped inside a tree. Evidently, there was just enough moisture and sustenance in the tree to sustain this unfortunate frog’s life. Upon being released from its living tomb, the frog hopped away with all of its sensory organs fully intact but inoperative from disuse. This poor frog is analogous, for Wesley, to a human who has everything he or she needs for life but who deprives him (her) self of seeing, hearing, touching or otherwise experiencing God.
Wesley is not speaking of those who do not believe God exists at all, for he says that he has only met two actual atheists in his entire life. He is speaking of those who, regardless of what they believe, make no effort to recognize, explore or interact with God. They live as much without God as one who does not believe in God at all. They are “practical atheists.”
It may be tempting to consider it hopeless that these people would ever be reached. Just as the frog shut up in a tree lacked sensitivity and clear perception of anything in the physical world, those who have lived utterly without God are oblivious to the realities of the spiritual realm. Where is the hope?
Some people may be hopelessly cut off from all human influence and persuasion, “but the moment the Spirit of the Almighty strikes the heart of him that was till then without God in the world, it breaks the hardness of his heart, and creates all things new. The Sun of Righteousness appears, and shines upon his soul, showing him the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. He is in a new world. All things around him are become new, such as it never before entered into his heart to conceive.”
Who are the names on your prayer list that have not experienced God, nor expressed any desire for Him, and seemingly have no sense of His existence? I remember the saints of the church praying down conviction on their lost loved ones, asking God to make them so miserable without Him that they wouldn’t be able to eat or sleep until they had peace with Him.
It has been a while since I thought in those terms. It has also been too long since I have been part of such a glorious conversion. Before I do one more thing today, I’m checking my list and adding some names.
I mentioned earlier, that my value is in what God thinks of me, and not what others think. DO you know where your worth is?
I read something this week, which reminded me of this… It’s by a fellow pastor, H. Gordon Smith III:
“My kids came inside one day and told me that there was a sparrow on our patio that was hurt and unable to fly. While hovering over its frightened body, my children asked, “What are you going to do, Dad?” I told my oldest boy to grab an old birdcage from the basement and hang it on the patio. I attempted to comfort the sparrow with words it didn’t understand as I leaned over to pick it up. Tenderly cupping it in the palm of my hand, I placed it in the cage. Full of compassion, my kids filled containers with food and water. “Let’s care for it,” I told the kids, “and see what happens.”
The collaboration between our choices and God’s interaction in our lives are theological mysteries that involve far more questions than answers: Why are some born in this or that nation, or into poverty or riches, and why do some survive a battle when others die? Wesley’s answer to this question was that God interacted with humanity through divine providence. This served, in part, as refutation to a two-sided theological problem: predestination and antinomianism.1
Human interactions (both with God and each other) show that humans are more than “mere machines,”2 who are incapable of virtue or vice. But, what does that have do with taking care of a sparrow? It means that God’s interaction with animals is different than His interaction with people. Only humans are created in the image of God, and free agency is embedded in imago Dei.
Humans “are creatures capable of God, capable of knowing and loving and enjoying him,” A sparrow is not capable of the same conscious interaction. Therefore, it is true that God cares about the details of our lives, while providentially using creation to assist humans in choosing what is good “without overruling [our] liberty.”
God does have a “tender regard” for His creation, according to Wesley, but God does not see a bird “with equal eyes” as people who are created in the image of God. Certainly, God provides for animals like the ox and the lion, just as he provides for humans, but Wesley questions, is “a sparrow…equally precious in God’s sight? Are you not of more value than many sparrows?”
After a few weeks, we opened the cage door, and the once injured sparrow flew off into the vast sky of God’s creation. It is a fond memory for our family. What makes us much more valuable than this sparrow in God’s sight is that we are capable of being instruments of God’s providence. It is a partnership given to us by the assistance of God’s grace.”
If we are capable of reflecting the nurturing attributes of God upon a sparrow, how much more can God assist us in doing good for our fellow neighbor without overruling our liberty?