The Bird Came, and I Believed

In a small group Bible Study that I was leading when I was an undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts, I asked each participant to share his testimony of beginning a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Each person’s words were unique, but similar in jargon, experience, and spiritual commitment.  That is, until we came to Dana.

Dana was the naturalist in our group, an artistically sensitive young man who I never quite understood.  He began, “My testimony is simple.  One day I was out in the woods and I was thinking about God.  I had my doubts so I prayed, “God, if you are real and you want me to follow you, then please make that bird [a cardinal, I think] come land on my finger.  The bird came, and I believed.”

Our group sat silent.  While we all professed to believe in God’s general revelation in His creation (a la Romans 1), the idea that someone could come to faith through an experience in nature pushed the limits of our understanding.  If, however, we believe that that God reveals His “eternal power and divine nature” in creation, why did we doubt Dana’s story?

Our problem, to borrow a phrase from J.B. Phillips, revealed that our God was simply too small.  We want Him to work through our methods and within our programs.  When He works through means that we deem unpredictable (like a responding bird), we view the story with skepticism.  Dana taught us that our faith must be enlarged so that we can indeed make room for God.

The renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, writing in his classic Sand County Almanac, argued for conservation on theological terms akin to Dana’s experience:

“What value has wildlife from the standpoint of morals and religion?  I heard of a boy once who was brought up an atheist.  He changed his mind when he saw that there were one hundred species of warblers, each bedecked like the rainbow, and each performing yearly sundry thousands of miles about which scientists wrote wisely but did not understand.  No ‘fortuitous concourse of elements’ working blindly through any number of millions of years could quite account for why warblers were so beautiful.  No mechanistic theory, even bolstered by mutations, has ever quite answered for the colors of the cerulean warbler, the vespers of the woodthrush, or the swansong…. I daresay that this boy’s convictions would be harder to shake than those of many inductive theologians.  There are yet many boys to be born who, like Isaiah, ‘may see and know and consider together that the hand of the Lord hath done this’ “(Leopold 230).

In the process of pointing people to God through Jesus Christ, perhaps we forget one of the greatest manifestations of the glory of God which is readily available for us to use – His creation!  When we turn to observe, we may, like the psalmist, remember once again that, “all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens” (Psalm 96:5).