Have you read ‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy? It’s both excellent and horrifying. I highly recommend it unless you are in any way sensitive to violence, or are hormonal in any way. I for one wish I’d never read it, but not because of anything to do with the quality of it. But I’ve just borrowed the title for this blog post because sometimes I wonder, is our God actually the God of Small Things?
I’ve already mentioned that we recently had our church’s weekend away. We were staying in a big house in the countryside, and the weather was amazing. Amazing for England in March, i.e. sunny and breezy and a bit warm. For one of the talks we sat outside in the sunshine (because our Pastor is fun!). There we were, in the grounds of this house – trees, lakes, fields as far as the eye could see. These things make your heart sing, don’t they? God is awesome – in the actual sense of the word. (Northern English people don’t say ‘awesome’ when they mean ‘pretty good’). A friend of mine has just been to the Isle of Lewis (Scottish Island, really far away) and he was telling me how the beauty of God’s creation is crying out to you about God’s glory all the time when you’re there. And that’s a biblical view, isn’t it? Romans 1 says ‘For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities… have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…’ (See also Psalm 19)
But do you know what shows us God’s glory more than a mountain? The crowded bus stop near my flat. The homeless man who sits outside my Doctor’s surgery. My husband’s bed-bound grandfather.
‘So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.’ Genesis 1:27.
The trouble with the city is, it’s full. It takes half an hour to drive the three miles to my friend’s house, because there are other people in the way. Where we live, you can rent a spacious 1 bedroom flat for £350 per week – because there are too many people and not enough space. It’s hard to get your child into nursery, because the nursery is full of other people’s children. The city is crammed, bulging and bursting at the seams, with people like you and me. And that’s the glory of the city. This is not a post about the city, though – maybe I’ll write one some day but while Tim Keller is around there seems little point in me trying to say anything worthwhile about the city.
Every person you’ve ever seen is made in God’s image. And because of that, we have a responsibility to treat them with dignity and to value them above other things God has created. That’s why the Bible says it’s OK to eat meat, but not to kill a person (Acts 10:9-13; Gen 9:6).
So as parents, what can we take away from this? Often our role seems insignificant compared to other people we know. You might have friends who deal with large sums of money each day, or who run successful businesses, or who create beautiful music or art or food. You might have friends whose daily challenges include prescribing people the right medication, or rescuing people from domestic violence, or communicating the gospel to prisoners or gangsters or politicians. I have friends who do these things. And what do I do? I get my children dressed. I help them with jigsaws. I grill fish fingers. I hang the washing out.
Some friends of ours had their first baby this week. The father, a Doctor himself, texted me to ask if I knew what to do about the baby’s chapped lips. I didn’t really know, but I tried to reassure him that it would probably be OK. My husband and I were reminiscing about those first few days and weeks, in which your world shrinks. Suddenly everything is about this little life, and how to sustain it. ‘She’s pulling a face, is she OK?’ ‘He can’t get his wind up!’ ‘Is she meant to be cross-eyed?’ These things are all terribly important to you. But do you ever wonder whether they’re important to God? Can God really care if this child has dry skin or not? Does God want me to care about that?
There’s one child born every minute in the UK. Can God really care about each one of those children? Or in other words,
‘When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?’ (Psalm 8:3-4)
God is so big, and the world is so magnificent, so am I just losing track of what really matters? As I pray about my daughter enjoying nursery more, or my son having tantrums less, or my baby suffering less with teething, is God really bothered? The psalm goes on:
‘You have made them a little lower than the angels,
and crowned them with glory and honour.
You made them rulers over the works of your hand;
You put everything under their feet…’ (5-6)
God does care, because he’s chosen to make people in his image. Your children matter to him, because he’s made them to be rulers over his magnificent creation. God has made them, and they’re amazing. They’re corrupt, oh yes, but they’re glorious. In fact, the corruption is so much worse because of how glorious they are. No wonder it’s so hard to bring them up right.
I heard a brilliant talk last year on Psalm 23 (‘The Lord is my Shepherd’). The preacher used the example of Aron Ralston who got trapped down a ravine and had to cut his arm off to escape (made famous by the film ‘127 Hours’). He was asking us if ever have ‘canyon moments’, where we feel completely stuck and helpless. Maybe it’s an illness, or financial problems, or addictions. And then he said something like, ‘Or maybe you’re just facing an afternoon with a colicky baby…’ I was so relieved when he said that because, as I told him afterwards, I was sitting there thinking ‘Oh, I had a canyon moment the other day in Marks and Spencer’s.’ I have had serious problems and frightening times in my life of course, but usually the day-to-day struggles I have seem a bit unimpressive. They involve the minutia of my children’s hearts. And, worse still, my own heart! And I can end up wondering whether I’ve lost all perspective. Sometimes I do lose perspective of course, but if my day has been difficult because I’ve spent it with three willful, beautiful, cruel, generous, sinful, glorious children, then that’s OK! God knows it’s hard, and his glory is there in the middle of the mess. I don’t need to go to the Isle of Lewis to see God’s glory in creation, because my flat is full of it.
And how can I respond to this God who cares when my discipline method fails again, or my daughter surprises me with her kindness, or my baby crawls across the room for the first time?
‘LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!’ (Psalm 8, v 9).